So, when I first got laid-off from my super-duper corporate job, my initial instinct was to go out and get another one…even though I hadn’t really LOVED my job and even though I wasn’t sure it was the best thing for me to do. Ultimately, I spent six months turning down offers to submit my resume and cringing in job interviews before finally deciding that either, I really didn’t want that super-duper corporate job, or if I did, I didn’t want it right now. Everyone tells you that if you take time off and opt-out for a bit, then you can never hop back on the train. I don’t know if that’s true, but I can tell you that eighteen months ago I was burned out, had three years worth of non-career-related neglected items rolling around in my head, and really felt like I needed a break. I honestly think it would have been worse for my career if I’d jumped right back in and tried to go full guns when I was running on empty.
Ultimately, I decided that working from home and taking contract jobs would be the best thing for me at the time. Still, I sometimes felt embarrassed when I ran into law school peers and was like, “Yeah, I got laid off. Yeah, I’m just doing contract work now. I really like it though, I mean really.” Actually, that’s not true. I wasn’t embarrassed at all to be doing contract work. I loved it. What I was embarrassed about was being judged for doing it.
On election night of 2012 I ended up on the phone with my brother and he asked, “Ana, what are you doing with your life?!?!”
And I was like, “What do you mean? I’m figuring my stuff out.”
“If you were 22, I would support you,” he told me. “But you’re WAY TOO OLD to be doing this,” he continued. “You’ve got debt. You’re a lawyer and capable of earning a bunch of money and you’re sitting in your house working 7 hours a week and playing fiddle. Think about your retirement!”
I answered, “All I can tell you is that I don’t know where this is headed, but I do know that what I’m doing right now is right for me, things are slowly taking shape, and it will work itself out in the end.”
Normally my brother’s words would have upset me. I would have worried that he was disappointed in me or worried about me. But I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t mad. I knew his journey in life and understood why he said those things and why his path was right for him. I also knew that I was doing what was right for me, and I was no longer worried about justifying or explaining it.
And that was a cool moment, because I realized that for the first time, I was living a life based on no one’s expectations or opinions other than my own.
We’ve all been told different countless things so much since birth that we now take them as ‘musts.’ I must have health insurance. I must work an 8-5 salaried job. I must have a college degree. I must get married before the age of X. They’ve been repeated so many times that we don’t stop to think about them anymore. We just assume that they’re true. Sitting down to figure out all of your ‘musts’ and questioning if they’re actually true for you takes time, but the relief and freedom that comes with each one you cast off is thrilling.