Quitting my Job, Taking Time Off and Learning
April 17, 2019
December 21st was my last day being a full-time employee of Spently, a Shopify App I helped found. I was at Spently for 5 and a half years, and it was my first job as a developer. I started as an intern, moved up to lead developer, then became the CTO.
Being the CTO of a growing start-up, in a constantly evolving ecosystem like Shopify was extremely rewarding, and very challenging. Although I was challenged and learning every day, I realized that I wanted more technical experience before I transitioned any further into management. In addition, I was burning out. I was working around the clock at Spently, and had no time or energy for side projects which was a big concern for me. I didn’t want to lose my passion for the craft.
Although I had this realization, quitting was still an extremely difficult decision. I spent almost 6 years at Spently, and poured my blood, sweat and tears into the product and company. I loved the team we had built, still enjoyed the work, and believed in Spently’s mission. However, I knew what I had to do for my own personal growth.
Taking Time Off (Recovering from Burnout)
I purposely quit without looking for another job, because I knew I needed some time off. I wanted a chance to rest, reflect and reassess.
The first month was bizarre. It was mainly spent getting over bad habits I had developed at Spently, and getting adjusted to not having to always “be on”. For example, while at Spently, I would wake up, and immediately check my notifications. I was responsible for receiving and responding to any alerts or errors that may have occurred overnight. Once I quit, I no longer needed to check my phone first thing in the morning, but for the first few weeks, I still constantly felt like I was forgetting something. I eventually got over that, and it was liberating to regain control of my mornings.
Because my time at Spently had been so involved and intense, I decided that for my first month off, I wouldn’t even look at my computer. Instead, I spent the first month reading, traveling and going to the gym again (a habit I had lost halfway through my career at Spently). Looking back, I know this was the right decision because I needed time to decompress, reflect and improve my habits.
Holding Myself Accountable
I am in my late 20s, still living at home with no dependents, and with enough money saved up that I could not work for a few months and still be financially secure. I knew that it was unlikely that I would ever again have the chance to quit my job and take time off for personal development, so I wanted to be sure I used my time wisely.
I started by making lists of things I wanted to achieve during my time off. Some of those items were professional, such as attending more meetups and learning new technologies, and others were personal, such giving things I didn’t need anymore away for donation and learning more about personal finance. (I quickly realized that with no income, I would have to get serious about budgeting.)
I got more specific about the technologies I wanted to learn, and made a game plan for the next few months. Here was my original plan:
May: Advanced React & GraphQL
I found a few online courses that I could follow for each subject (huge shoutout to Wes Bos who makes great content that makes learning approachable and fun), and set out to finish each course, and then built something of my own to practice the skills the courses had taught me.
Along the way, I also took extensive notes. I wanted to have a way to reference what I learned in the videos without having to re-watch them in the future. These notes turned into their own project when I decided I want to publish them online, so I could reference them from any device in the future. I ended up using Gatsby to create a static website that contains references to those notes at https://notes.anjagusev.com.
Some other things I did to hold myself accountable included:
- Downloading ActivityWatch to track/monitor my computer usage
- Creating a To Do system around the Getting Stuff Done philosophy that helped me organize and manage my time on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. (I started using ToDoist)
Some of the challenges I have faced include:
- Cutting back my budget by up to 70%. I started feeling very guilty about spending money on anything that was not essential. I have even avoided getting my haircut, not being able to justify the expense.
- Being impatient with myself when I cannot grasp a concept quickly
- Prioritizing what to learn. A lot of what I want to learn is interrelated, so while learning React, I also needed to learn ES6.
- Feeling isolated and alone
To keep myself motivated and overcome those challenges I did the following:
- rejoined Twitter. It got lonely constantly coding by myself. I found it helpful to engage with the community occasionally to help combat the feelings of isolation.
- Made sure to block off enough time for personal goals (going to the gym, developing a meditation practice)
- Made time for family. I have a nephew who at the time of writing this is 10 months old and watching him grow up is one of the coolest things I’ve had the chance to experience. I also have coffee with my grandma at least once a week.
- Made time for friends. I was able to put more energy and effort towards my friendships than I had been while being burnt out at work.
- Keep lists of side projects I wanted to work on and ideas.
- Chip away at those side project in-between learning
- Attend meetups to meet other enthusiastic members of the community
It is almost 4 months since I quit my job, and 3 months since I started the learning program I created for myself. I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish so far. I have picked up new technologies, frameworks and libraries that interest and excite me. I have developed new skills that I can put towards side projects that I have fun working on. I have stumbled across many opportunities that I otherwise would not have if I had not taken the time to engage more with the community. I have taken back control of my personal life, and learned to take better care of myself mentally and physically. I still have a lot more that I would like to learn, and I am excited and eager to tackle those things one day at a time.
Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or comments about this post, or about my time off and how I approached it. Thank you for taking the time to read about my experience.
Written by Anja Gusev who lives and works in Toronto building useful things. You should follow her on Twitter