When I gave up full-time employment in March of this year, I was looking forward to a change in lifestyle. Six months later I am reflecting on that change and how it feels. It feels good. I expected it to be a positive change – I had planned for it for a while – but I have been surprised at how comfortable it has been to slip the traces of routine, commitment, power and influence. I still engage informally with my discipline and with the higher education sector and that’s enjoyable and interesting. At first, I still got irritated about things and picked up old frustrations, but I find, over time, that the old issues are less significant to me and I am finding I let things pass by in a way I would not have done twelve months ago. I am consciously choosing what to spend my intellect on, rather than reacting on auto-pilot to what I see.
In the first few months I was keen to keep up with former colleagues and accepted invitations to meet. More recently I find that I am looking for personal value in relationships, rather than ‘keeping in touch’ for reasons that are often unclear if I stop to examine why something is in the diary. This has surprised me. I am a gregarious person and enjoy the company of others, but new people are cropping up in my life and although they do not replace old friends, they are gently easing aside former acquaintances. And I find it is increasingly easy to distinguish between friend and acquaintance in a way that I hadn’t previously.
I knew when I gave up employment that I would want to continue to make a contribution somehow. I have been surprised by not really knowing what that means. For example, I put myself forward for a couple of things that I thought would be interesting – they were the kind of things that you would probably expect me to be interested in – but as time went on I found that actually, I couldn’t raise that much enthusiasm. That puzzled me for a while and I thought that perhaps my energy was low, but slowly I realised that they felt like ‘ought to’ rather than ‘want to’ and I recognised that actually, I just didn’t want to. This is one of the benefits of not working that takes a little getting used to. You don’t have to do what you don’t want to (except for necessary chores, of course, and going to the dentist etc). I still don’t always say no soon enough, but that’s coming too. I still work and I’m still available, but in a much more focussed way.
I am spending time and brainpower on the things that I promised myself I would – the garden, writing, cooking, my remaining family, reading – and I’m about to enroll on a Masters in Research in History. The MRes is not something I was planning but it presented itself to me through a conversation with a friend and I thought, ‘why not?’. And throughout the excitement of finding a course that suited me, the tedium of the application process, the novelty of being interviewed before acceptance, I have maintained an enthusiasm and curiosity about studying again that has delighted me. I am really looking forward to it. And to being a student for a while. The thought makes me smile.
I’m sure the next six months will bring more changes – and more choices. I love the intellectual freedom, the physical freedom and the lack of obligation. Who knew it would be so good?