8 Things I Learned On My Self-Imposed Sabbatical

Doing nothing, learning a lot.

Photo by taylor hernandez on Unsplash.

Two months ago, I quit my job before I had a new job. Do not do this. It is very scary and unsettling and will kickstart your anxiety like a lawnmower’s pull cord. But I kinda had to. Midlife crisis, breakdown, a need to spend more time with my cat, whatever you want to call it, after 10 years of grinding it out and being terrible about taking time off, my mind and body made a decision my conscience did not cosign.

What you should do instead is take goddamn days off sometimes. Take vacations, sure, but also sometimes just take a Friday. Just take what you need, just allow your mind and body some time to not be “on.” Don’t answer emails on a Sunday. Don’t connect to airplane Wifi. Be unavailable. I did not know it was okay to do this, until I never did it and I cracked like so many fallen teacups.

So for the last two months I’ve been interviewing, writing, feng shui-ing my entire apartment, cooking even though it is one million degrees outside, and trying to manage various flavors of fear. It’s actually pretty easy to fill a day. And while my anxiety has been my constant companion during this downtime, and she’s a total asshole, whether I’ve understood it or not, I’ve been taking a break. I haven’t been commuting. I haven’t been at a computer for 10 hours a day. I haven’t been part of a workflow that can’t move forward without me. There’s a lot of subconscious power and physical rest that come along with not being on the hustle. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

Tomorrow I start a new job, and on this the last day of my two-month hiatus from being a working human, I’ve decided to take an inventory of everything I’ve learned. There was no epiphany, no re-establishing of myself and my goals, simply just a rest, in order to become the best and most employable version of myself.

1 — During the day, sidewalks are just mainly people pushing things on wheels. People with carts, people with strollers, people with combination stroller/carts. That’s all that’s happening outside while you’re in the 10am team meeting. Seriously, you ain’t missin much.

2 — Fuck Manhattan. I maybe went to Manhattan…mmmmm, twice? It is not a necessary place. I only ever go there because I have to, and when I don’t work, I don’t have to. I did not miss its crowded, smelly streets one bit. I didn’t miss having to wait in line to cross a street, or being inundated with more sounds and sights than the human brain needs to process in one square block. Dare I say Manhattan is one of the things that gives me anxiety? I don’t like you, Manhattan, you’re no good. There, I’ve said it.

3 — Days of the week are just made up nonsense. You don’t realize how much we don’t need days of the week until they no longer matter to you. All of the days during my downtime served the same purpose, there was no differentiation between them. In fact the only reason I ever needed to acknowledge them was when I was meeting an employed person for lunch or starting a new pack of birth control. I think we all need to adopt a looser interpretation of calendars in general.

4 — The World Cup is a wonderful time to be unemployed. I watched so much soccer you guys. But it did beg the question, how are all these other people not at work on a Wednesday at 2pm? Like how is half of Brooklyn in this bar right now and how are your jobs not the job I had before?

5 — You like your house better when it’s really, really clean. I cleaned it. I cleaned it all. I decluttered, I organized, I donated. And when I was all done, and had gone through three economy size boxes of Swiffers and tossed out 1/4 of my possessions, I looked around and felt like a new human being. That Kondo chick knows what she’s talking about. There is something really healing and comforting about looking around at your home and not hating it. Throw some shit away this weekend, you’ll love it.

6 — Daytime sounds are a nightmare. The ice cream man isn’t attracting the business he used to, as evidenced by the countless repetitions of his tune while remaining in place .5 blocks from my home. Children frolic amok, screaming into airshafts at volumes unnecessary. Trucks honk horns. People yell at each other across the street a lot. These are things you don’t realize when you’re 16 flights up in a high rise for most of your life. Again, you ain’t missin much.

7 — The subway is so weird. The non-rush-hour subway is a strange place. You think it’s just a smelly, crowded, occasionally showtime-y inconvenient convenience, but when you go to work, it’s batshit. People asking for money have to take turns commanding the train’s attention with the genuinely insane chap you wish you could help who is giving an incoherent sermon on topics ranging from national security to Jesus, right before it’s time for the older gentlemen to sing their 3-part harmony. This is while tourists discuss transportation and sightseeing strategy while a mother with a stroller plays Candy Crush, lifting her feet to avoid the unidentifiable river of liquid making its way to the back of the car. And there are teenagers. Always teenagers. Like packs of hormonal wolves. The ceiling is always dripping.

8 — It’s okay to not hustle. You can fill a day really, really easily. The things and projects you’ve always wanted to accomplish can actually be accomplished. You can create a living space you love. You can book appointments stress-free. You can see all the movies. You can take your time. But you can only do these things if you’re not working.

I’ve been trained to think that not working and lazy are the same things, but they’re not. It’s okay to take a brief respite from the constant hustle of striving. It’s okay to let the world and your boss see you take a break. It doesn’t make you bad at your job, it doesn’t make you uncommitted. It just makes you human, and it keeps you sane.

I’m excited to go to work tomorrow, but I’m excited for all the other parts of life I get to live, too, and I’d like to start making them more important. And I’ve also learned that it’s better to take a break, than break apart. I’ve done good work here.

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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