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Just quit my job… how do I not waste 9 months of autonomy?
December 24, 2011 11:32 PM   Subscribe

I just quit my job to pursue my dream of making things…and I now have 9 months of unplanned time to use. How the hell do I not waste it? (a part of me wants to go all indiana jones, but i'm not sure that's a viable option)

I'm fresh out of a mentally & physically draining job at an ad agency. I was successful at it but I just felt more and more that I wanted to make the stuff being sold, not make ads about it. Since I was a kid I've had a passion for figuring out how things work (electronics, physical themed spaces, anything technical really) and I've picked up a lot of general knowledge about this stuff. But I didn't end up on an engineering, technical theater or design track in my undergrad & I regret it.

A discussion at work lead me to want to reorient myself out of advertising & go back to make a career/life out of my passion for figuring out how things work & making stuff. I went and looked at and then decided to apply for a grad program that seems to be the absolute perfect match for what I want to do both on a personal & processional level. I quit my job 2 days after submitting the application.

The problem: I've made the crazy jump but I'm afraid of not fully utilizing the time I have. This is a transition from intense 65 to 75 hour weeks to no structure/not knowing what to do. My tendency is to get pulled into the internet without an outside force or reason to connect to the outside world. I feel like I don't know what to do with free time anymore.

However, this could be one of the last times where I am almost entirely autonomous: I'm only 25, no debt, no mortgage, a decent amount of money saved, no family to care for. I don't want to waste it.

I want to use this time regain my sanity & develop skills that will help me in school (assuming I get in).
I have a few existing goals:
  • get over my fear of executing creative projects
  • take classes in basic arduino/electronics stuff – i'm watching the machineproject here in LA for that stuff
  • improve fitness by getting back to the gym (don't really know what I'm doing) & riding my bike
  • reconnect with friends from before the job
  • travel someplace i've never been – I have some built up miles
  • possibly volunteer – but i'm not sure what for
Has anyone had experience making a jump like this or going from a very intense schedule to having a lot of freedom?

Anything you wish you did? Or wish you didn't?

I don't want my overbearing desire to plan everything eliminate the opportunity for serendipity (as I feel like that's what has lead me to this moment), but I don't want to waste the time either. Thanks for sharing your experiences!
posted by tarthur to Work & Money (11 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Start laying the groundwork for starting your own small business?
posted by -harlequin- at 11:59 PM on December 24, 2011


Make a thing, and then find a way to sell it. But make sure that you're making the right thing, so that you can find a way to sell it.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:19 AM on December 25, 2011


You could find clubs, hobbies, or groups. Maybe a bowling league if you like it. Reading books for pleasure is fun. As for volunteer work, there are so many places depending on what you like. Some places for example: Zoo, animal shelter, homeless shelter, church(if religious), Mentoring kids of some sort.

You could even combine travel with volunteer work. Build houses in a needy area. you could travel somewhere for a month and that would be 1 month down out of the nine that you need to fill.
posted by Jaelma24 at 12:49 AM on December 25, 2011


Keep a journal of this time. List your objectives (your bullet points above, perhaps)
Every day do something to move each objective along.

Get up, get dressed, eat breakfast and keep track of your daily activities.

Make something every day whether it is a piece of the overall plan for your first new creative project, a set of pulleys to solve a household inconvenience, or an origami bird. Create something every day.

Learn something every day; spend time reading, researching, even just working on admission to or preparation for the program you have in mind.

Exercise your body every day, in the gym or biking or running. Do it for energy and the sense of well-being.

Reach out to reconnect with people and make new connections--do this every day, a coffee, a phone call, an e-mail. Don't neglect the lunches--you have the luxury now of lunches just to catch up with friends.

Plan your special trip or add information to your travel file about the places you want to go and give this some attention every day. Take the trip.

Have play time every day when you explore the world around you and find a place where you can give something to someone else whether it is volunteering service work or a contribution to an organization or just giving a little help, comfort or joyful surprise to someone in your life--make it a daily specialty, playtime for you and gift-giving to others.

I wish you the most magical sabbatical and hope you can retool your skills and prepare to be the creative person you are meant to be.
posted by Anitanola at 12:54 AM on December 25, 2011 [14 favorites]


I took a sabbatical from work last year, and I can relate to the structurelessness problem. My strategy is usually to go in with a list of projects that’s just slightly too long, and keep myself busy through artificially starving myself of time. The tricky part is making sure the list has some things on it that I wouldn’t naturally do, so the usual coding/making projects are interspersed with talking/connecting/publishing projects that keep me telling the outside world what’s going on. The other tricky part is making sure the list is made up of small, achievable tasks. Your Arduino thing, for example, is good if you can phrase it in terms of some specific result you want to reach like making pictures on an LED matrix or streaming tweets to a receipt printer. Concrete outcomes make it easier to ask for help and set priorities.

I guessed that ITP might be your program and your question history seems to confirm it. If you end up going there, this strategy of having a goal of your own will be doubly important. I know a number of former students, and they have told me that ITP plans for a lot of chaff in each graduating class and will happily let you waste your two years fiddling with crap as long as your checks don’t bounce. People like Dennis Crowley who’ve succeeded there did so by bending the full program to support their own mission class after class after class. MediaLab has a similar reputation, FWIW—have a project or be ready to do grunt work for someone else. Use your sabbatical to develop your plan of attack!
posted by migurski at 1:00 AM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, apropos your previous question, have you looked at UCLA media arts?
posted by migurski at 1:05 AM on December 25, 2011


You sound a lot like people I know who have quit school for more productive things. Here's some general advice:

* Take a week or two off.
* Don't guilt yourself because you're not being as productive as you would like. It'll come, eventually. You need to get past the shock of structurelessness, first. If you try to force it, you'll burn out.
* After your break, resist the temptation of staying home.
posted by wayland at 1:07 AM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the back of my mind I have an idea for a framework to handle exactly this sort of situation - a lot of people find themselves with this problem, though perhaps from a more existential point of view - "what should I do with my life?" not "what should I do with the next nine months."

It might go something like this:

Step 1: Write down your high level goals for the next 9 months. This is important. Get them written down, don't let them keep spinning out of control in your head. Once you're done you should have a list of (for example) a half dozen to a dozen things you want to accomplish in this time.

Step 2: Turn each of these goals into small, realistic projects that can be accomplished in, say 2 weeks to a month. Try to keep the number of projects down to a realistic level - what that may be is up to you, but I'd suggest no more than 10.

Step 3: Rate each of these products according to the following:
- Personally fulfilling
- Financially rewarding
- Career advancing
- Likely to finish

(these are just guidelines, make up your own if you have other criteria)

Step 4: Write each of these projects down on index cards and shuffle the cards. Each morning pick a card at random & work on that project. You're allowed to pick the next card if you don't like the first one you pick, and you're allowed to work on more than one thing a day.

Step 5: On each day that you work on a project, put a check mark on that card. The goal is to accumulate 10 to 14 or 30 stars, at which point the project should be done or close to done (remember these are 2-4 week projects). If you skip a card, put a minus sign on that card. If the card accumulates more minus signs than stars, re-evaluate that card - why are you skipping it? Is it too difficult? Too boring? Too poorly defined? I there some other obstacle that you need to overcome before you can begin?

Step 6: Once a month, review your major goals & each of the cards. Should you ditch any of the cards? Should you add any more cards? Are you stuck on any of the cards? Create a little board in your house where you can display completed cards for yourself, or otherwise keep them around as mementos.

You can add ongoing projects to cards - like going to the gym or practicing music or "eat one new thing every week" but if they're daily activities, then you may want to think of another way to track them (perhaps still with cards, but they're not the random cards you draw, they're a separate deck for daily/weekly activities that happen non-randomly).
posted by MesoFilter at 2:20 AM on December 25, 2011 [18 favorites]


If you're not bound by a non-compete in the advertising/marketing field, then I would combine that with your desire to make stuff.

Think something like the Santa Claw machine or that waffle video game posted in the blue a couple days ago. Build something amazing, combine it with some brilliant ad work, then try to sell it to the highest profile company you can find. The exposure should help you find your next project.

Any kind of physical toy that can be interacted with over the net should work.

This could lead into just about anything.
posted by neversummer at 8:10 AM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find it useful to divide my activities into input and output. I'll spend a lot of time puttering around the internet reading and learning things, but then i make sure to output things again in some way. this could be notetaking or sketching or producing something else entirely that's unrelated to the input. but if you think of time reading and looking at internet stuff as just input, then you can try and balance it with producing things.

also, if you don't already know it, learning basic computer programming would probably be quite useful, particularly if you're interested in arduino stuff. i've seen a number of classes that teach programming through the arduino so those might be useful. i know there are a bunch of places in new york where one can do that, and i'm sure there are comparable places in la
posted by taltalim at 10:00 AM on December 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you are coming East in the fall, congrats! ITP is a great program full of awesome people where you will be able to pursue your ideas in an academic playground for two lovely years. I am (theoretically) jealous.

For now, though:

Wake up at the same time every day. This is important. It doesn't matter if you're in LA or Paris, you should be up by nine a.m. Wake up, shower, get dressed -- and then put on shoes. For some reason putting on shoes helps (me, at least) indicate it's time to work. Maybe it's a Mister Rogers thing.

Love Anitanola and MesoFilter's advice. Be reasonable about your goal-setting: keep in mind when you are planning out your week that your short-term goals are like checkpoints that you're requiring yourself to pass, not like fantasies you're trying to make come true. Have daily, weekly and monthly goals. Here's an example of how I try to break down my goal-setting:

• Today: Finish sub-sub-part of Project X; buy milk; meet Jim Bob for quesadillas.
• This week: Finish sub-part of Project X; see Jim Bob and Johnboy; call Zebulon on his birthday.
• This month: Create Project X; hang out with cast of The Waltons.

It's also really helpful to work with a group. Find other makers who are doing their thing full-time, and either work on projects together or work side by side on your own projects. On the East Coast, for writers, there are lots of little "writer's rooms" where if you join (and pay a fee) you can work in a cubicle alongside other writers. There are creative tech groups along these lines, too. You might look for similar organizations out West. It's very important to have a network of people with whom you can sit and tinker, and talk about tinkering, and plan to tinker. Otherwise (trust me) you can totally swirl down into a rabbit hole where you don't know if you're the most brilliant person in the world or if you've gone mad.

Don't forget to give yourself one day of rest every week -- a day on which you do nothing but look at internet cats in your pajamas; and one day of play every week, on which you go out and explore the world and spoil yourself.
posted by brina at 3:49 PM on December 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


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