I was 15 years old when I got my first job working at Panera Bread for $5.25 an hour. Like most people, I’ve been working ever since, without so much as a few weeks off or a few months between jobs — until my “great resignation” in December 2021 at age 36.
During those 21 years, I’ve worked at coffee shops, restaurants, big box retailers, golf courses… and then post-college, in two TV newsrooms and a few big corporate organizations. Sometimes, I worked side gigs and temp jobs simultaneously with my salaried job, to the tune of 60-70 hours a week, just to pay the bills or get ahead. (Damn, those days were rough.)
Then, in December 2021, I quit my 6-figure communications and social media job. I took a chance on myself and my future: to grow and monetize this blog, publish a memoir about my journey, and THOROUGHLY ENJOY MY LIFE. I call this Julie’s Financial Independence Recreational Employment (my take on FI/RE)!
Below are some surprising realizations I’ve had in the now 10 months since “mini-retirement”… and spoiler alert, I’ve never been happier.
1. My days are SO full
Anyone who says “retirement must be boring” must himself be boring. I have no shortage of activities to fill my day with — and that’s WITHOUT Netflix!
I became a nomad in September of 2020, and until I quit my job, I worked remotely while traveling the U.S. and Canada; so practiced I was to scheduled Zoom calls and managing meetings through four time zones! But as restricting as scheduled work was (damn those 4 p.m. Pacific Time calls while I was on the east coast), compared, perhaps, to a remote job not tied to a set of specific hours, it did help me stay on track and excel in my role.
So when I quit, I thought I would make a daily schedule, IE) mornings for writing, social media content and engagement, and pitching podcasts or media outlets; afternoons for exercise and leisure time; and evenings for social engagements. Not only did I think it would help me meet my goals and optimize and organize my days, I thought I might run out of things to do without a to-do list.
NOT IN THE LEAST.
I may have freed up 40 hours a week, but my days are so full — with my interests and hobbies, exploring and discovering my new locales, and planning and thinking one step ahead as a person who travels full-time must do — and just being in the moment.
Since I bought my weekdays back, I am deeply protective of my time in a way I’ve never been before, and very sensitive to anyone and anything that makes demands on me.
2. I had to de-program myself around hustle culture
The first few weeks after I quit my job were an emotional rollercoaster. Some days, as I prepped for my six-month sabbatical in Mexico, I was hyper-productive — writing a lot, going to the gym, checking things off my to-do list. I could finally catch up on those half-finished, interrupted creative projects! Other days, I went on long walks, talked to friends on the phone, and binge-watched Yellowstone — and I would feel extremely guilty about that. What did I have to show for myself on those days?! I would never succeed at this rate!
So I became very conscious of society’s influence to “hustle.” Multitasking, being busy, feeling overwhelmed and unable to keep up, being extra productive — in western society, this is a badge of honor. But it’s a one-way ticket to shoddy work and burnout.
I taught myself it was ok to take rest, to be outside in nature, to move at a leisurely pace instead of a frantic one — that I was most creative when I wasn’t trying to force it, that reset time was crucial, and even though I was used to filling up my days with work, it was never my intention to trade one full-time job for another.
I’ll take a healthy balance over hustle culture any day.
3. I don’t know how I worked the job I had while traveling
As chaotic as my life is now, it was even more chaotic while I was working.
In my early digital nomad days, I had to set a lot of rules in order to work effectively: I’d always have to check-in/check-out of accommodations on a weekend so as to not interrupt the work day, I needed reliable Wi-Fi and surrounding quiet for Zoom, and I often had to be available to work hours outside of the time zone I was currently in (most of my team was on Pacific time).
Since being job-free, I have no restrictions or rules around my movements: I drive or take the bus when it’s most convenient for me. I’ve encountered horrible WiFi and dead devices, but my lack of connectivity is merely an inconvenience vs. job-threatening. I don’t really look at a clock anymore, and I often forget what day of the week it is (and sometimes, the month!).
While not impossible, I think it would be very stressful to have that kind of job and travel around like I do now.
4. I’ve started to define myself differently
I’m still asked, especially by Americans, the question: “What do you do?” My previous, kinda-vague, kinda-annoyed-was-I answer? “I work in social media” — although still fairly accurate, it doesn’t exactly sum up what I’m doing or not doing.
My occupation — or lack of an occupation — does not define me; what I am doing and what I care about is far more representative. So now, I say I am a blogger, an early retiree, a full-time traveler, or just a nomad.
People’s inevitable follow-up question is around how I support myself with this lifestyle, which is another complicated answer — my blog isn’t monetized to any substantial degree, so I rely on my savings, investments, and income from my mentoring business. While I consider myself unemployed since I don’t answer to anyone else for my time and mental energy, I still have aspirations, goals, and a to-do list for myself that could be considered “work” by some (which will earn me supplemental income someday).
5. I kind of miss work…
When I see job announcement posts on LinkedIn, or I hear about my friends moving up their career ladders, or when I talk to former coworkers and vendors who miss my contributions… I remember back to the days where I was extremely good at, proud of, and passionate about my work. (The paycheck was clutch, too.) I really liked my former coworkers, I appreciated and admired my boss, and I did enjoy the work!
And I do find social media a really fun career expertise — it’s ever-changing and evolving, it’s hugely important for all businesses in some way or another, and it allows me to exercise both my analytical brain and creative brain.
Luckily, all of my years of marketing and storytelling experience is STILL put to good use: I haven’t completely left the industry — and if I ever go back into the workforce in a more traditional way, I’ll have a large body of work to show for my “retirement.”
6. …But the desire to preserve my freedom is stronger
Let me tell you, that regular paycheck IS attractive! But even more compelling: I hesitate to take on any part-time work, unless it is in perfect alignment with my goals and values… because, like I mentioned earlier, my days are so full of doing the things that I like and love to do. I don’t want to give up my freedom, which I’ve come to really value — I don’t answer to anybody, I don’t do anything that I don’t deem a good use of time, I have joy and leisure and flexibility. It’s not glamorous by any means, as I’m operating on a set budget, but I have “enough” to subsist for a while and that’s what matters.
I feel like I bought my freedom… from the rat race, from materialism and commercialism, from the debt trap, from the cookie-cutter life I was told to live, and that is everything.
7. My mindset around money changed
Being unemployed-by-choice has definitely changed my mindset around money and consumption.
Firstly, making the transition from being an earner to a spender was a tough pill to swallow: I was spending money that was not being replenished every two weeks. Despite having the funds, it pained me to see debit after debit on my account summary (without any credits) — it went against everything I had been told and taught about money.
I recall a time in San Miguel de Allende early on in my mini-retirement. I was looking at the cocktail menu of a bougie rooftop bar and considering what to order. A beer, of course, was the most affordable at about 50 pesos ($2.50), but I really wanted the mezcal cocktail, which was 140 pesos ($7). It cost almost three times as much, but I consulted my $50 a month alcohol & bars budget. Ordering what I really wanted meant a trade-off, but it WAS within my budget. I took a breath and ordered the mezcal cocktail.
While I still sometimes have anxiety about overspending each month, I try to remove the emotion from it, work within my budget, and I am conscientious, crafty, methodical, and I negotiate where I can with my spending. Read more about my thinking here.
Closely related to this are my feelings about consumption. We are a society that over-consumes: commercialism and materialism, food and alcohol addictions, vanity and appearances, and a host of other deadly sins. I am happy to have enough — enough belongings to be comfortable, enough money to survive and thrive — I am not skimping, I am prioritizing.
If I come to any other realizations, I’m sure I’ll let you all know. 😘❤️
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8 thoughts on “7 Surprising Realizations I’ve Had Since Quitting My Job at 36”
Thanks for posting this, Julie! I enjoyed reading about your realizations — though it’s not surprising to me at all that your days are full. I’ve been telling friends (and some very trusted coworkers) for a while that I’d definitely retire TODAY if I had the money. Some of them have asked if I would be bored… and I’m like, no way! If I never worked a day again, I definitely would find lots of fun, exciting ways to occupy my time. I don’t understand people who don’t think they could have a life without work. There is SO much to do and explore in this world. 🙂
Are you going back to Mexico later this year? How is Penny? As much as I enjoy reading about your Europe travels, I actually sort of liked reading about Mexico better because it was really cute she was with you there!
EXACTLY!!! Amen sista 📣
And don’t worry, there will be lots more of Penny in about a month! We are going to be back in Mexico by EOY 🙂
Thanks for the update Julie! I told my son today (he’s 28) that I might retire this coming January. I’m 57 so he’s baffled as to why I would do this, I watched my brother die couple years ago from cancer and my mom die less than two years later. Life is too short to be tethered to an employer calling all the shots for 40+ hours a week. Financially I can pull it off for quite awhile so I’m mulling the idea over thanks to you. Bored? No way, I am always busy and have lots of places I want to go and things I want to do. Stay safe and keep posting 🙂
This is so true — the future is not guaranteed, and I think more of us really should live closer to the moment and take advantage of the NOW ❤️ I’m excited that you’re making a plan to see and do all the things! Keep me posted!
Great post Julie. I’m counting down the months (years?) till I follow a similar path. Couple of questions from me – when were you in Croatia? I was there last week with my family. Also Venmo – it’s not available in the UK or I would buy you a large glass of vino to share in your joy. Is there another way of donating to your travels?
Oh wow! I was in Dubrovnik for 3 days. Where did you visit and what did you think? I’m currently on a detour in Bosnia, then I’ll go back to Croatia and spend time in Split and Zagreb.
That is SO sweet of you to offer 💝 and thank you for letting me know about Venmo, I didn’t know it wasn’t widely available. I also use PayPal. Here’s my profile: https://paypal.me/Juliebrose
I’m excited for your countdown… be thoughtful, but ultimately, don’t be TOO thoughtful that it prevents you from LEAPING 💕😘
I was near Paklenica National Park at Starigrad. My daughter is working for a holiday company and we visited her. Beautiful place and we had a fabulous time there. Crystal clear waters in a protected bay and we had a ball. I will definitely return with the aim of seeing more of the country. (It was an activities package holiday so we didn’t tour as much as we usually do because we were getting involved in all the activities.) I’ve sent a wee gift via paypal for you now. Cheers 🍷
I’ll check it out! Thank you and cheers, Nicola! Or in Bosnian… Živjeli 🙂