Making the Jump: Part 2

It has been several weeks since I posted Part I of this blog – I have been traveling on business quite a bit, and have finally gotten the chance to stop and catch my breath.  And see my husband.  And go to the gym.  No complaining here: I love the work I’m doing now, but I will admit that sometimes is it a bit of a roller coaster, and it’s nice to get off once in a while and just sit on the bench nearby with a sno-cone.

Last I checked in, I had just called my husband to tell him I could not take work one minute longer.  I didn’t want to get into details with him on the phone, as I still had a full afternoon of patients left to see and I didn’t relish the idea of being an emotional wreck for the rest of the day.  I simply said that I really needed to talk to him that evening, so if he could dodge the Friday happy hour at his firm and come home, that would be great.

I thought long and hard on the drive home exactly how I was going to put this to him.  It was no secret that I had been becoming steadily more unhappy over the past few years.  But  thinking about quitting your job and actually doing it are two completely different things.  By the time he arrived home, I had a fairly well-rehearsed speech ready for him.

He walked in the door, took one look at me, and said, “I don’t know what kind of song-and-dance you had prepared to share with me tonight, but if you need to get the f**k out of that place, then just quit.”

This is why I married my husband.  He knows me almost better than I know myself.  He is a gift, and I am thankful for him every day.

I talked with him about giving my department three months notice, even though I was technically only part-time faculty, since it would give them the most time to create a smooth transition for my patients.

Ever the pragmatist, my husband looked at me narrowly and said, “You won’t make it three more months without frying.  Give them two.”

And he was right.  Getting through the final two months once I had given my notice was nothing but an exercise in exquisite torture.  My meeting with my chairman was nothing too terrible.  Perhaps sad and somewhat pitiful, yes.  My chairman was sad to see me go, but knew that he didn’t really have anything to offer me that would convince me to stay (and certainly not any additional money), and he didn’t even try.  it was more of a formality than anything.

No, the worst part was seeing my patients over the next two months and have each one of them react to the news of my leaving.  There was disbelief, tears, and even some anger at the department (which I of course did not encourage but admittedly took some small delight in).  Every day was a soap opera, and it became exhausting.  But eventually, I did get there.  My last day of work, the department threw an anticlimactic little cake and cookie social in the resident lecture room.  I was happy at least to see it was well-attended.

I essentially took the next 6 months off.  Mostly because I could.  My pitiful salary, while welcome, wasn’t exactly dictating our standard of living, and so it wasn’t missed much. Which is why I wasn’t in a desperate rush to run right out and find another job.  I slept.  I worked out.  I slept some more.  I had sex with my husband.  I planted some flowers in front of the house.  It was glorious.

The funny thing is that once you give yourself permission to do something absolutely crazy, like quit your academic physician position after 11 years with absolutely nothing lined up to do after, it creates a bit of a domino effect.  I later learned that four other faculty left my department in the six months after I resigned.

It can also affect your loved ones.  My husband has also been fairly miserable at his big-city firm.  He had a wonderful run there, but had specialized in a part of the law that his firm didn’t really support.  He was respected, but his work was being de-valued, and he felt like he was going through the motions to pull in a paycheck.  He had also been mildly entertaining the idea of joining a small company in the south that had been trying to recruit him for several years.

We were talking one night at dinner.  Having gotten ten hours of sleep and a two-hour workout in, I felt like a goddess.  My husband felt like a doormat.  We talked about how fed up were were having lived in an East Coast big city all our lives, and wouldn’t a change be great?

I looked him dead in the eye and, almost without even thinking, said, “Well, how about that company that’s been trying to recruit you?  We could go there.”

Just like that.  Clearly, I am not a change-adverse person.  Plus, we had entertained the idea several times before, just not seriously.  I was thrilled at the possibility of seeing another part of the country, and even happier at the prospect of moving to a place where winter doesn’t really exist.  I could never see another snowflake in my life and be just fine with that, thank you very much.

And within three weeks, my husband had given his notice, let the new company know he was coming, put our house was on the market, and found a house about 15 minutes from his new job.  Just like that.

The move was even easier.  We sold one of our cars, packed the other with as much of our stuff as it would hold, hired a moving service for the rest, and drove the 1,497 miles to our new life.  We pulled up to our new house the evening of the third day, and were immediately greeted by our next door neighbor, who brought us over homemade dinner.  Welcome to the South.

Within two months of our arrival, just when I had started getting the itch to go back to work,  I got a position as a medical consultant doing peer education and policy development in outreach communities all across the state.  It was uncanny.

I’ve thought a lot about why this move was so simple, when it scared the crap out of many people we knew.  I think it’s because on the surface, it certainly appeared as though we had woken up one morning and had decided to abandon our lives and head for greener pastures.  Certainly, for people who didn’t know us well, that’s exactly what it looked like. The reality is that it had been something we had been talking about and planning for here and there for years before.  When it was the right time, all the pieces fell into place.

If I had to make a list of the things and resources that helped us along our way, I’d start with Kathy Caprino’s article in Forbes: The Five Biggest Mistakes That Career Changers Make.  I actually didn’t find this article until after I relocated, but I had already addressed several of the things she mentions in the article, and I thought it was a nice summary of some of the common pitfalls of career change that are easy to get sucked into.

Here are some other important factors that played into our smooth transition:

1. We moved to a lower cost of living area.  I cannot emphasize enough how awesome it was to move from an expensive city to a not-so-expensive one.  For the money we got for our old house, we bought a house that was 1200 square feet bigger, complete with renovated kitchen and pool, and were able to furnish it too.  Mind blowing.

2. We had no consumer debt.  This certainly was a huge help in allowing me to take the time I needed to find a job I really wanted, instead of taking the first thing that was available that came my way and getting right back into Misery Part II.

3. I am not tied to career identity.  This gets back to really, truly knowing yourself.  I was never exclusively wed to the idea of being a clinical physician, so when another opportunity came up that was related to my field but was something new, I jumped at the chance.  If you are one of those people whose career title is critical to your identity and self-worth, a sudden career change that you have not explored fully can feel like suicide.

4. I had multiple interests that I cultivated along the way.  I did quite a bit of public speaking and advocacy/policy work during my academic tenure, and discovered that I liked them tremendously.  I honed these skills, and was able to develop them into work. This is not something that happened overnight.  I also was fortunate enough to grow up speaking a second language, and had done some informal interpreting her and there for many years.  Part of the time I was between jobs I spent time working with an interpreting mentor and became nationally certified as an interpreter.  I figured that it would be great transition work while I was looking for a new job.  What I never counted on was how quickIy I would develop a tremendous passion for interpreting, and that it would become a significant part of my new working life.

5. I was (and am) willing to hustle.  Functioning as a freelancer with multiple income streams, I have to be willing to work and to travel to do so.  Luckily, this clicks very well with my life, my personality, and my marriage.  If you need a steady income stream, or crave the reliability of a full-time single site job, this way of life is not for you.

The bottom line is that, while people may think we are career nomads floating wherever the wind takes us, my husband and I were very deliberate about the choices we made, and did a lot of work assessing ourselves and what we really wanted out of life.

Go get ’em.