Updated: Jul 26, 2021
Think switching jobs will make you happy?
I always feel like I’m just one job away from “finally being happy”. To be honest, it’s exhausting. I was tired of being caught in a perpetual cycle of all of my free-time going towards my next career move. So last year, I decided to stop focusing on my career for a while to see what else I could put that energy towards. I gave myself permission to step away from work being a priority, and that decision has changed my life for the better. It’s reframed not only how I look at work, but also life and money in the process.
It’s an experiment I’m glad I ran.
I’ve done a fair amount of job-hopping since college. This last time, I taught myself UX Design and got a job at a top tech company. I tripled my income over that year, my days were filled with interesting activities, and I loved my coworkers. So why was I started to get that empty feeling again? And what could I do about it? When I felt it, I started to dread what would come next.
Surely, there were things that I could do besides dedicating all of my time after work to job hunting and picking up new skills. Did I want to throw myself back into prep mode to find a UX job at another company? Did I need to make another career transition?
(I knew that would basically be another part-time or full-time job)
Honestly, I didn’t want to; not really. I was tired. And even if I did, how long would I be happy in the new job until I wasn’t again?
Spoiler alert: I didn’t quit my job this time. I decided to overhaul my life outside of work instead. Over the past year, I focused my energy on deciding what my ideal life would look like and started building it. I became nomadic, sold almost everything I owned to move into a 300 sqft RV with my Fiance and our dog, have been traveling the US while working remotely, and have drastically changed how I view money to build a life I love.
During this time, I’ve found myself asking these questions over and over again:
What if I’ve been focusing on fixing the wrong thing?
What if it was my life outside of work that needed attention instead?
What if I reframed how I viewed my job to see it for what it really was: a way to get the resources that I needed to live the life I really wanted?
… and they’ve changed everything for me: It’s been a massive success. So I wanted to share what I’ve learned in hopes that it might help others struggling with the same dilemma. Here’s what I’ve learned:
We’re Obsessed With Our Jobs
From very early on, the idea of our happiness and success is wrapped up in the answer to the ever-present question:
“what do you want to be when you grow up”?
It places a huge amount of importance on what we do as a part of who we are. It’s no wonder that when we’re in a rut, our first instinct is to change our job or switch our careers altogether.
We think: Surely, that will bring us closer to self-actualization and make us the version of ourselves that we want to be.
Fixing the wrong problem can still feel right
This was a hard lesson to learn because it always feels like you’re making good progress. But is it the right progress?
Don’t get me wrong, finding a career that you’re interested in is a worthwhile goal. The problem is that even if it’s not actually the best action, switching jobs seems to pull you out of your rut for a while. That’s why it can be so deceiving.
How could we feel like we’re fixing things if we aren’t? When it comes to chasing a new job:
It gives us a goal and something to strive for. We build momentum and we ride that high for a while.
We get to dream of a future filled with possibilities, which gives us hope. We take the time to imagine dreams we’ve been ignoring.
It mixes up our routine and forces us out of our comfort zone to go after what we want. There’s nothing like self-actualization to make you feel like a happy and productive human.
So then how do you know if it’s not really working?
After achieving any goal, you’ll get used to what you’ve got and it won’t be as shiny and exciting as it was in the beginning. That’s to be expected.
But do you always find yourself discontent, looking for the next job or career path? Do you start experiencing dread about going to work because it doesn’t fulfill you? Do you think that if you just keep looking, maybe your next job will finally make you happy?
Well, the problem might not be your job at all. The problem might be the expectations you have for it. But it’s not just you. Ziprecruiter wrote an entire article on why we probably aren’t happy with work because we don’t have a life outside of it.
If we put all of our eggs in the work basket, we’re neglecting to realize how important the rest of our lives actually are.
So if we decide to focus more of our energy on our life outside of work, where do we even start?
Designing Your Life
You need a North Star
I can’t tell you what your ideal life looks like, but I can share how I peered behind the curtain to see what was actually important to me. Once I took the time to do some digging, it became easier to move in the direction of building a life that I was holistically happy with.
It’s a hell of a lot easier to make decisions when you know what your desired outcomes actually are.
Find what’s important to you
Take a look at your life and assess where you’re at outside of work. We often give our leftovers to our home life, and our family and friends. The message that we’re sending to ourselves there is that these things don’t take as much energy and effort. But what if we reframed that?
What if we made it a priority, and let our job be just a job? Below are some questions that might get you started in the right direction. Give yourself permission to answer without thinking about the constraints of your responsibilities. That’s the only way to accurately start to get a glimpse of what you want. From there, you can start to work backwards and slowly build a life you love over time. Try starting with these:
What does your favorite morning look like right now?
How would you ideally spend your time during the day if you didn’t have work?
What hobbies would you have?
What would you like to learn that’s new?
Who would you spend your time with, and doing what?
Build your life around those priorities
For many people, they find that their relationships haven’t been getting the attention that they deserve, to thrive. People grow apart over time and without the effort to connect, relationships become more fragile.
Maybe you find that you want to spend more time on hobbies that you’ve long forgotten about and used to enjoy. Maybe you have a long list of things you’ve always wanted to learn but have never had the time or energy for.
It might not feel like it, but this is all actually great news!
Once you know what your answers are, you can focus on putting your energy back into what matters to you. Realistically, you won’t be able to change your life overnight, but now you have a direction to move in. You have something to help make decisions about your time, energy, and effort. You now have your very own North Star.
A personal example in action
For me, it became clear that a huge priority was travel. I always had to be living for our next trip. If I didn’t have at least 2 things booked to look forward to, I was distraught. They didn’t have to be big, they just had to be based around new experiences with the people I loved, and they generally involved some fantastic food experience as well.
Knowing this, I was able to start moving in the direction of finding a way to travel more. A year later, we live in our RV and travel full-time. I started putting a concerted effort into the relationships that I’d been taking for granted. My grandparents now get multiple calls a week and I’ve loved how much closer I’m feeling to them again. I stopped spending money on things that didn’t fit into my dream life.
Now we save 80% of our income and know exactly what we want to spend it on. Our life has been the best it’s ever been since I stopped prioritizing work as the most important thing in my life.
Created on canva. A compilation of this year. Exploring new places and hobbies with the people I love.
I got to a point where I’m happy with my work for what it is, a job. I’m glad I made a switch into UX, and for now, I’m good with where I’m at. Now, that effort that would have been put into job-hopping has gone towards improving my actual life. The return on that decision has been incredible.
It can be difficult to tell when you’re looking for too much meaning in your work, and that’s going to vary by person. But if you think that work can be the end-all-be-all for your happiness, it’s worth taking a moment to be sure you’re putting your energy into the right area.
A job is what we need to provide, and we should optimize for enjoying it where we can, but we need to be clear that it doesn’t have to be our only priority. It doesn’t even have to be our main priority.
If you take the time to dream about what your life could be and use that to create goals to strive towards, you might just find that your job wasn’t as important as you thought it was.
At the end of the day, your career can change over time. The life you create for yourself will always be with you.
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If you enjoyed this article, you might also like: 1 Year Ago We Became Nomads —and It Changed Everything Top 10 takeaways from our life on the road medium.com Buy the Life You Actually Want Changing your perspective & making your money serve you breanawallace.medium.com The Unique Benefits of Being a Domestic Digital Nomad Why the US is the most under-rated destinations for today’s American nomad medium.com