Lessons Learnt from Leaving a Job without a Backup

Clutter by Steven
7 min readSep 28, 2021

I quit my job for my mental health but I had no idea what was to come next.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

When I left my corporate job in October last year, I had no real plan for what my next steps would be and where my life would take me. I had some ideas though. Lots of them.

I wanted to start my own business, become my own boss and uncap my earnings potential. I wanted to become a freelancer, get paid to be a creative professional, and enjoy the freedom of choosing my own hours. I wanted to work as a barista, or a bartender, or even a delivery driver to satisfy the dreams of my younger self and make ends meet while I “figured things out”.

I was confident and ambitious. And probably super irrational. I had a lot of self-belief thinking that things would work out without fully understanding what exactly needed to be worked out.

Fast forward 10 months later and life after quitting hasn’t quite panned out in the way that I had initially hoped for.

I am not a successful business owner nor am I an in-demand freelancer. Instead of making latte art, mixing cocktails, or dropping off parcels, I worked in retail again, merchandising for a big hardware store chain without knowing anything about tools and hardware at all.

Instead, I’ve become more comfortable with myself, further engaged in all of the relationships that I care about, and feeling healthier than ever. I’ve tried new things, built new habits, and learned to be okay with the waves of failure that accompany the journey towards fulfillment, and as I reflect over my last 10 months, I’ve taken away some key lessons that have helped me navigate through life after leaving the 9–5.

Living with Uncertainty

Without a backup in place and only ideas in my head, I was confronted by reality very early on. Uncertainty ruled and without knowing where or how to start on anything square one was hard to define.

In a job, you know what success is meant to look like. You’ll have KPIs to hit, bosses looking over your work, and clients to please — all being determinants of what level of work typifies success.

But when you’re out on your own success is much less defined. Progress is hard to measure and results can come unknowingly without a reference point to measure against.

To navigate my new reality, the best thing for me was acceptance — I had to shift my perspective to that of a beginner, learning how to learn again and be motivated by small improvements rather than grand achievements. Action became my way of forming certainty, and the more that I tried things consistently, the clearer my next week would be.

Over time, I began to understand which actions were fun and exciting to continue chasing and which actions were just downright draining — equally as important! With my focus narrowed, the future became clearer and I was able to move towards a path that made sense based on the learnings and failures from my actions.

Getting Comfortable with Yourself

Leaving my job was a very difficult decision that I made for myself.

Naturally, like any situation where a tough life decision needs to be made, I sought the counsel of friends, family, and close colleagues to help rationalize my mental clutter and help me navigate into the new world.

Some of the advice I received was helpful. Others … not so much.

With all of this time to myself to think and a lot of uncertainty surrounding my future ahead, outside expectations and perspectives from others were hard to silence — especially coming from those closest to me.

But what I quickly realized was that a lot of the noise around me was just projections from people on what they would do if they were in my situation. The truth is, only I could really understand why I left in the first place and what I intended on doing with my life — I just needed to sit down with my thoughts and properly unpack them.

What helped me the most was keeping a journal. Writing down my thoughts and feelings helped to de-clutter my mind and it allowed me to reflect on previous experiences. I took away lessons from the past that deepened my own understanding of myself while mapping out my thoughts helped me to become more secure and comfortable with my decisions and the direction that I was heading towards.

It’s an uncomfortable journey to begin with, but moving forward starts from within, and understanding and accepting yourself will help you to rationalize the present and reduce the static from the outside noise.

Habits and Routines are Essential

Without the routine of a job, I wasted a lot of time.

I would go through weeks of half-assing personal projects while simultaneously spending hours buried in social media, video games, and YouTube. And it ate away at me — procrastination was never fun because it always carried a sense of guilt alongside.

Complacency is a silent killer and avoiding your own responsibilities can add up over time if you’re not careful. I gave myself too many excuses — I’ll start tomorrow. I’ll start Monday. It’s too late in the day to do that now.

I had to take a step back and in the process, I realized that my procrastination came from the feeling of being overwhelmed by what I wanted to achieve. It seemed impossible so I sought out easy comforts.

But instead of conquering the mountain, I needed to learn how to walk up a hill, every day. By breaking down the overall goal into smaller steps, the task seemed less daunting and the drive to work became much easier to sustain day-by-day. What also helped was scheduling time for breaks into each day, a time where I could really enjoy YouTubing or playing video games, guilt-free.

It’s easy to fall into complacency, without having a specific goal to reach or feeling overwhelmed by how much needs to be done. The best thing you can do for yourself is to break things down into smaller daily actions that can evolve into habits while also giving yourself proper breaks to fully enjoy something without the guilty feeling of procrastination hanging over your head.

Understand Your Finances

Before I left work, I made an assessment of my current finances, spending habits, and lifestyle. All of these are important to understand as they’ll give you a fair indication of the amount of time you can have away from work while still living comfortably.

Keep a level head about money and have a good understanding of your current finances. Be conscious about big purchases and expenses (like a car service, rent) and learn to be comfortable knowing that you probably won’t have a regular income again for the time being.

For me, having an understanding of my current financial and living situation helped me transition to a life without a regular income much more easily. I avoided a lot of anxiety and I was able to both fully enjoy my time off from work and pursue other passions and projects without the feeling of desperation to survive.

What helped me a lot was the work that I put in prior to quitting. I managed to build up a decent amount of savings in the form of an emergency fund by auto-directing payments regularly into another bank account that was strictly left untouched.

Understanding your finances and your spending and lifestyle habits can be the difference between enjoying your time away from work or scrambling desperately for the next thing. Have an honest assessment of what you have and plan accordingly — it’ll be one less thing to worry about.

Look After Your Health

As we grind through weeks and weeks of work throughout the years, we neglect our bodies and minds, putting off visits to the doctor and getting our eyes checked simply because they might be minor inconveniences in our busy lives.

But now with all of this new time to yourself, check-in with your body and your mind. Like your finances, it’s important to have an understanding of your health and how your body is feeling, and checking in with what needs to be corrected or worked on.

For me, this was an absolute priority as I had neglected my health a lot during my first few years of working. It gave me peace of mind knowing that my body was okay or that there were certain things I needed to do to fix myself which I could program into my daily routine and work on.

Taking the time to check in with your body and mind gives you one less thing to worry about as you enjoy your time off and work on the things that you’ve always wanted to. Understanding how you feel gives you the peace of mind and confidence to move forward and it can help set you up to live comfortably while you navigate through this new time of your life.

You’ll never be fully prepared when you leave the 9–5 for the first time and that’s okay. But you’ll probably have an idea of when it’s past time to quit and there is little to no value in continuing something just for the sake of continuing it.

As you navigate into this new chapter of your life, things can get pretty tricky. Not everything’s going to be as glamorous as you had imagined but as long as you keep an open mind to yourself, live within your means, accept the uncertainty, and work on small things daily, you’ll have an easier and much more enjoyable time crafting the new life that you’ve wanted.



Clutter by Steven

Mindful of matter, head full of clutter - stories, rambles and observations.