Being an (ex) teacher I know what it’s like to have a month or two away from work so I thought quitting work to travel the world would be a breeze. My friends would endlessly comment on how amazing it must be to have long summers off and I felt guilty for not always enjoying this ‘perk’.
Don’t get me wrong, during the busy terms the holidays are what keep you going. It was a race to the finish line. But after a week of sorting out my classroom, finishing planning, marking the books I’d put aside for a week knowing the holidays were fast approaching, I always felt a bit empty. Six whole weeks of no responsibility. Sounds great! But what do you do?
I mean, there were obvious things you could fill some time with. You could book an incredibly overpriced holiday, with your colleagues, because who else is going to pay 3x the normal amount for flights and go somewhere swimming with screaming children. You could meet with your colleagues for days out, because everyone else is at work. You could tidy your house. You could keep on top of the washing, and make sure your car always has petrol in it, and do some proper cooking.
By the time you’re done trying to keep occupied and make the most of this precious time your holiday is over, you’re back to school, your house immediately looks like something from ‘hoarders’, your red petrol light is permanently flashing and you can’t remember the last time you didn’t heat up canned soup for dinner. Then, when you look back at your holidays you wonder why you didn’t make better use of your time. Why you didn’t try harder to catch up with friends, or get your hair done, or enjoy going to the toilet WHENEVER YOU WANTED. A lovely little cycle of exhaustion and guilt.
When I quit work I didn’t consider the fact that this daily struggle of wanting (and often failing) to be productive, would become my life. Once the holidays were over and everyone else was starting back at school I had a big hole in my life and I didn’t predict the feeling it would bring. I spent a month wondering why I wasn’t happy. I was working towards something I’d always dreamed of.
It wasn’t until I received a phone call from work asking for some help that I realised, I wasn’t needed anymore, at least not in the ways I was used to.
I could fill my days with what I wanted, and I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted. Having spent so much time following someone elses purpose I had lost track of my purpose. I figured this out one very cold and miserable morning alone on the boat and since then I’ve done a lot of thinking.
Why Do Jobs Give Us Purpose?
Your whole life has (probably) been geared towards several things. As soon as we start school we are learning for a purpose, and that purpose is to find something we love and really learn it, so that we can become good at it and get a job. Or perhaps we don’t even need to love it, we just need to get good at it, so we can find that all important job.
To even get that job in the first place we’ll probably need money. University fees are crazy money, so perhaps you opt for training somewhere else instead. That’s going to cost you money. You might get lucky and find somewhere you can learn on the job-but expect to get paid next to nothing for that privilege. You’ll be lucky if you can afford the upkeep of your car (which you have to have, to get you to work).
We’re made to believe that having this job that we’ll be really good at and earn lots of money from will make us happy. It will enable us to go on a nice holiday once a year, it will mean we can go out at the weekends, eventually we’ll be able to save enough money from it that we’ll be able to buy a house, and we’ll be ‘financially secure’.
We’re also learning how to get on with others, so that we can have successful relationships, and get on well with people we work with, and obviously make friends and meet the love of our life.
To keep our friends, we need to see our friends. We also really need to fit in with our friends, which means having all the things they have. How will you chat to them on Whats App without the latest phone? How will you discuss what’s going on in Love Island without a TV? How can you head off to a party without something fashionable to wear? We need jobs to pay for all of that.
And if you’re hoping to one day meet the love of your life (thanks Disney!) then you’ll need some serious money for that. You need to look your best for the dates and nights out, you’ll need to actually go out, you’ll want to move in together, get married and perhaps have children. All of that costs money.
We might get lucky along the way and also find a hobby. Something we love doing. Hobbies are great, because you need a job to fund them. If you’ve somehow managed to go against all expectations and land a job doing your hobby, then you’re probably making next to no money at all and will either do it for a few years and then get a ‘real job’, or find a real job on the side to keep you going (because you need to save for that house after all).
If we’re thinking further down the line, which we probably are if we’ve been in our jobs for a while, then retirement is also a pretty big thing. We need money when we retire, so we need a job.
Jobs make us feel important. We start off at the bottom. We’re given all the rubbish jobs that no one else wants to do, because we’re new. But we know that if we work extra hard and get really good at our jobs, one day we’ll be the ones bossing around the new kid. We’ll be important.
We imagine how much our friends will look up to us when we land that new promotion, or a new job that pays twice as much. We think about how proud our family will be when we’re in charge.
Even if we have no desire to land that new promotion, just knowing our jobs well makes us important. Don’t know where to find a stapler? Ask Charles, he’s been here ten years. We become important in the places we work. And feeling important is a great feeling.
More than just feeling important, we want to have more power. As we get better and better at our jobs, we see ways that we can improve them. We know we could teach someone else to do the job even better. We know that we could change and improve things with our fresh ideas. We want to be given the chance to make a difference.
Making A Difference
Lots of people choose their jobs purely because they want to make a difference. They want to create new software that helps people in their day to day lives, they want to design something that speaks to people, they want to teach young people to be happy and great.
They want to make a difference to someone.
Our jobs give us purpose because they are a wonderful way of helping people. Every job out there has started with a need. We work hard to become good at what we do because we want to be better at fulfilling that need. We want to get better at helping people, in whatever way that is.
A Little Of All Three
Quitting work has made me realise that there are different aspects of jobs that drive different people. Some people look for jobs purely based on money. Having financial security is their top priority. Some people want a job that makes them powerful, others want a job that makes them helpful.
In reality, I think most people want all three. I wanted to teach because I loved how helping others made me feel. I wanted a promotion because I wanted more power over the decisions that were being made, and more of a say in the things that had attracted me to the job in the first place. I wanted more money so that I could enjoy my down time more. I was working harder than ever, I deserved to travel harder than ever!
How To Find Purpose After You’ve Quit Your Job
Actually quitting work made me realise where I found my real purpose. I didn’t miss the money I made from working. I haven’t felt much of a need for new clothes or expensive nights out. I haven’t missed eating at nice restaurants and I didn’t even miss having a phone too much after my old one broke. I never really felt important at work. My friends and family were in much more senior roles than me. I was still doing pretty much the same job as when I’d started teaching twelve years ago. So I didn’t miss power or importance.
What I miss strongly is feeling needed. This isn’t selfless by the way. Just because it involves helping people it doesn’t mean I’m an amazing person! It’s a selfish need, that comes from enjoying the feeling I get from helping people. I miss the children needing me help them solve problems or give them a hug when they fell over, I miss the parents needing me to teach their children well and keep them happy and safe while they were at school, I miss my work friends needing me to help them find the stapler.
I really miss feeling needed.
So I started to think about what I need. I have spent such a long time finding purpose in helping others, enjoying the feeling of being needed, that I didn’t really know what else I actually wanted for me. I had all this time to give to something purely for me, but I had no idea where to start.
It’s going to take a whole lot of figuring out, but I’ve approached it as job. A job to find out about me. It’s a job that isn’t making me any money, but it’s a job that’s going to give me a whole lot of power. Because I’m the boss of this new job.
I’ve recognised one really important thing about myself, that I like feeling needed. I miss working with children and I know for sure now that it’s something I want to do again in the future. Interestingly, I don’t miss the teaching. I miss the pastoral care that came hand in hand with the teaching, which is something I’ll consider as I move on to new things.
I’ve started to learn yoga again, taken time to improve my computer skills (alright, it’s only been a few weeks!), I’ve downloaded my ‘learn Spanish’ app again so that it will start to work via osmosis and I’ll be fluent by the end of the month. I’m taking time to do some of the things that I’ve always wanted to do, but never had time to.
And slowly I’m starting to feel needed again, only this time by me.