I doubt wisdom has increased proportionately with my age (the waist size, though, is a different story), but I feel I’ve had enough experience in life to state a few things with certainty.
Here’s one: I know that taking a couple of years off work was one of the best things I’ve done in life. If this is an option for you, I say do it. Go directly to unemployment. Do not pass through the office doors. Do not collect a salary.
It is possible for some people, those who have saved enough money and know they will still be hireable, to take a long hiatus from employment.
To be honest, I didn’t have much savings or know what to expect in the future but I still quit my job mid-career. I wasn’t thinking of switching to another line of work and it wasn’t because of fatigue, burnout or plain boredom. The reason was much simpler: I had settled my housing loan, and with that big-ticket item out of the way, there was no need to earn so much.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t be like that young person who takes a gap year off before college but has daddy’s dime to live on. As a, ahem, responsible adult, there were still things to pay for, like utilities and insurance. Oh yes, and food.
I didn’t want to freelance, because that is a full-time job which requires actively seeking work for money. Instead, before I resigned, I negotiated a part-time job with the weekly publication I was working for: two days a week on a daily wage. It meant an assured income, as long as I put in my hours.
Based on information from a recruitment specialist I looked up, I would be earning as much as an entry-level civil service clerk with SPM (secondary school) qualifications.
So for two years, I did two shifts a week – a third, if extra help was needed. There was enough money for groceries and to keep the lights on at home. But sometimes an extra expense would crop up and I got behind on bills. Once, I even had to borrow RM300 from my pensioner mother.
But I am not complaining. For many people in this country, what I earned working part-time is their entire income. With families to care for, they have real and persistent problems.
Despite having to give up things that I love during those two years, such as buying books, travel and good cheese, and having no idea of what to expect once I was done living the austere life, I don’t regret my decision.
I selfishly made this huge bulk of time my own, doing whatever I wanted without spending any money. I also spent a lot of time simply living in my imagination – a waste of time by some people’s definition, but I was happy. During this time, I became seriously interested in making naturally leavened bread, and it has become one of the great distractions of my life.
I went back to full-time employment, at this publication, practically broke. I’m not going to say it wasn’t a relief to be able to clear debts with my first salary.
Having financial security after living without it for so long didn’t turn me into a penny-pincher, nor did I start spending like a crazy rich Asian. While I don’t deny myself things that I love, saving money is more important now as I get closer to the end of my career. I travel and buy books, but I don’t eat as much cheese as I’d like to because, you know, the waist size.