Without My Career, Who Will I Be?
Last month I quit my career.
Technically, I resigned from my current job, but it was an effective way of walking away from the career I spent 15 years building. It was over surprisingly quickly. The decision I spent a year agonizing over, that I spent months planning, was over in a under a minute. It was as simple as saying, “I’m going to be leaving,” and that was that. My meticulously built career suddenly became past tense.
It was anything but simple and sudden, of course. There had been near constant waffling during the months preceding my resignation. Endless questioning, from, “What am I doing???” to, “Is this really the right decision?” played on a loop in my head. I spent long hours poring over my finances, and doubting my sanity. I worried about what I was moving toward, since I had no idea what I wanted to do for work.
I had never been without a defined goal before, and though it was somewhat freeing, it often felt more like I was free-falling. The initial surge of elation that surfaced right after my resignation was official was replaced in equal parts with fear, doubt, relief, excitement, and nostalgia.
I had spoken at length with friends who had also walked away from their careers, so I was not surprised by the rush of emotions that marked the weeks following my quitting. I anticipated the roller coaster of feelings that I would be riding. What did surprise me was how difficult it was for me to leave Katie from Allure behind.
Over the course of 15 years, I formed my identity almost solely around my career. I cast myself as Girl who works at fashion magazines, and later Katie from Allure. I created the character I thought that person should be: someone who bought expensive shoes and always had the perfect manicure, whose life looked a little bit glamorous from the outside. I enjoyed the reaction when I told people who I was — which was really just what I did for work, but I took it to mean more. I believed it was who I was.
So even though I knew when I quit my job that I was making the right decision for myself, and I knew it would be emotional, I struggled with letting go of the person I had been. If Katie from Allure is gone, who is left?
In the midst of this identity crisis, I headed to Italy for the second time to Jennifer Pastiloff’s Manifestation Yoga Retreat. Set at an idyllic 800-year old farmhouse, with yoga, meditation and writing on the daily schedule, it’s the ideal setting and opportunity for introspection and reflection. It’s the same place I first realized that maybe I could be someone other than Girl who works at fashion magazines. As I replayed the question, Who will I be now, throughout the week, I heard the answer in something that Jen recited to us:
“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
Those lines — the opening to Mary Oliver’s "Wild Geese" — it was the permission I was looking for to leave Katie from Allure behind, and to be someone else — even if I didn’t know who that was yet. The writing prompt in class that afternoon was to write a letter of closure, and the words came easily for the first time.
Dear Katie From Allure,
Everything is going to be OK.
You do not have to always have all of the answers.
You do not need to make money to make a difference.
You do not need to have valuable stuff to feel valued.
You do not need call yourself by a fancy title to feel proud of who you are.
You do not need to worry so much about what you won’t be anymore.
You do not need to know what you are meant to do before you start doing something.
You do not need to know where you will end up in order to take the first step.
You only have to take the first step.
Take the step.
Then take another.
And remember this: you are the only person who can pursue your happiness. You are the only person who can listen to your own heart. You are the only person who can nurture your soul.
You are the only person who can save your life.
Do it. Save yourself.
Everything is going to be OK.
I have no idea what comes next.
I don’t know what my next job looks like, I don’t know when the post-resignation roller coaster of emotions will end, and I don’t know if I will continue to struggle with my identity. I don’t know who I will be.
I only know that if I continue to take steps forward, following the direction of my heart, everything will be OK.