I worked at a major regional bank in Pittsburgh for over four years before I had to call it quits at the age of 30. I was having chest pains, was 40 pounds overweight and at the end of my physical and emotional rope. I quit five months ago, completely of my own volition and for no other reason than I honestly believed I was dying. Walking away from a high-paying job with no college education in a depressed economy seems like the stupidest thing I could have done, but it saved my life. The ramifications have been largely positive, and my only regret is that I didn't make this change sooner.
I cashed out my 401(k) and pension. I used those funds to pay my bills while I pondered my next move. My first instincts were to apply for more positions in the self-same field I had left, and despised: customer service, the voice on the other end of the phone when the bank's customers called with complaints. After listening to filthy language and being verbally abused for so long, I was caught in the quandary of not wanting another job in that world, yet needing to produce income. I sent out resumes by the bucket-load and interviewed at a few call centers. After each of those meetings, I left the facility filled with more anxiety and fear, just from being in that environment again.
The longer this went on, the more I realized that my call-center days were behind me. The thought of putting on a headset and waiting for the disgusting, abusive screaming to begin again made me feel horrible. I had worked in call centers for over 11 years, all told. I just couldn't go back. I was also approaching being too old to work in call centers at age 30, as the job is seen as an entry level position (in Pittsburgh, at least) in all but supervisory positions.
My friends' and family's reactions ranged from supportive to downright accusatory. An acquaintance asked if I planned to apply for welfare, while another asked how I planned to finance my life without work. Another person even postulated I was lazy. While these comments were hurtful, it helped to know who my true friends are. Most people were aware of how high stress the customer-service field is and supported my decision to take my life in a new direction, no matter what direction I decided to choose.
It was my life-long passion for writing that led me to looking for online writing opportunities. I had heard that some people get paid to write for the web, but had never believed such tales. After exhaustive research, I found a site that rated well and was not accused of scamming. I submitted a single article. When it sold for just a few dollars, I was gobsmacked. This emboldened me to try more online work. Before I knew it, I had racked up three genuine online gigs, all on an independent-contractor basis.
Still technically unemployed, the money started to trickle in. My love of writing blossomed as I saw all of the positive impacts my life-changing decision had made on my life. Twenty-five pounds melted away as I stopped eating for comfort and began eating only because I was hungry. I saw my relationships flourish as I no longer lashed out due to overwork, stress and anxiety. Working on my own schedule has allowed me to rest as much as I need to, eat properly, socialize and exercise.
A typical day now sees me rising without the use of an alarm clock. I shower and dress in comfortable clothes, cook two meals, then work in long bursts throughout the day. I use free software to complete my assignments and write about everything and anything. I go to bed when I am tired, no matter the time. Little disrupts my routine, as I handle most of my life online by using instant messengers, bill pay and email. I alone decide when I want to go out, or if I want to go out, where and with whom.
My advice to anyone who is unemployed is to play to your strengths. It sounds so simple, but I see people every day who despise their job and would do anything to escape it. If you like to write, write. If you enjoy working on computers, launch a small business from home. Almost any passion can be turned into work if you are motivated to make it so.
If you are adamant about finding and maintaining outside employment, don't work a job you hate. All it will do is ruin your work history. With 11 years of call center experience, I hold no illusions of ever finding another brick-and-mortar job that doesn't involve call centers or, worse, wearing my name on my shirt and asking if the client would care for fries. Don't paint yourself into a career corner like I did.
Walking away from my panic-attack inducing, cubicle-slavery job was the best move I have ever made in my life. Being unemployed isn't as awful or permanent as you may think, and your passions can lead you to find your true niche in the world. Find where that passion leads you, and you may find you are happier, healthier and far more stable than you ever could have imagined.
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