Escaping Corporate and dealing with layoffs; My journey from anxiety and CFS to being a digital nomad in the gig economy
After 14 years of corporate life, I should have felt quite content and accepting of my lot. I was a risk specialist working at a large corporate and I had a nice home, a seaside apartment and a German car in my garage. Sure, dragging myself out of bed on Monday mornings took some effort and I would have more dreams at night about work targets than about frolicking with my favourite Hollywood star. But life as a 38-year-old Johannesburg pen-pusher was decent.
I can’t say that life unraveled quickly; I was but a toad in a slowly heating pot. A disengaged toad growing more rotund the deeper I got into my thirties. I stood at a crossroads, faced by a new CEO at the ICT company I was working for. He had a penchant for layoffs to boost quarterly earnings. And I either had to prove myself irreplaceable with some new enthusiasm for my monotonous corporate governance work or imagine myself without a solid paycheck.
At first I soldiered on. Thinking, as one does, that I have proved myself over the years and that it was clear for all to see my worth and intellect. Problem being, ours was not a revenue earning division and all the CEO saw was the dreamy glitter of a new Porsche in his driveway, purchased with his next performance bonus. Half our team was on the chopping block.
Next, I racked my mind for a plan B and plan C—literally penned and printed—I was a Risk Specialist after all and mitigations were my game. My energy went into imagining a new path. My disengagement from the rightsizing corporate grew and my performance slowed to a crawl even though the deadlines were still hurtling at me. My health suffered too. Coughing, body aches and constant exhaustion. All the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
I would drive to work in the mornings distracted by some good tunes and witty banter from the DJ on the radio. But then, on my 5-minute walk from the car park, my mind would turn to looming deadlines and my growing disengagement made me realize I was far from irreplaceable and that I could easily end up in the layoffs pile. Queue anxiety attack and profuse sweating that soaked my shirt just as I got started for the day. This happened repeatedly over a two-month period. I made a sorry sight indeed and clearly things could not go on like that much longer.
I wanted to escape the city, the rat-race and hunker down somewhere far away from all my worries. To sleep away all the emotional exhaustion and quell my anxiety. I knew it would be a hard sell for my friends and family. Most thought fighting for my spot in corporate and the steady paycheck was the smarter thing to do. Looking back, it was quite brave of me to inform my boss that I would not re-apply for my position and that I would opt for a severance package instead.
Did the bravery pay off? Well, not in the way I pictured it would. I bought a plot of land by the sea and imagined myself building a cottage there and hiding away from the stresses of the world. Downshifting sounded pretty good. True, at 38 I was young to be semi-retired. But, with no children to support and with some steady income from my property investments, I had a good shot at a happy life. I didn’t see myself leading a luxury life with all the trimmings, rather it dawned on me that a minimalist existence of experiences rather than stuff would suit me just fine.
Instead, after a couple of weeks outside of corporate, my health improved and anxiety lifted. Reducing stress seems to work remarkably well for CFS. I had a new verve for life. Energy to want to travel the world and start an online business. E-commerce is growing rapidly and the idea of working from my laptop anywhere in the world with an internet connection seemed mightily appealing. And it seems I am not the only one.
According to Wikipedia, the digital nomad lifestyle is growing in popularity. There seems to be no shortage of paths to digital nomad living; blogging, vlogging, publishing and online business. The world may not be ready yet for a ginger from South Africa to be its next vlogging star, but fortunately there are other online and passive income options and cheap locations like Bali or Budapest to get by on a modest income. And if the flexible working allows me to fit in an afternoon siesta, I’m certainly in!
Yes, there will be sacrifices along the way. AirBnB hosts who work on my nerves. Giving up my car. Selling more of my belongings. Missing family and friends back home. Maintaining a decent diet and fitness program on the road. I may become even more rotund. But from where I’m sitting, the pros far outweigh the cons.
Never in history has so much information been at our fingertips to overcome these nomadic obstacles. Google Maps knows the nearest pharmacy. My cellphone can help me translate. The web allows me to find the cheapest flights. I can access freelancing gigs to finance my way. There has never been a better time than now. Seems that CEO may have done me a favour; I won’t begrudge him his new Porsche. I’ve been the winner in all of this; he can answer to his board of directors while I take my afternoon nap.
So, armed with a Dummies book by my side and some inspiring online lectures I remain enthusiastic and surprisingly free of fear for what the future holds. In the words of Winston Churchill: “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” It seems half the battle is already won with a positive attitude and a brandy in hand. Let’s see where this journey takes me.
@nomadicyou What is the best way to escape corporate? How do you thrive in your new #digitalnomad or #downshifting life?