@Jin+Guice: Yup. I’ll refer to this below as “the challenge”.I've found that it's actually kind of difficult to run your life when you are responsible for all or most of your time.
A personal response: I've yet to feel any employment-related anxiety in part because my net worth hasn't gone down yet, but also because I've put off thinking about it until SO and I move to a more permanent location. I want a "home base" before I start looking at location-dependent part-time stuff. In the meantime, and partially related to side-hussle income generation, I've developed a pretty strong interest in doing a lot of writing—mostly for personal reasons and because I've come to recognize writing as a fundamental skill I want to improve. Expectations of income from the kind of writing I want to do are very low.
With respect to the challenge of running my life, I've had a little sputtering here and there with the transition away from full-time employment, but with two important considerations:
- I don't think that I've been any more rudderless than when I was employed, which is to say having free time all day every day hasn't made this challenge harder… in part because I had already been dealing with it. I often waffled, wandered, and wasted a good chunk of time at work, even if I did eventually end up with reasonable levels of productivity. [This was largely permitted because my position as a research scientist/my boss's relatively hands-off management approach/my reasonable productivity that didn't raise flags that would cause intervention/getting bored and wasting time is actually part of the process of doing science, believe it or not—or at least my process, which worked well enough.]
- I took some of that copious free time to try to figure out what to do with it. I spent some time introspecting, some time following links you ERE denizens post on these subjects, and a lot of time reading (57 books in the last year, on wide-ranging subjects). In then end, I don't think I have found the capital-t Truth or anything, and I don’t suspect I will. Ultimately, how you spend your days is a philosophical question that has been pondered since... forever?
(TL;DR for the next section: Kegan level 5 is the answer to the challenge?)
A conceptual response: Thanks in part to these forums, I’ve run across some ideas that have started to click for me with respect to the challenge. Namely:
- Self-authoring, a la Kegan
- Thoughts about “identity”, how it is internally constructed, and how habits reinforce it, a la James Clear’s Atomic Habits
- "Consistency" and "change" as it relates to managing my personal life and how clever implementation of those two concepts is an important skill
For someone leaving a job where most of the work was prescribed from the top down or had many rules, regulations, procedures, and little independent decision-making or self-direction, the challenge becomes dealing with the anxiety of having to self-author, of having to take over the role of being your own boss. In The Shawshank Redemption parlance, the challenge is to deprogram yourself from being "institutionalized". This is profoundly uncomfortable and stressful for many people—or at least it was for me*. For me, this happened in graduate school** with a extremely hands-off advisor where I had to blaze my own trail from scratch or bomb out (aka “sink or swim”). Luckily, I learned to swim, but it was close.
*Joke: “I’m generalizing from a single example, but everyone does that—at least, I do.”
**I was an extremely "good" undergraduate, which is to say that I took to institutionalization hook, line, and sinker.
For someone leaving a job (or self-employment) with a lot of independent decision-making or self-direction, the challenge is not the transition to self-authoring, because much of that has already been done, but rather the decision about where to go next, what new identity to assume. This is where I find myself now.
For the true Renaissance man/woman, who wears many hats even within one day, the challenge becomes figuring out when, where, and why to wear any given hat.
Very coarsely, you can think of these challenges as the views from the peaks of Kegan levels 3, 4, and 5, respectively (if I’m understanding that correctly—let me know!).
When Harari says “the one thing they will need for sure is the ability to reinvent themselves repeatedly throughout their lives,” that sounds an awful lot to me like Kegan level 5 will have a substantial edge in the uncertain—but highly disruptive—near future.Interviewer: I’m the father of two young kids. I have two daughters—a five year old and a three year old. The future that you paint in Homo Deus ... is interesting. So I’d like to ask you, what should I be teaching my daughters?
Yuval Noah Harari: That nobody knows how the world would look like in 2050, except that it will be very different from today. So the most important things to emphasize in education are things like emotional intelligence and mental stability. Because the one thing they will need for sure is the ability to reinvent themselves repeatedly throughout their lives. It’s really the first time in history that we don’t really know what particular skills to teach young people because we just don’t know in what kind of world they will be living. But we do know they will have to reinvent themselves. And, especially if you think about something like the job market, maybe the greatest problem they will face will be psychological, because, at least beyond a certain age, it’s very very difficult for people to reinvent themselves. So we kind of need to build identities, I mean previously if traditionally people built identities like stone houses, with very deep foundations, now it makes more sense to build identities like tents, that you can fold and move elsewhere. Because we don’t know where you will have to move, but you will have to move.
Transitioning from Kegan level 3 to 4 requires self-authoring once. Going from 4 to 5 requires self-authoring repeatedly, presumably to the point where inhabiting/assuming a radically different and self-directed identity becomes a well-developed skill. There are at least two ways of doing this: serial careers, or just jump right in to multiple part-time hats at the same time—although this latter approach may be more jarring?
Which brings us to topics addressing: “how do you change your identity?” and “how do you get better at changing your identity?”
There appears to be an order-of-operations for smoother rides into self-authoring, and making a clear decision on what you want your personal identity to be should be done first (see: https://jamesclear.com/identity-based-habits).
And then there is consistency. This quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on Self-Reliance gets trotted out a lot with respect to consistency, so I figured I’d type out the whole thing and not just the out-of-context fragment:
...which I take to mean do not be rigid in your mental life—be open to new ideas and evolve intellectually as you incorporate them into updated mental models. Live your truth, even though that truth will change over time. But when it comes to your physical life—the mechanical actions you take daily as part of living your truth—it makes a great deal of sense to develop a consistency, a regularity. Because the bedrock of all habits and identity is consistency and repetition.A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. "Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood." Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagorus was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
You get better at changing your identity by getting better at changing your habits, by getting good at creating an ecosystem of carefully-chosen habits that all confirm the identity that you’ve decided to assume.
And just to finish up, it’s worth asking for any given habit whether it is something that you’ve chosen for yourself and that you feel is good for you, or whether it is a habit that his been externally forced upon you. Plenty of business models (and unfortunately, most of the Internet now, it seems) rely on instilling habits in you that you don’t particularly want (e.g. how many times did you check your phone in the last hour? how many videos deep did you fall in the most recent “recommended/suggested video” clickhole that was put in front of you?) This kind of stuff robs you of a self-directed life. Drip. Drip.
Anyway, those are the thoughts swirling around in my head right now with respect to the mental challenges of post-employment. Feel free to chime in with thoughts, comments, or to set me straight on something.