Voluntary Uncertainty and Growing Anxiety

As of today, only 28 days remain before I am officially retired. Three days later, I depart for my adventure across the continent. No longer can I think of this life-changing event as months away. Now I must think in terms of weeks and days.

Not surprisingly (and predictably), the consequences of what I’m about to embark on weigh more heavily upon me. This is not to say that I didn’t have anxiety before, nor that I don’t still enjoy feelings of relief now. All things considered, I still feel like I’m handling all of this pretty well. But the trend-line of my resting pulse mood is heading downward toward that of anxiety. Depression might not be far behind.

Voluntary Uncertainty

In my life (and I imagine in the lives of most other people), I have never before moved from a place of higher certainty to a place of lower certainty of my own free will. Most people would voluntarily choose to give up their job if they had a better job lined up somewhere else. Alternatively, most people would find themselves unemployed only if they were forced into it involuntarily.

It would be one thing to quit being a lawyer if I had another source of income lined up. I could even swallow this easier if I were forced out of my job – either by being fired, disbarred, or run out of business. But to shut down my law practice on my own without knowing where I’ll get money to eat? I’ve never done anything so premeditated and reckless before.

If I fail, then this all falls on my shoulders. I can’t even share part of the blame to someone else. My choices. My consequences. This is all on me, and that’s scary.

(Before you conclude that I’m courageous – know that I’ve saved up enough money to safely survive until the end of 2017. On top of that, the sale of my home should add a considerable buffer. I have reduced the level of risk here.)

Voluntary Uncertainty

I run a very real risk of running out of money before I secure a new job.

Nevertheless, the pressure to find work is on now, and there’s really nothing I can start to do about it until the trip is over. I’ve got quite a few criteria, which will make the job hunt even more challenging. And on top of that, I’m also giving up my home without lining up a place to live.  In and of itself, finding a new home should be comparably easier than finding a job. But there’s a bit of chicken-and-egg conundrum. I’d hate to limit my job choices by where I live, but it’s logistically difficult to search for a job without having a home.

Never Forget Why

Of course nothing in life is certain. If I had voluntarily chosen to retain my home and my job, there is no guarantee that they wouldn’t be taken away from me in the future. The economy could improve and I could run out of business. A tornado could level my home. I could make a mistake that costs me my license. My home could burn down in a fire.

Nothing in life is certain, so we all do our best to manage risks. And while having a home and stream of revenue does bring me some level of happiness, I had to weigh that against the high likelihood that I would be even more depressed and unhappy if I continued to do this work that I hate.

Rarely do things just fall in our laps that will improve the quality of our lives. If we seek improvement, more often than not we must be the architects of that change through hard work and taking risks. Playing it safe doesn’t pay off for me anymore. Taking this risk might put me in a worse spot. But the odds are pretty good that this risk will pay off for me down the road.

A Letter to Myself

Days lie ahead of me which will be full of anxiety and panic. For the benefit of my future self, I’ve written a letter to myself. At a time when I am level-headed, this is a friendly reminder from my past to my future of why I made the right choice.

Dear Me,

I’m sorry you’re feeling unhappy right now. I knew you were going to have days like this. I knew that you would make mistakes, experience hardship, and feel regret. You might even have nights when you cry yourself to sleep. You’re nervous and you’re anxious.

In fact, I was so certain that you would have days like this that I wrote you this letter. Being from the past, I must admit that I don’t know exactly what it is that’s troubling you right now (though I can guess). Nor can I give you specific advice on how to deal with whatever it is. But I am confident that you are going to overcome whatever obstacles you’re facing now and you will become a better person for it.

Guess what, buddy? You would have days like this even if you had played it safe and kept your job and home. Try to remember how much you hated your job, and try to imagine how much more misery you would have to endure over the next ten… twenty… thirty years if you hadn’t made this choice. Whatever your problems now, they are a small price to pay for the freedom to set a different direction for your life.

Remember that you have always landed on your feet when faced with adversity in the past, and you’ll do it again. You’re a survivor, and you will do whatever it takes to get your shit together.

Remember that most problems aren’t really problems in the life-and-death sense of the word. Remember that the whole point of this journey is to grow, be more flexible and adaptable, and to set better priorities in your life. And remember that what sucks right now is going to make for a fucking awesome story later!

But most importantly, remember why you did this.  You wasted eleven years of your life working a job that you hated to pay for an education that is worthless to you.  Remember that you didn’t want to enslave yourself to a crappy job to pay for an expensive lifestyle that you didn’t need, nor grow 10 years older and look back on your life with regret.

It might not seem like it now, but your troubles will pass. Keep looking forward toward the future. You’re on an amazing adventure – don’t squander this opportunity.

Your Pal,

Me

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