Just Go With It
Sitting on a beach in Australia, Swati Khanna looked at her silent mobile phone and made a monumental decision – she needed to quit her job.
It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy her job in law, or even that she minded the long hours that the job entailed; it was more that something just wasn’t quite sitting right in her life and she needed to jump off the treadmill and just… stop.
“Normally on holiday, my company would call me a hundred times a day,” explains Swati, 36. “This time the phone wasn’t ringing, and it made me realise how it felt to be free.”
Swati had worked for a multinational legal company for six years and headed up a large department. But after her holiday in Australia ended, she flew back to Dubai and handed in her notice.
“This was in 2008, when the recession had just hit, and everyone thought I was crazy to walk out of a job with nowhere else to go,” she says. “But I knew it was the right thing to do. I needed to get off the corporate ladder and reassess my life.”
For four months Swati, who lives near the marina, simply gave herself the time to enjoy her life again.
“Friends and relatives came over to visit, I did the tourist things I’d never had time to do before, and some days I just watched TV. I loved it. It wasn’t that I never wanted to work again but more that I needed that time to relax before working out what it was I really wanted to do,” says Swati.
Swati then took another corporate job, but again she felt it wasn’t quite right for her. So she handed in her notice three months later, again with no plan for the future.
“People couldn’t believe that in the middle of a recession I’d walked out of not just one job but two jobs,” she says. “But I had confidence in my abilities and I knew that the right opportunity would present itself eventually. And it did.
“I now run my own legal consultancy and I work the hours that suit me. Best of all is that I’m following my own visions, rather than someone else’s. I feel free at last. Forcing myself to get out of the mentality where I was always striving for the next promotion was the best decision I ever made.
“Living in Dubai means that the rat race is still going on, but now it’s going on around me and I really don’t miss being in the thick of it at all.”
Stepping into the unknown can be a huge and scary decision and one that in today’s society we find very difficult.
Even as children we are taught that perseverance and commitment are traits to be commended, but sticking with music lessons as a child, for example, is only one step away from an adult who feels that walking away from a job that’s not making them happy or a relationship that is going nowhere would be deemed to be a failure.
Indeed when Carine Roitfeld, the editor of French Vogue, quit her job in December 2010 saying she had ‘no plan’ for the future, her decision was met with derision and disbelief.
How could a career woman, with one of the most coveted jobs in fashion, simply turn her back on it without having lined up an even more prestigious role beforehand?
“That’s the problem,” says Dubai life coach Livia Anzaldo. “We are all so busy trying to achieve our next target or be better than our peers that sometimes we don’t stop and question whether any of it is actually making us happy.
“We all need to realise that it’s ok to just stop sometimes, take stock of our lives and jump into the unknown. That way you can channel your passions in a way that suits you.
“It doesn’t matter what your peers consider to be the ideal job, it’s what lights your own flame that is important. If you have the confidence, the drive and the positivity to do just that, then just go for it. And if something isn’t making you happy, don’t do it.
“One word of warning though – it’s fine not to have a plan, as long as you do have something of a safety net. So, it’s ok to say you are not going to work for six weeks but ensure that you have the finances in place to do so.
“Or it’s great to set up your own business, fuelling your passions, but make sure you’ve done your research beforehand,” she adds.
But if taking a step off life’s treadmill is what we need, why do we find it so difficult to actually take the plunge?
Latest statistics in the UK show that 60 per cent of workers hate their jobs and 90 per cent of people don’t want to answer to a boss any more. So, why are so many of us sticking with things that make us unhappy for fear of being labelled a quitter?
“We are definitely the ‘have it all’ generation who define ourselves by our careers and our possessions,” explains life coach and psychologist Jessica Chivers (www.jessicachivers.com).
“Much of that is due to the rise in access we have to other people’s lives. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and 24-hour news channels, we now see the minutiae of other people’s lives, so whereas in the past we compared ourselves to neighbours and friends, there’s now a whole host of people to compare ourselves to.
“And if we are not seen to be achieving what they are achieving then we feel as though we’ve failed. People forget that social networks only show a snapshot of someone’s life. No one posts a photo of themselves looking fat online or mentions that they are doing really badly at work, so it gives us an unhealthy perspective on our own lives.”
But as we all strive to reach our next achievement, how many of us are stopping to question whether it’s something that we actually want?
A recent survey showed that 26 per cent of US women on the cusp of the most senior levels of management don’t want the promotion. And 73 per cent said that they wouldn’t apply for their boss’s job because they wouldn’t want the politics, pressure and increased responsibility.
Yet, we are so determined to doggedly stick to our life-plans that many of us are rapidly approaching burnout.
Kate Shanahan knows exactly how that feels. After 15-years of working in PR, the job was taking a huge toll on her life.
“I was absolutely exhausted,” admits Kate, 38. “I was living in London and trying to be everything to everyone. But I was stretching myself far too far. I was like a hamster running on a wheel.
“I was always rushing from work to the children’s nursery and I could never switch off from my job. I had no quality time with the kids and no time whatsoever for myself.”
But Kate’s opportunity to end her manic life came at the end of 2007 when her husband was offered a job in Dubai.
“It was scary,” she admits. “By then I had set up my own PR company and I found it difficult to imagine leaving behind everything that I’d worked so hard for. But I knew I couldn’t physically or mentally carry on at such break-neck speed.
“Moving to Dubai in January 2008 forced me to just stop and breathe again. Suddenly I could be a wife, mother and friend again. I even had the luxury of having the time to go to the doctor’s when I was ill or having my hair cut when I wanted to.
“Finally having some time to myself made me reassess what I really wanted to do with my life, and I am now training to be a therapist. I just love it. I really feel like I am doing something which is worthwhile with my time, whilst managing to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
“I see photos of myself from when I was working in London and I look so tired and drained. I actually look younger now than I did back then, and I certainly laugh more these days,” she continues.
“It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I have finally accepted that sometimes you just need to stop, go with the flow and see where life takes you.”
Your five step switch-off guide
1 Start small
“Start by being unscripted in a small part of your life,” advises Jessica Chivers. “That way, going with the flow won’t feel so daunting. Maybe change the way you spend your weekends to be more free and easy, or something equally low-risk, to get you into the mindset.
2 Learn to delegate
Handing over control is a big step towards switching off. Maybe let someone else choose where to go for Friday brunch rather than sticking to your normal routine. It’s liberating not to have to always hold the reins.
3 Learn to just ‘be’
Get used to living in the moment. Focus on what you are doing right now, rather than what you will be doing later or chores that need to be done. Yoga is an excellent way of training yourself to focus on the here and now.
4 Don’t invite criticism
“Stop seeking opinions, even if just for a day,” advises Jessica. “Don’t ask people what they think of your outfit or your plan for the day. Soon you’ll find the confidence to make your own decisions without caring what others think.”
5 Don’t plan
Don’t set out a plan, but instead form a nebulous of ideas. What do you enjoy? What do you aspire to? These thoughts will help you to eventually work out where you want life to take you. Until then, sit back and enjoy the ride….