Shit I wish I knew before quitting my toxic job to freelance and travel

It’s no secret that after the uncertain years we’ve had, everyone and their mum is revaluating what occupies our time. The pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to reflect and realize that life is too short to run on the hamster wheel non-stop. We’re recognizing that our talents and time are worth more than the things we settled for in the past. My story isn’t any different because suprise, surprise, I also quit my full-time corporate job during this great resignation era.

Note: This post is not directing you to quit your job. I acknowledge that everyone reading will not have the privilege to walk away from a job because your safety, housing and families depend on your income. The following is solely a result of my personal experience.

But Zahra, why did you quit your job?

Short answer: Toxic bosses, burnout and finding a lack of value in my tasks.

Long answer: When I moved back to Canada from the UK in 2021, I was transferred to a consultancy contract due to tax laws. This change negated my eligibility for vacation days or sick leave. In many ways, this was great. I saw this as an opportunity to indulge in side hustles for extra cash because I technically worked for myself now. I took on part-time work and freelanced when I could.

The shine wore off fast, though. I constantly worried about getting sick and not being able to work because my entire day’s pay would be deducted. I couldn’t even think of taking a vacation or a mental health break because the math of how much money I was missing out ate at me. The team I worked with also got heavily shuffled, and the environment became extremely toxic. I eventually burnt out by the new year. I knew if I didn’t do anything now, the lower level of rock bottom was waiting for me. So, in February 2022, I sent in my notice.

The transition from having a steady paycheque to being unemployed is one of the most challenging. I hope the tips below help you prepare for the next steps if you find yourself in a similar situation.

Quitting is the hardest part

My girlfriends and I took a trip to Vancouver in December where I constantly worked from my phone even though I’d taken unpaid leave. This was a big red flag that my work-life balance was non-existent.

I wrote and rewrote my resignation letter five times before sending it. I chickened out the first four times because I doubted my drive to generate my own income. But the worse my work-life became, the more I started to believe in myself.

You need to constantly and earnestly remind yourself of your worth. The hardest thing in this process is hitting the send button of your resignation email. Remember, you’re not quitting. You’re prioritizing your goals and your health. You can’t do that in a toxic environment.

It’s OK not to have something else lined up

I avoided quitting because I thought another job offer was the only way out. This may be true for a lot of you reading because not everyone can afford to miss a paycheck. However, after months of applying, I wasn’t having much luck. I told myself this was a sign to do my own thing instead.

I knew a couple of months of struggle to get freelancing started would be worth it in the end (I work hard to make this true every day). If you’re going to great lengths to quit, you might as well spend the time to find something you want to do.

I hate to be that annoying bitch, but a lot happens when you choose yourself. The time that’s yours again after quitting allows you to manifest what you want and go after that without time or energy barriers. No one is saying it’s easy, but if you don’t clear out your schedule to try, stuff won’t just land in your lap.

You quit to be yourself again

In the few months before quitting, I ate a pack of ramen a day and slept four hours on a good night. The Microsoft Teams ding sent my heartbeat to hell and back.

After submitting my resignation, I made a to-do list of everything I was putting off: Planning trips, friends I wanted to catch up with, pottery classes, sleep. I used this as a physical reminder of why I was doing all this.

Some cute things I made in pottery class

When a toxic workaholic environment is normalized, indulging in the things that make you happy can bring guilt. As a new freelancer, I sometimes catch myself watching Netflix with my breakfast and my tummy caves in for not being “productive” during morning hours.

So make your list and look at it every day to feel yourself again. Giving yourself a break is good. You NEED downtime to work your way out of burnout and recharge.

Figure out your savings and budget

No besties, you can’t money launder 🌚

Most of you might already have a solid savings and budgeting system, but with temporary unemployment on the horizon, you might have to revisit it and make some lifestyle changes. If you’re covered for health benefits, make sure you take advantage of them before your last day. Switch to a cheaper gym or think about which subscriptions you can temporarily pause. For me, this was opting out of the upgraded version of Zoom, saying bye to the NY Times, and deleting my Uber Eats app.

My regular monthly budget with a full-time job was $3.3K (CAD), and after moving some things around, I landed on $2.5K (rent accounting for 65% lol). If I was to remain unemployed for three months, I knew I’d need $8K in savings without being kicked out of my rental.

Get used to failure

On the freelance side, most of my pitches don’t get responses. But I’ve started to build a roster of new and previous editors, I’m relearning story pitching, and I’m trying to zoom into a beat that I can build on. I mentally prepared for this.

What I couldn’t grasp was that after spending all my time behind a screen for months on end, my personal skills weakened: I couldn’t run as much, my friendships became messy, and the food I cooked tasted shitty (mostly because I can’t cook, but still). I’m now relearning to celebrate every extra minute I run, every conversation I spark, and ANYTHING edible I can digest.

Not everyone’s opinion matters

When deciding when or whether to quit, everyone had an opinion. Some friends asked me to continue until summer, others begged me to send my resignation yesterday because they saw how unhappy I was.

No matter what anyone says, no one knows your drive or your finances better than you. If you need to continue working longer to pay your bills or get a plane ticket, you will. If you believe you can build your freelancing empire, you will. Take what people say with a grain of salt because no matter how much they love you, they’re not you.

Build a realistic routine

From a young age, we’re programmed to be at school for a certain time or clock in at a certain hour. Going off the only course we’ve known confuses our brains. In the first few weeks of unemployment, I was sleeping late and scrolling unhealthy amounts of Tiktok. I woke up tired and angry because I had missed my entire morning.

Now, I’m trying to schedule meetings, interviews and classes for 9 or 10 am to force myself to get out of bed. Some days this doesn’t happen, and I have to forgive myself, but I still make my coffee, browse LinkedIn, check my emails and read the news as part of my ritual and get on with my day.

Building a routine helps you transition smoother to a freelancing or job-hunting cycle. It enables you to continue to have small wins.

This liminal is harder than your toxic job, but SO SO SO worth it

She ate breakfast. She got dressed. She took selfies. She’s still a bad bitch.

As much as I hated my job, I’d become comfortable with it. I knew when to do what, and I didn’t worry about when my next paycheque would come. I’d even become numb to the slander from my bosses. Now, I’m actively working to remind myself every morning that I chose this, I chose me and my health, and that was the best thing I could do.

So, what’s next, Zahra?

Therapy, probably. Until then, a solo backpacking trip to remember all the good things life offers. I’m going to visit some besties in the UK and then travel to Morocco for a couple of weeks. The financials aren’t good enough to continue my studio life but mama is willing to take me in until then 🙂

If you’re in a similar situation, I wish you all the good energy to clear your mind and land on something you’re proud of. If you have anything to add to the list, comment below and if you just feel like venting, I’m here for that too.

Wanna see Morocco with me? Follow me on IG here. Until next time, besties,

Z.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. kevinwp1 says:

    Freelance for the win! You go girl!

    Liked by 1 person

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