Identity. What is it? It determines so much in our lives. It is who we are. It is what we do. It is where we come from. It is how we look – inherently and aesthetically. It is how we behave. But it has become about so many more superficial things in today’s society and the result is that so many of us get lost in finding ourselves because we ourselves don’t know who we are, or who we want to become. We get caught up in the world, our jobs, our things and lose sight of our goal, if we ever even had one, in the process. Sometimes the search for one’s identity feels as though it’s a never-ending, treacherous, mountain climb and you’re standing at the foot of a daunting peak. Great Expectations stopped and took stock with Liz Winter about her decision to exit the corporate world in search of her identity and finding meaning in her life.

To give you a little bit of background, Liz completed a BComm Honours in Organisational Psychology in 2007. She then went on to work as an online Travel Agent to save up the money for an air ticket to the U.K. She arrived in London, bright eyed and bushy tailed, in April 2009 and worked at an Asset Management Company for 2 years after which she returned to Cape Town in 2011 and continued to work in the Finance industry for 4 years. She underwent a drastic career change in 2015 and started working in the Events Management industry. She is now currently (and recently) unemployed by choice, and is excited to be on a new journey to discover what career she’d like to follow. Now, these days exiting the Corporate world at such a young age can seem questionable. And there are, I’m sure, a whole host of questions and unreserved judgements being made regarding her decision. I mean, you’re on your way to a successful career some may think, you’re earning well, you have everything you need…or do you? We asked Liz (pictured left below) to answer a few questions for us to shed some light on her recent careers moves and to provide some encouragement for those in a similar place who are feeling the need for a change…

Liz, your original decision to leave Corporate for Events, what prompted that? I feel like this was the first decision in a series of events which resulted in you making this career move?

Yes, there were a number of reasons for leaving – it was the long working hours and the working environment – it made me unhappy, there was very little recognition and I began to feel like I wasn’t good at my job. It was very demotivating.

What prompted you to make the change from being an employee in the events industry to your current status?

I was unhappy with who I was becoming in the workplace as well as outside of the workplace. I did not feel accomplished or satisfied with the work I was doing. I realized that my work was creeping into my personal life far too much, and the result was that I was not taking care of myself or having the time to do the things that I enjoy. Everyone has different priorities in life with varying degrees of importance. Being at work for 70% to 80 % of my week means, for me, that I need to feel some sense of fulfilment and happiness – this has become my priority and this was not the case a short while ago.

You left without a job lined up which some will question and ask “was that wise?”

A number of thoughts ran through my head for a couple of months before I resigned from my job. Fear and doubt being the biggest two of them all. Fear of: judgement, debt, being unemployed, halting my ‘life plan’, and doubting myself that I could cope. These were all very big fears, but the fear of judgement and failure consumed my worry the most. I was worried what my colleagues, friends and family would think of my decision – assuming that most would think it’s irresponsible and question what I would do next. Opposite to the fear I was feeling, I felt the overwhelming need to take care of myself (physically and mentally), and this is what I chose to do and I am so glad I did.

Your ability to leave your job without one lined up – many would say that’s unrealistic and they’re not in a position to just stop working and how could you have done that if you weren’t earning an income so perhaps we have to practically shed some light on what enabled you to make that move as this may not be the case for so many in the same ‘career transition’ boat as you. I’m just considering how to encourage in light of the situation some may be in and perhaps it isn’t stopping working to find themselves but perhaps it’s making a move to something they are passionate about that is the first step in the right direction of finding their identity?

When I made the decision to resign, I knew it was a huge risk financially. Although I could reduce my monthly costs slightly, I still had expenses which needed to be paid (rent, medical aid, insurance etc.). Of course, I had moments of panic whilst working through my notice period, doubting whether I would manage and whether I would eventually have to rely on my family. I was emotionally exhausted, and the support and encouragement I received from my family made me realise that although it’s scary to resign without a new job lined up, it was far more important to take care of myself. Once I had resigned, I decided on a rough timeline – how long I would like to take a break for and what was realistic financially. I knew that I would need to dip into my savings and that I would need to get a part-time time job. I have been very fortunate to find part-time work which has supported me financially and also allowed me enough time to figure out what is next, and what job role I might enjoy. One and half months of unemployment-by-choice done, and so far it’s been great – mostly because I have the time to think. I definitely don’t doubt my decision. Taking the step to resign without a new job almost made me feel like I had an identity – I did something which was important for me.

What advice would you give to others on how to handle this period of transition?

  1. Be honest and confident when someone asks you why you did it and what your plan is. Most people will respect and support your decision. I have received a huge amount of support and encouragement from my family and friends.
  2. Try to develop a routine for each day. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you still have to wake up at 6:00 am like you used to, but plan your days out – I even schedule in my walk in Kirstenbosch. This time is equally important during a time of transition, so schedule it in. I write everything in my diary the night before. It’s not set in stone, but it’s a guide and it also gives me a purpose to each day.
  3. Take care of yourself, and be a little selfish with your free time – don’t try to squeeze too much into each day.
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