Self-Discovery Without Security
Living with nothing to lose
By: Nicole Christie
When I separated from my husband in Seattle and moved to New York, I lost everything. My marriage, my house, my car, my dog. My parents and lifelong friends were on the opposite coast. I even lost 20 pounds as a result of walking everywhere. And if a destination wasn’t within walking distance, I had to rely on public transportation… and more strangely, a train—to get around. I bought groceries online or dragged heavy bags of milk and canned goods through the city streets. I sent out my laundry or did it myself in communal washer and dryers, which meant I sometimes picked a stranger’s pubic hairs off my towels.
Next to the adjustment from married life in the ‘burbs to single life in the city, the most difficult change was from my job in the come-as-you-are autonomy of West Coast high-tech to the stuffy old-school bureaucracy of East Coast consulting firm. My new job meant 8 to 5, not flexible hours; that business attire trumped jeans and T-shirts; and that silver-framed photos on my desk garnered smiles, while the pink feather boa atop my bookcase sparked musings about whether I “moonlighted.” In meetings, I was encouraged to pipe down versus speaking up. Within days on the job, I knew I’d made a mistake and started considering my options—move back to Seattle? Get a new job? Try to live the dream of working for myself?
The breaking point arrived after I mailed my signed divorce papers to the court. I awoke at 4 a.m. one Friday, sobbing—keening, really—at what was lost and now behind me, and the bleakness of what lie ahead. I hadn’t been able to save my marriage, but I had to save myself. I dashed off an e-mail to my manager telling her I wouldn’t be into work that day and spent the weekend thinking about what I did and didn’t want for my life. I knew I didn’t want to be in that office. I knew I wanted to work in a less conventional way. I’d always wanted to work from home as a freelance writer, but my husband had never supported a transition from stable full-time job to unpredictable freelance career. Now he was out of the picture. And I had enough money from the house proceeds to support myself for a year. I thought about advice I’d heard against making too many life changes in the face of divorce. Clearly I’d ignored that guidance as I’d upended every single element of my life in less than a year. At this point, what was one more change—especially if it put me on the self-employment path I so craved?
The following Monday, I turned in my two weeks’ notice and told my manager I was quitting to work for myself. Yes, after just 10 months. Yes, I knew I’d have to pay back my sign-on bonus. No, there was no changing my mind—but I’d be willing to complete my projects on a freelance basis.
Two weeks later, I rolled out of bed at 10 a.m., pulled on a pair of shorts and a baseball hat, and strolled to my new office eight steps away. In an eerie turn of coincidence, my final divorce papers arrived that afternoon—signed, sealed, it’s over. I no longer had the security of marriage. I no longer had the security of a full-time job. I no longer had the security of a lifelong support network of family and friends just a short drive away. I had truly lost everything. But I’d been able to take an enormous risk to save myself because losing it all had given me one very important thing:
Nothing to lose.