Goodbye Job, Hello World: Thoughts I Had About Leaping Into the Unknown
Bring on the reflection!
A Day in the Life of a Spoiled Software Engineer
My life is like a dream.
Each morning, the light seeps between the blinds and wakes me. I pick up my book from where it fell from my fingers the night before, and my eyes wander over paragraphs between long, sleepy blinks. My boyfriend and I cuddle and converse in soft noises that start off nonsensical but slowly turn into words.
"Welcome to Wednesday," one of us finally says (adjusted according to the day of the week). Just like that, we raise our anchor out of the stream of time and set the day into motion.
Roll out of bed. Put on the first clothes I see. Make silly faces in the mirror while brushing teeth. If I feel like breakfast, eat a cookie (healthy breakfast, I know). Walk to work.
In my new windowless office, time slips by with little to mark it, lost in designing and implementing new features, discussing and debugging and endlessly fixing bugs, waiting for builds to run.
Little pings tell me to go to conference rooms, where I spin around giggling in an office chair before the meeting starts, then try to act authoritative until it's over. By now, I'm used to being the only female in the room.
My office, before it was filled with monitors. Not bad - just wish the building had windows!
In the afternoon, a teammate knocks at my door to signal lunchtime. I follow along, make my selection from the cafeteria food, and we pull tables together and spend up to a full hour engaged in the usual nerd-talk about pop culture and technology and games. The well-worn grooves of conversation are soothing, no surprises or controversy to be found.
Back to the desk, where work continues until I realize I should leave, some time after 7.
The evening air on the walk back from work is an invitation to dawdle and admire the distant mountains that play peekaboo through all the greenery. In these summertime months, I veer to the side of the trail and pluck the ripest blackberries from the vines, counting myself lucky not to be among the car-bound commuters crawling down the freeway.
Stopping to smell the flowers.
Once home, the only remaining decisions for the day are simple. Rice and beans, mac and cheese, and/or tofu nuggets? Anime, movie, or video game?
If an ingredient for dinner is missing, my boyfriend and I wait until the town is dark and quiet and walk to the grocery store in our pajamas. We sing and dance down the aisles and joke with the bored cashiers on our way out.
We always leave with something different in our tote bag. A chia drink. Chocolate raspberry tamales. A pudding mold of the weird little egg yolk guy Gudetama. It's our way of celebrating the absurd overabundance and freedom of choice around us, instead of getting overwhelmed by it. (Who am I kidding, I'm still overwhelmed by it!)
If you need proof that people are amazing, just look at what they've created: Gudetama and giant cookies!
The hour grows late. I help clean up. Practice yoga. Shower. Fall into a nest of pillows and blankets on the bed and cradle my book until sleep muddles my thoughts and steals my consciousness.
There are a few variations between the days. Softball games. Bar trivia. Skype sessions with the family. BBQs and picnics. Movies. Bakeries. Live performances. Hikes and camping trips. A new restaurant every week. They're breaks from the routine that are somehow still part of the routine.
Flight of the Conchords in the park and hikes to ghost towns in the snow.
Yup, my life is dream-like. It's carefree and comfortable. I never have to worry about being able to afford next month's rent or a sit-down meal or that musical I want to go see. I could live like this forever, and it would be a good life.
It's Time for a Change
But, also like a dream, time is blurring and slipping away at a terrifying rate. It no longer has that raw edge of discomfort that means I'm pushing myself. I can hardly distinguish one day from the next.
And, no matter how many accolades I might get, my crippling self-doubt doesn't get any less monstrous. I still feel like an imposter, a little girl pretending to be smart when she just wants to run outside and play.
Sitting alone in my unadorned grey office feels isolating. I still miss my previous office, the open workspace with the huge windows overlooking the sports field, the monitor constantly looping Reddit gifs or Twitch streams, the cliched Nerf battles, and the table full of baked goods.
Who wouldn't miss this beautiful chaos?
There's even a part of me (a very small part, mind you) that misses the years of seven-days-a-week twelve-hour days, when I ate every single meal in the company of my coworkers and our late-night hysteria echoed through the darkened halls. The pace at work has slowed, for which I'm grateful, but my learning rate has slowed along with it.
Contentment is becoming complacency, stealing away my youth and creativity and leaving me lazy and self-absorbed. I find myself torn between routine and novelty. I'm definitely more of a risk-adverse follower, not a visionary or a leader, but I still crave impact and learning and adventure.
In the midst of my quarter-life crisis, only weeks after a promotion to senior developer, a re-org happens at work and my job simply vanishes.
Making a Decision
My first instinct is to immediately go out and find another job. I know I could do it, and the opportunities are right at my fingertips.
But a huge part of me screams that NOW is the time to take advantage of my privilege and the circumstances that have set me here as a twenty-something with no children, no job, no debt, a self-employed boyfriend, healthy parents, a month-to-month lease, and ample personal savings.
I am ridiculously privileged and instead of feeling guilty about it, I should take advantage of it! I need to be honest with myself and what I want.
A look around my bedroom reveals where my heart lies. There's the homemade collage of old National Geographic photos, an old fashioned traveler's trunk that I bought off Ebay and stuffed full of mementos, and the paper map of the world serving as a pincushion of memories. The world is calling.
This is the first thing I saw every morning.
Soon, I find myself taking the collage down off the wall, one of the last things to go in my now-barren apartment, the rest dispersed between friends and Craiglisters and Goodwill and my 40 liter backpack. The official layoff comes nearly a month later, giving me plenty of time to make plans and a severance package to help fund them. It feels like the universe is actually helping me toward my dream.
Doubts and Hopes and a Confusing Whirlwind of Emotions
I feel like the whole "leaving your job to travel the world" thing is not for everybody, though most people I share my plans with respond with overwhelming enthusiasm and stories about their own experiences. I am so grateful for their support, but is everyone really that jazzed about the idea of leaving office life?
I still have reservations about my decision. I certainly won't be "making the world a better place", and I'll have to be very careful with how I spend my time and money so as not to make it a worse place. I'll get to try lots of new things, but I doubt they'll further my career.
Still, I can't deny the fact that the majority of my favorite memories, the moments when I feel the most alive, have been on the road. I remember the six months I spent traveling after college with more clarity than last week. At the time, I promised myself I'd do it again.
I still dream about wild dolphins.
Four years later, here I am. Every trip I've taken thus far has had a return date, but I'm leaving this one open-ended. I want to see what this whole long-term travel experience is like.
First, my boyfriend and I will be hitting the road to visit our families in the United States, then we'll be flying with a one-way ticket to Guatemala to brush up our Spanish skills for a month or two. And from there ...? It's a big, bold, exciting, scary question mark.
I'll be giving up an enviable life of comfort for months of stress, exhaustion, sickness, extreme temperatures, getting ripped off and probably robbed, and losing touch with friends at home. It sounds like lunacy.
But it'll also be time spent learning new languages and skills, meeting new people, exploring new places, and constantly challenging myself with the unknown.
My new dream is to find a way to make a life of travel sustainable, even though I only intend to practice it for a year or two. Ideally, I'll find a way to use my programming skills to support myself and try to solve some problems out there. And when this lifestyle grows stale, maybe I will have visited a place to call home for the next dream.
Thank you for reading! I can't believe it's already been 9 months since I wrote this and shared it with my friends and family. I haven't had any regrets since then, but I still have bouts of terror that I will regret it someday. Ugh, stupid brain. Still, I know I would have regretted not leaving even more.
I must be doing something right, because I feel that "raw edge of discomfort" I mentioned every day. It's surprisingly hard to make my own decisions about how to best spend my time.
Follow along for more ramblings about my journey. And, as always, I invite you to share how you navigate life with the dice you rolled.