Just shy of three years ago, I quit my job. I quit with a vengeance. I burned bridges. I may have stomped my feet and slammed a door (or two). Don’t judge.
I quit on a Friday afternoon without the foggiest notion of what I, a then-48-year-old woman who had worked for 23 years and whose high school-age children no longer required daily maintenance, would do when Monday rolled around.
What happened, you might ask?
Did I (a) revel in my free time, thanking my lucky stars that I'd finally thrown off the yoke of the working world and wondering why I had ever been so stupid as to have a job, (b) hang around the Scarsdale train station during morning rush hour, stalking the commuters, ruing the day when I marched into my boss’s office and read her the riot act, or (c) implode.
The answer is none of the above.
It took a good long time to figure out my new existence in a way that didn’t threaten my sanity. So I would like to give you my hard-earned guidance: the do’s and don’ts of how to handle it if you too should find yourself in this supposedly-enviable situation.
Remember how, when you were working, you managed to fit all the necessary tasks of daily living into the tiny pockets of time left over from your job and your commute? For example, I’d rush like a madwoman to the supermarket for the components of some semblance of dinner, dash to the pharmacy for my daughter’s very expensive fluoride toothpaste, and then come home to fix the malfunctioning dishwasher, take my son to get his busted lip stitched, and polish the silver.
Now that you're no longer working, there will be great appeal in spreading out all your obligations over the newly available time. You’ll put off going to the dry cleaner until 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, just because you can!
You’ll spend the first number of weeks grocery shopping at Trader Joe's, Mrs. Green’s, Balducci’s, and the local farmer’s market, and making gourmet dinners for your family. (This will go on until your son asks you one evening, with tears in his eyes, if you can go back to making the boxed macaroni and cheese.)
You’ll announce to the other carpool moms that you are now “flexible,” available to fill in slots for the working moms “whenever,” and then find yourself inundated with commitments to drive six teenagers back and forth to school on a moment’s notice, five days a week.
Don't fall into this trap. Have a little self-respect for goodness sake. You quit your job, you didn’t sign up for a 40-hour-a-week gig as a gal Friday for your family.
Okay, I heard that groan from a mile away. You’re worried that you haven’t lived a memoir-worthy life. Believe me, I’m well aware of your limitations. You haven’t cured the common cold, climbed Mt. Everest blindfolded, or starred opposite Ryan Gosling in the remake of West Side Story. I wasn’t being entirely literal. When I quit my job, a friend convinced me to take a writing class. It happened to be a memoir class, and I too scoffed at the notion. In fact, like you, I don’t have a memoir to write.
But taking the class emboldened me to take other classes, to meet new people, to get out of the house, and to realize that there was a whole world of activities – pole dancing, bobsledding, competitive dog grooming – outside of the job I'd been a slave to for many years. So I don’t care what class you take, just take something. Sign up, pay your money so you won’t back out, and have an allotted time where you have to be somewhere other than sitting on your expanding butt on your couch. Which brings me to the next “Don’t.”
Quitting your job has a lot of similarities to making New Year’s Resolutions. You're suddenly faced with a blank slate and a feeling like you’ve been given a second chance to live a better life. The number one New Year’s Resolution? To lose weight and get in shape. I’m here to tell you, none of that will happen.
I quit my job in September of 2014. Feeling empowered but flabby, I, who had barely satisfied the 50-yard dash requirement in gym class in third grade, immediately downloaded an app to train to run a 5K. I was diligent and determined. By November, I signed up for a local 5K, wishing that it hadn’t been dubbed “the Turkey Trot,” which I secretly feared was named after me, and which made it sound comical when it was deadly serious. But I digress. I ran the 5K at a sort of respectable pace (at least I didn’t crawl for more than the last kilometer), triumphantly posting my finish-line photo on Facebook for all my friends to see and lavish praise on me.
Since that time, my only cardio workout consists of getting myself from the couch to my refrigerator. Instead of losing ten pounds, I've gained ten pounds.
Why do I tell you this story of epic failure? Because I don’t want you to feel badly about yourself if (when) this happens to you. Being home is hard. The temptation to sooth yourself with the truffle ricotta ravioli, the hearth-baked 27 grain bread, and the caramel mocha molten chocolate cake you now have time to stock the refrigerator with is great. So while you may get to buy some new clothes, think one size up, not one size down.
If you've never played a musical instrument or last played said instrument in the sixth grade, now is not the time to start unless your goal is to irritate your spouse, children, and the kindly piano teacher with your inability to reliably find middle C, to count anything more complicated than a whole note in 4/4 time, and your repeated declaration that you “just want to learn enough chords to play Dust in the Wind.” It will never happen.
The music hasn’t improved since you were in high school, but hearing it played as loud as possible and letting loose with your old disco moves in the privacy of your own home will make you feel simultaneously young and ancient, to strangely positive effect.
The key here is that you are the only one new to the sandbox. These moms and dads have been slaving away at domestic life full-time for many years and have already established when they take spin class, who they eat chopped salad with, and which children fraternize with little Tyler or little Wren. They were not waiting around for you to arrive on the scene as the newly-unemployed parent. They have lives!
This is not to say that you can’t break into the social scene, but you must take it slowly. This is especially true if you are long past the phase of life of playgroups or other child-centered activities, and are forced to navigate these waters as a full-fledged adult. Don't despair, even the most anally-organized community of stay-at-home moms will sometimes need a fourth to sub in for tennis or mahjong.
Even though you heretofore eschewed them as silly.
Sometimes surrendering to blissful unconsciousness for an hour is the only way to get through a long day. You can always tell people you need your beauty rest, no one will argue with you.
There’s no shame in realizing, either quickly or down the road, that you preferred having a job. Depending on how long it’s been, you may need a new interview suit. Styles do change, you know. Put a smile on your face and get ready to explain what you’ve been doing with your time since you have been out of the workforce. I’d start by talking about that memoir you’ve been writing.
It takes a village!
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