When I decided to quit my work I did not take the decision out of reason. It came from the heart. I felt that I could not bear any more the situation I was in: I felt stuck and needed a bigger professional change.
Quitting my job was not an easy task. During a work-holiday I tasted the flavor of a life, in which work was integrated into a lifestyle where I felt truly alive. Back home I just could not keep working like before. So I decided to take a sabbatical, “a year off”.
Leaving my job, however, was not straightforward, as I was CEO of WeAct, the social business I co-founded 5 years earlier. Besides the emotional attachment towards the growing up start-up and the responsibility, I felt to the team, I also had a proper financial challenge ahead.
I had a proper financial challenge ahead
Creating a social business by bootstrapping drained my financial reserves over the past years and despite feeling the need to truly slowing down I did not have enough money for not working for a year-long sabbatical.
I head this inner conflict between my heart, clearly needing a change and time to figure out what I really wanted next, and my mind, telling me: “You need to save more money first, you need to know when and where you will gain money next, before letting go.”
I tried to find a path that both my heart and my reason would accept: I kept working for six months at my job, however, I asked to reduce to 80% in order to have time to come up with a plan to finance my sabbatical.
Suddenly I had one day a week for preparing my “year of freedom”. It was a relief! I had time to think: What would I do without my present obligations? What would I do, if I would not have to worry about money? Where would I go? How would I spend my time? Who would I like to meet? If I would follow this inner voice, how could I gain enough money to sustain my self?
I took time to listen to what truly moved me
I started daydreaming. I went hiking by myself in the mountains and let my mind wander around these questions. I also began talking about my idea of taking a year off with friends and mentors, people that I admire and inspire me. Every time, I described the dream, it gained new details and the questions of my listeners helped me to think broader and further.
I realized that since many years questions like: “How do people change their behavior? How could I support people adopting more sustainable lifestyles?” were stuck in my mind.
I started the company I co-founded, to find answers and test my hypothesis about how to make change happen. But 6 years later, even if I gained a lot of knowledge about the topic, I still felt that I had more to find out. I also wanted to share what I learned until that point with people struggling with the same questions I had.
I figured that if I would have time to do whatever I wanted, I would love to talk to “my heroes” of behavior change. They are people who started movements, implemented impactful interventions, researchers and authors of books that deeply inspired me. I would have loved to ask them many questions that would help me understand how “the pieces” of making change happen fit together.
By sharing my dream it crystalized into a plan
As I talked with people from my network ideas about how to sustain myself by doing what I would have any way loved to do started to emerge: I could meet my “heroes” and gain insights that I could share with people that, like me, want to make a positive change in society happen.
The help I would provide to “Changemakers” would help to bring the sustainability agenda forwards. Meanwhile, there are foundations and institutions looking for sustainability-related solutions to support. With this idea in mind, I prepared a project proposal and send it to different foundations.
It felt amazing to have a plan and to have found a “triple win” situation. It was exciting to imagine that I would meet very interesting people, changemakers could benefit from my experience and I would be able to sustain myself during my “year of freedom”.
I fully went for this rough plan. During the following months, I spend all my free time and weekends refining the proposal, finding partner organizations (and I found scaling4good), a board of mentors recommending the project, screening foundations and sending proposals. The project became the symbol of my wish for freedom.
Hell was it scary to jump into the (financial) uncertainty
However, I felt that my plan could easily fail. Even if I believed that it was possible to gain financial support for the project, I had nothing secured in my hands. And as the end of my work contract approached, I started sweating, while thinking: “Shit, in a month I will not earn a salary anymore and I don’t know when and how I will gain money again.”
Ironically as I was getting closer to the realization of my dream of “freedom”, the voices expressing my fears became stronger, while the positive feelings related to my dream were far away. I could hardly remember the electrifying feeling of happiness I felt when I had a very well balanced lifestyle combined with extremely productive work.
During those days I kept asking myself: “Why am I throwing everything I build in the last years in the air?”. I became aware that I was losing the memory of that feeling of happiness, as well as the hope of a much better life. Suddenly I just felt scared of the situation I had put myself in.
End then I was free like a dog
The last month of work ended. I sad goodbye to my team and all of a sudden I became aware that it was the 1st of January and I had no more commitments: I was completely free. The “rope” tiding me to the company had been cut.
I felt like a dog, who had been on a chain for a long time. Straight away after the chain of the dog has been opened it does not start running and barking with joy. In the beginning, it takes small steps, while sniffing the surrounding. Suspicious of the new situation.
Eventually, little by little the dog gets close to a forest, where suddenly old memories of fun times of play emerge. He remembers times where it was just a dog, without restrictions nor limitations.
All of a sudden the dog starts running, deeply breathing the air, inhaling thousands of smells of wild animals surrounding him. Without stopping. It runs free. It runs back to its true nature, driven by its instincts. Not knowing when it will eat next, though not caring about it, as it is back to a way of being guided by trust in itself.
During those first days, I felt like such a dog in its early days of freedom. I did not run out and scream my joy in every direction. I savored that moment of transition between two ways of being.
I still felt serious, as I had been highly rational during the preceding months, in order to gather the energy required to reach my goal of taking a year off. I still felt scared of not knowing when I will gain money again and if my project would work out.
I did not feel the joy of being free yet, but I knew that an enormous wave of happiness, will come soon. I planned to go to Cape Town, kitesurfing in the sun, in an unknown place, to find myself again.