I was chatting to a business associate the other day. He’s enjoying his high-powered, high-stress and, let’s be honest, high-earning position, managing all sorts of change, rushing around here, there and everywhere … or he thinks he is.
Actually, he’s plagued by all sorts of niggling illnesses, that have become worse. Nothing that’s putting him in hospital, but things that are affecting his quality of life, outside work more than inside, and can’t be ignored.
So, is it worth the stress?
Downsizing your life, downsizing your stress levels
I can claim to be a bit of an expert on this, from personal experience. Having been doing a management-level, fairly demanding job in London, when we moved to the Midlands I was determined to have “a job”. In fact, we both agreed we would indulge ourselves for a year, M going back to post-graduate study and me looking for a basic level library job.
I had a bit of trouble, as a qualified librarian, getting a basic entry level job, but I did in the end. Lots of people said I would get bored; my managers tried to encourage me to apply for promotions I didn’t really want. I’d been up the corporate ladder, and I knew that it suited me at the time to have “a job” rather than “a career”, something that would pay the bills but allow me the resources and energy to enjoy my new life in a new city.
So that’s what I did, and I was perfectly content for a good few years. In fact, having that lower-stress, lower-responsibility job allowed me to start up Libro and develop my own business.
Different career paths for different life stages
Now, I could have quite easily chosen to progress through the corporate ranks again, gone for those management jobs, gone for the higher salary, which is always a consideration, isn’t it. But I decided to go this alternative route, and set up the business.
But I did that in as stress-free and risk-free a way as I could (see my article on not taking risks for more information). I’d decided it wasn’t worth the fear of going full-time at the beginning, the stress of having to scrape around for money to live on, etc. Instead, I lived very frugally, scraped together money to live on in advance, and launched Libro full time in January 2012.
Now I have a satisfying job, where I’m responsible to myself and my clients, no bosses, no employees. I earn more than I’ve earned in any of my corporate jobs, and, having identified during my career that I like to work in this way, that I don’t like office politics, being a manager, etc., I can honestly say that, even running my own business where every sick day means income and jobs lost, where I do sometimes put in an 11 hour day, but where I can claim what I know makes me happy:
- responsibility for myself and my clients
- no employees
- no office politics
- flexibility to juggle my day to fit in friends and exercise
I am as stress-free as I can be. And I have no stress dermatitis, no IBS, I’m fit and healthy and enjoying life.
I’m not boasting about this: it’s taken time to know myself and know what I want, and it’s taken hard work to get here, which hasn’t always been the most fun I’ve ever had. But I’m in my own space now, not trying to jam myself into an inappropriate role, and I’m very much happier as a result.
Know yourself and make the change
The photo at the top of this post? That’s butterflies emerging from their chrysalises. Whether what’s confining you is stress or something else, such as lack of the confidence to break free, surely it’s worth trying to achieve your potential and seeing what you can do … if you just break out of the chrysalis.
My advice to you, if you think you’re stressed, or you don’t think you’re stressed but your body does …
- Think about what you REALLY want. Is the money worth it? Yes, we all need money to live on, yes, economic times are perilous, but if you can save anything ahead of changing your lifestyle, do it.
- Think about what you enjoy, what you need, and work towards claiming it.
- Talk to close friends or colleagues. How do they see your stress levels? What solutions can they offer?
- Talk to a reputable life coach or careers counsellor. What ideas do they have?
- Mind-map, brainstorm, go walking for a week, whatever it takes to give you space to think this through.
- Seek mentors and role models. People have told me my blog posts have helped them on their path to self-employment (hooray!) – look around for people doing what you might fancy doing, and drill down into how they did it.
- Think laterally. Do you really want to be an architect, or do you want to work for a housing association? Do you really want to be a social worker, or do you want to train as a counsellor? Could you work part time while you pursue your aims?
My “career path”, from corporate ladder-climber to “just a library assistant” to successful small business owner shows that you can step down, sideways, whatever. I’m not a risk-taker, I’m not particularly well-off, and it hasn’t always been easy. But it can be done.