On April 10, 2018, after 16+ years of dedicated service, I was fired. Sure, being fired stinks. But for me, it was an opportunity to escape a high-stress dysfunctional workplace and reinvent myself. This last year I’ve worked harder than ever to create a new identity and build a business. I’m celebrating my one-year anniversary by launching my first online course, Early Exit Academy for Young Escape Artists. I want to guide others toward financial independence so that work becomes optional, rather than a necessity. Here’s a recap of my crazy post-fired year.
The Great Identity Quest
For 20 years, my primary identity was based on my career. I’m a PhD sociologist who loves research and writing. And I had built a highly successful career that led to national recognition in my area of my expertise. I’m still proud of the career, but the legacy I had hoped for is gone. While I believe I made a tremendous impact in reforming justice system practices on elder issues, I doubt anyone will remember – or care – about my efforts. That’s a sad feeling.
But then it struck me – I’M NOT DEAD YET! And screw the whole legacy conversation! I have no control over what people will think of me or my work generations from now. And I couldn’t help but remember how I felt after I was told I was being “terminated.” Shock, sure. But by the time I had walked out to my car with my personal belongings for the last time, I felt a sense of relief, even excitement, and the spring day seemed more beautiful than ever. Maybe it was time to turn life into an adventure?
The truth is, one year later, I’m still trying to figure out the identity thing. When people ask what I do for a living, I tell them I’m an entrepreneur. But is that my identity? Not really. As I realize that careers are temporary and we are multi-dimensional human beings, I’m moving away from defining myself by my work. I’d like to believe that I am slowly evolving into a zen place where I live according to my values and discover the joys of every day. I’m pretty sure I’ll be working on that evolution for the rest of my life!
A Year of Learning and Skill-Building
Barely a day has gone by that I haven’t learned something new as I build the Early Exit Academy. I began my foray into this endeavor last May when I signed up for an online course – on how to create online courses – with Jeanine Blackwell. While I had worked on online course development in the past, my role was limited to content creation. Now I needed to learn EVERYTHING about course creation and launching. While Jeanine’s course came with a pretty hefty price tag, it was beautifully organized and presented and I became part of a community of course-creators. It was instrumental in helping me reach this point.
But I had no idea that this journey would take me almost a year of full-time crazy hours! And that’s my own fault. While my fellow course creators are working in PowerPoint and doing talking-head videos, I jumped the rails. Last fall I discovered the most amazing software – Articulate – that gives me all the tools to create an engaging and highly interactive course. And once I learned of the possibilities, I couldn’t go back to PowerPoint. Instead of “average” courses, I had the opportunity to create extraordinary courses. But first, I had to learn the software and retool my process.
There are so many moving parts in building a business and at times, it’s overwhelming. The single most important piece of advice I’ve clung to is this: “It’s all figure-out-able.” And it’s true! If I can’t figure it out, I’ve found people who can. For sure, I’ve had to step outside my comfort zone this last year. But shouldn’t we all be taking a few risks to explore the adventure of life?
The other morning I woke up and thought about the year of changes. And it struck me, the only steady force in my household from last year to this year is my lovely cat, Dolly! A year ago, my 20-year old child was living in my house, along with Dolly and two elderly cats (Smoke and Brett). Today, it’s me and Dolly, a pair of new kitties, and an older rescue cat. I no longer have to get up in the morning to head to an office. Instead, I slip on my sweat pants and head downstairs where I spend the day on my laptop. Gosh, what an odd turn of events.
Perhaps the most difficult change of all has been the isolation of working from home on a one-person business. Since I don’t have a business partner and few people are interested in the technical details, I spend a lot of time conversing in my head. While I don’t miss heading into a dysfunctional work environment, I’m not keen on the lack of social interaction. In fact, it’s the one thing that could drive me back to the workforce. Thankfully, the one bright aspect of having flexibility is that I’ve been able to spend more time on volunteer projects with my wonderful Virginia Master Naturalist friends. I don’t know where I’d be without my outdoor buddies!
In some regards, I’ve managed change pretty well. But in one area, I have to report an F-grade – my physical health. Especially my weight and fitness levels. As I’ve spent more and more time on my laptop cranking out course content, I’ve abandoned cooking and exercising. I feel like I’m back to the days of finishing my dissertation before the deadline. I just don’t have time for anything else. The great news is that I am in the homestretch. I can see freedom around the corner – focusing on my health is a big part of my freedom plan.
Where’s the Money?
So if you haven’t been following along in my Freedom in your 50s series, you must be wondering how I could afford to live a year without a paycheck. Great question! I’m still astonished that I have been able to stretch my dollars as far as I have. If anything, this experiment shows the magic of compound interest. And living a simpler life. Here are the highlights.
- My net worth is up 1.5% from last year. The increase comes from growth in my retirement funds.
- I have been living off of my taxable investments, which started at $82,616. The payout of my accumulated leave pushed that figure to $105,159. That figure is now $65,327.
- My personal investment in my business to date is $30,300.
- My biggest personal expense was the cost of COBRA coverage – almost $800 per month. I switched to an Affordable Care Plan in January, where income-based tax credits minimize my expenses.
- My retirement funds are in Vanguard. My taxable funds are invested in Betterment and a dividend-producing stock, Welltower (HCN).
One of my biggest stressors this last year has been living without a paycheck. I spent decades saving a large portion of my salary. Now I’m in the uncomfortable position of pulling funds out of investments and having zero income coming in. I’ve been holding my breath that my house will continue to hold up with its 20 year-old roof, furnace, and A/C system. But honestly, I can’t believe I still have over $65,000 in my taxable accounts. I’ve hit the expensive component of the business – advertising – so I know my remaining funds could dwindle fast. I’ll need the Early Exit Academy to start producing revenue in the next few months.
I could have taken a safe route after I lost my job and turned to consulting in my area of expertise or found another employer. But when would I ever have another opportunity to remake myself and create a passion-driven business? I’m going to figure out the identity piece of the puzzle and make this business work. I don’t have any regrets.
These days, I’m beginning to see the sunshine again. Freedom is right around the bend. I can envision a life in which I can be more deliberate with my time and my intention. Happy days ahead!