Becoming the Hermit – My Year of Isolation and Soul Searching

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Written by Melissa Farley

July 7, 2020

In September of last year, I left a very stable corporate position after a ten-year career to find out who I really was. At 33-years-old I couldn’t answer simple questions like what I wanted to be when I grew up, what makes me happy or what my purpose in life was anymore.

All I knew deep down in my bones was that this was not it. Sitting in a cubicle working for a company I didn’t feel aligned with my visions and morals was not where I wanted to be. It came clearly to me as I had a meeting with my manager at the time and she asked me to think about my goals for the next 5 years and told me that the next level for my professional advancement would be a department director.

All I knew deep down in my bones was that this was not it.

‘NO!’ boomed so loud in my head that I was certain she must have heard it too. I nodded courteously, mumbled something about putting a plan together and left that meeting knowing exactly what I had to do. It was time to leave.

Those who were closest to me and loved me were thrilled with the decision. They had watched helplessly over the past two years as I put on weight, became irritable and angry, complained incessantly and ultimately lost myself. But for me change, big change, is not easy. I like to have a final destination in mind and when I left, I came up with tentative things I thought I might pivot to but nothing felt compelling.

I realized that was the case in point – I was utterly burned out. I had no energy, passion or fire for anything in my life. I decided to give myself three months of doing nothing. No working, no looking for employment, no big commitments, just total free space to exist.

Since I was, in fact, clinically burned out, the idea of pulling away from all the things that had been draining me felt like the best gift I could give myself. I couldn’t just pull the trigger though, I had to put some things in place to make sure this time would be rejuvenating and not stressful.

So here’s how I prepared:

I set an exit date

I’m a paper planner and calendar girl so on every scheduling tool I use, I selected a date I wanted to leave my job and wrote it down in big bold letters with celebratory cartoons. I also looked at my boss’ agenda for when she would be in Arizona next (she was based out of state) and wrote that date on the calendar to tell her because I knew they would want a lot of time to replace me. I was right about that. I gave them months of time. I don’t know that I’ll ever do that again, but that’s another lesson for another day.

This did two things for me – I’d been working in journalism for 10 years, so a firm deadline really meant something to me. It allowed me to set up a realistic timeline and get things in order before I left without feeling surprised or unprepared.

It was no longer just some dream or fantasy in my head, it was an actual action item in my planner that I was going to work to make happen. Holy motivation!

The second thing it did, and probably most importantly, is that it made it feel real. It was no longer just some dream or fantasy in my head, it was an actual action item in my planner that I was going to work to make happen. Holy motivation!

I made saving money a HUGE priority

With my most recent role at the company I had got a significant raise, almost 10K more per year. In order to make having some time off possible after leaving, I decided to not adjust our current lifestyle or spending to reflect that raise and instead put all the additional money into a savings account to live off of while I was out of work. I set myself a financial goal and when I surpassed it, I ignored it and still kept saving. This gave me a really solid nest egg to depend on.

To calculate my financial goal I basically added up all the expenses – bills, groceries, subscriptions, medical payments, insurance, phone, etc. to find what I spent every month as consistent costs, then I averaged entertainment and non-essential spending and put that number together. I was able to save enough money to live comfortably and fulfill all of my payments for six months if not more.

Doing this caused me to stay at the job longer than I desired, but it also allowed me to not obsess over money during my absence and that felt like a big freaking deal because financial security has and will always be important to me.

I made arrangements to disappear

Not in the morbid sense, but I went through all of my professional and creative obligations and started asking myself what needed to happen for me to leave? Some of those commitments required formal resignations, others required just a quick convo and in some cases I would refer or recommend someone to replace me and set up systems to function without my guidance. There were a few things that I felt tempted to just redefine some boundaries and stay on board with at a lower level of capacity, but in the end, I’m a big fan of clean breaks so I decided to essentially step away from everything except for obviously my marriage and my mentee. Those are two things that will always have my heart and time.

I started telling people

The last thing I did was start broadcasting my plan to the world. I would tell anyone willing to listen about my plans to leave and go solo. It emboldened me and gave things shape as I declared them out loud. Thoughts become words, words become actions. It also gave me a certain amount of accountability because now it was public. I was doing this. It is actually happening.

It didn’t go how I thought it would…

Let me just say, leaving my corporate job was the best thing I’ve ever done in life beside marrying my husband. It just didn’t go the way that I planned and isn’t life just funny that way. First of all, it didn’t take me 3 months to get my life together, it took 9. Nine whole months – the amount of time it takes for someone to grow a whole human is how long it took me to grow back into myself. I was frustrated with myself at times, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t rush the process and I would honor where I was really at. Turns out I was just a whole lot more broken than I realized.

*Caveat: Also, side note, Corona happened. Right when I was ready to come back out into the world in all my glory and launch a new business, life was like, “Nope! Get your butt back in that house.” So I did.

Have you subscribed to my podcast?

If you’ve read this far you really should subscribe to my Stronger Today Podcast where I share my search to find inner strength complete with stumbles, bumbles, triumphs and revelations. My goal is to leave you with one new technique you can use to live a more purposeful life.

Thoughts become words, words become actions.

Grieving what I’d lost

My job had been the better and biggest part of my identity other than my acting career and slowly but surely it had absorbed all of me. I couldn’t tell where the job ended and I began. I no longer had time to act, to pursue joyful things, to engage in meaningful relationships – I had let friendships, familial relationships, passions and dreams deteriorate and wither to unrecognizable levels. I had gained 30 lbs, I had fallen into a stage of depression and I had become somewhat paranoid because I existed in an environment where what my gut told me to be true was often shut down. The light inside of me was always extinguished. The gift of my empathy was always trampled on. The power of my creative innovation was ignored and found valueless. I had been overall assessed and been found wanting.

But in my heart of hearts, I knew those things weren’t true. I knew that I was a damn good manager. I knew that I understood my field and audiences in an instinctual and intuitive way unmatched by empty suits, I knew I was good at creating a meaningful place of purpose for the young team I was coaching and I knew who I was and that what I had inside scared upper management.

All of that had wounded me. Deeply. I was feeling unsure of myself. I kept wondering if maybe I really was the crazy one, the difficult one. All my strengths were seen as weaknesses there and I didn’t know how to reconcile that within my soul. So for the first three months, I would say all I did was grieve.

I grieved for the job and the title I lost, for the time I had lost, for the way I had been wounded. And slowly, clarity began to creep in and with some distance, I could clearly see the power dynamics, the systems at play and how I wasn’t wrong. How I was right to never yield and to not compromise who I am and what I stand for. Confidence, acknowledgement, recognition for myself began to seep in replace the feelings of shame and I wore those wounds like battle scars.

Suddenly I realized that I needed to get my house, my temple, my body, mind and health in order. That became my new top priority.

Over the course of the next 6 months I went on a journey inward to find true healing. It was A LOT of work, but it was rewarding beyond measure and I have made permanent changes to my life that have led to a happier way of existing.

I want to share these things with you in the hopes that maybe it can help just one person who is a seeker like me. Maybe it will help someone just feel heard or seen for being in the same dark place I existed in for so long and let them know that you are not alone.

And I want to normalize and end the stigma surrounding mental health and the personal pursuit of happiness. It is not selfish. It is not a sin. It is absolutely crucial to the betterment and growth of humanity as a whole. Hurt people hurt people and happy people make others happy. You have to start with you before you can give back. So here I am, on the other side, ready to give back.

Written by Melissa Farley

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