Last year I did something very strange and out of character. I left a good, secure job (without even being asked to first) and agreed to give all of my savings to a university in exchange for them teaching me how to be a journalist.
In the four months since making this decision, the following has happened:
- the world has continued to turn
- I have not once caught fire
- I have learned more than I ever thought possible
So far, so successful. But this very nearly didn't happen. In fact, if I hadn't received some timely advice from a wise friend, I might still be lying to people at parties about what I did for a living ("I'm basically a doctor/an inventor/independently wealthy") because it was more fun than saying what I actually did.
My friend - let's call her Bob - had herself given up a glittering career in an important managerial sector to retrain as a counsellor.
Bob had been unhappy at work for some years, but was so used to the familiarity and security of her well-paid job that she couldn't find the courage to set herself adrift and try something new. At her lowest point, the only way she could see herself moving on was if something were to force it. She started to fantasise about turning up to her office to find the doors locked and chained with a huge, cartoon-style padlock.
Things hadn't yet got quite this bad for me, but all the same, there was plenty in Bob's story to identify with. I had a secure job that was well paid and that I was reasonably good at. The location was great, and I worked with some lovely people. Yet somehow, it just wasn't right. It hadn't been right for some time, but I couldn't quite picture myself doing anything else.
Bob said - in a wise, counsellor-type way which proved 100% that she had made the right decision - that she pictured herself in an old people's home. "When the nurses ask me what my proudest moment was in life," she said, "I didn't want it to be 'I paid off my mortgage by the age of 50'. I didn't want to let down my future self."
That was the image that clinched it for me. Who wants to be 30 - 45 - 90, and have accumulated a lifetime of regrets?
So I jumped ship. Yes, I may be spending all of my savings on the most stressful gap year ever and yes, I now have an entirely NEW set of problems, but you know what? It feels great, because I'm doing something that is more right than wrong, and what's more - I chose it.
Stuck in a rut? Try following these steps.
1. Identify what feels wrong
This is by far the hardest part of the process, whether your answer turns out to be "EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING IS WRONG. OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD' or 'I think I might be lactose-intolerant'. Get this part sorted and you're halfway there.
2. Identify what feels right
You might not yet have a fully evolved idea of what you want, but you'll surprise yourself with the number of options you can come up with. Try out a few different scenarios and see how they feel - this is all in your head, so you can go crazy. For example: "In five years time, I could own my own teashop/work for local government/be Jon Snow's full-time sock/tie co-ordinator".
3. Talk to others about how you could start to feel more right than wrong
You don't have to do this on your own, and anyway, you probably can't. Don't be afraid to talk to friends and family about your ideas - they may be able to share helpful advice or life experience which will help you with decisions. If you're open to the idea of therapy or counselling, ask your GP or look on the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists website to find people near you who are literally trained to be helpful.
4. Identify a possible solution
Take your list of options and try to whittle it down to the ones you can see working in practice. Whether you come up with a fully-fledged solution or an idea to develop, getting it fixed in your mind is one of the most empowering things you can do.
5. Grab your solution by the balls
Once you've identified your solution, workshopped it, tested it, second-guessed it, decided against it, gone back to it, mulled it over, refined it and worked out how to finance it, there' nothing stopping you. Go for it.
6. Repeat, as necessary.