But first, let me start from exactly where I left.
I quit my job at 31 to take a break without a plan B? – But that was back in 2019 – SO WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
In November 2019 I moved to Toronto with Mr. H. We decided to settle in during the chilly winter that it was, and explore more in the summer of 2020. But as no one predicted it (other than some scientists) – we were hit by a pandemic right after we moved to Canada. COVID-19 was never a plan but served as a dramatic pivot I never saw coming.
In fact, my plan was to move, settle and look for a job when I felt better and ready again. But as most things never go as planned – the job market was as dead as the streets of an otherwise very hyper Toronto city.
So here it was: I had just quit a job I loved, self-retired myself from my teaching career, and moved to a new country where we knew no one, only to realize that I was even more clueless about what I wanted from my life than I was ever before.
Every once in a while friends and family would ask me “So what are you planning to do next?” – and I would just sit there listening, thinking, and mindlessly scrolling through things that other people do. I would scroll through job vacancies and dismiss them in seconds because I thought they were not passionate enough. Or they were not changing the world enough. In reality – it was just me. (And the pandemic too of course). I was the one who was not passionate about anything anymore. And I needed to find it again.
But the thing about finding yourself and your passion again are – it is not as easy as it sounds. It’s a tedious journey inwards with a lot of self-reflection to do. Some masters of this wisdom ask you to write journals, practice healing and yoga, breathe in and breathe out / meditate. While others ask you to exercise, hustle, run, and sweat it out to push your limits and take that leap of faith. All said and done, whichever path you choose – IT IS HARD.
So this is what I did:
- I gave myself a few good months to figure out what am I good at. Turns out it was research and design. (No Surprise.) And during this time I was never harsh on myself. I took my time and respected my pace.
- Then I looked for a career switch where I could potentially do both the things I enjoyed. I found UX / UI Design a glorious option. But didn’t know how to do it.
- Applied for a full-time Bootcamp course for 3 months in UX Design and worked really hard for it. (Turns out a career switch in your 30s can be a very daunting experience, but it’s not as bad as society makes it to be.)
- Graduated with a top-notch project – and applied for an internship as a UX Designer right after. (Yes, that’s correct – an internship at 33 years old. Once again not as bad as you may think it is.)
- And finally got a full-time gig in the same company I interned for. (Hooray!)
- And yes, I am happy. I am doing what I like, and what I am good at. (PS: I’ll talk about the corporate struggle some other day).
Fast Forward to today: I am currently a UX Manager and Design Lead in a tech+design agency in Toronto, and it took me a while to find this career that I have really started to enjoy. It did not happen by chance, and I didn’t just fall into it. In fact, I chose it. A job I would like to wake up for every day and show up as my best self for it.
But over these three years – what may seem like me finally building a life I like – the journey itself was a rollercoaster. And here are some of the most frequently asked questions to me and things I find others to be struggling with too:
How did you calm the storm inside you? How did you get out of that fear of ‘what if’?
To be honest, it was hard. I would go for days feeling frustrated, hopeless and aimless. I questioned my past choices, and my decisions and feared that what if I had made a mistake. But you have to fight it. You have to believe that something better is always waiting for you and sooner or later it will all work out.
But in the meantime:
- Go for quiet, long walks. Declutter your thoughts and take in that fresh air.
- Practice Yoga. Even if it is a simple breathe-in / out exercise with a basic stretch – do it. Your body is in direct control of your mind and vice versa. Keep your body strong when your mind is not.
- Meditate. In any form you like. Just sitting with your back straight, and eyes closed is enough. Concentrate on a single sound and repeat this every day for 15-20 mins. (It does not have to be as fancy as the internet makes it to be.) The key is to build focus.
- Stop reading stuff that makes you feel worse about yourself. But read happy things instead. Maybe short stories like Malgudi days? Or mythology or sci-fi, superhero stuff. Don’t read other people’s LinkedIn – you will only fall into a stupid imposter syndrome.
- Pick a new meaningful activity or a hobby that gives you purpose. I became a plant parent from a serial plant killer – and I actually found refuge in growing plants from seeds. I started with a sunflower seed and saw it grow into a fully blooming flower. Then I took on more plants one by one and cared for them like learning a new skill. I built confidence by making things live and grow around me. Even thrive.
- Create something with your hands. I started illustrating again. I claimed Mr. H’s iPad as mine and started drawing again. I drew my feelings into simple illustrations first. Then slowly evolved my character and today she looks a lot like me. I gave my art – stories, and captions – which helped me creatively vent my emotions. Creating new things opened up my sacral chakra, and I slowly started feeling inspired again.
How did you decide to switch a job in your mid-thirties? Wasn’t it hard?
More than hard, it felt very lonely at first. Everyone around me was busy with their jobs and going up their career ladder. While it felt like I was the only one dismissing everything society teaches you about your thirties and struggling to settle down. But once I started reading other career switch stories – it felt like there was community.
Then during my Bootcamp which was specifically meant for people looking for a career switch – I finally found more people like me. Lost Gen Z’s thinking about what to do in life; doctors and engineers who didn’t want to be doctors and engineers anymore. Mothers who had a raving career once and were now trying to get back into the industry after a long break. Burnt out millennials who quit the jobs they hated and wanted to do something more meaningful with their time and life now. Just people from all age groups and all walks of life – who shared this feeling with me. And then it never felt that lonely again.
I realized I wasn’t the only as lost in the world. I found comfort in knowing that many other people are going for a career switch in their 30s and 40s – and doing just fine with it. Or even better. And I took it one day at a time from there. 🙂
How did you find what you like doing? How do you ‘find it’?
I wish there was an answer I could give you for this one. But much like grief – there is no straight line to finding what you love too. Finding the right career switch is an even more twisted road. You really have to struggle to find it, and show courage to try new things in your career. Just like I once told you that quitting your comfortable job is OKAY, the same way I am telling you today – that it is okay to do whatever you have to, to find what you love and fix it for you.
Big steps, or small; Big wins, or small – nothing matters at the end of the day. The whole world went into a pandemic, and no one was out there looking or judging. And nor should you do that to yourself. Take the road that you choose, and remember to be honest with it. And believe that you will find it. Eventually.