Leaving the workforce (and the aftermath)

cubiclesLeaving my job was the easy part. After thinking about it for a long time, putting the plan into action was relatively uncomplicated.

As always, I put lots of thought and effort into making things as smooth as possible for the people around me. I made how-to guides for all the tasks only I knew how to do. I scheduled meetings to go over all my duties with the rest of my team. I documented everything like crazy. I helped interview and hire my replacement.

People acted like I would be indispensable, like I was leaving a huge hole. My boss cried when I told her I was leaving. I half expected some things to fall apart once I left. But the truth is, they got on fine. Work life marches on. It may not be the same without you, but someone else will fill that hole. And when the only thing you have in common is work, coworkers quickly fall out of touch.

It’s an important point of perspective that I wish I’d had while I was working. You’re not irreplaceable. From a corporate perspective, they just need the job done. They don’t really care who does it.

Mentally, this was quite hard on me. Knowing that I’d sunk so much time and effort into something that hadn’t really mattered all that much, seeing that I was not irreplaceable, it sure taught me a lesson about feeling self important.

It took a long time for me to feel OK about being at home. It was not related to how things were going with our son. (It’s awesome to get to spend our days together – even the tough ones.) But there were times I missed working, and almost felt guilty for thinking it.

In part it was because my days became more unpredictable and I felt less in control of my time. However, I was also surprised to find that it was difficult for me to go without any sort of acknowledgement for what I was doing, the recognition for a job well done. Since starting elementary school, I’d had constant external feedback on my performance and now there was nobody to judge how I was doing except me! At home I didn’t get that feeling of accomplishment that I got from finishing seemingly important things at work and getting rewarded for it. There was nothing that really had to be done except helping care for our son and living life.

Sometimes I still find myself looking for that validation from outside myself. But I try to remind myself about what’s really important, why we decided to do this. I also remember that while I like being the expert, and helping people, those are things I can do anytime, anywhere. I need to focus my time and effort on the things that really matter, on the people who truly do care about me and will miss me when I’m gone.