Breast cancer, Cancer, Careers, UK, Women's Health

Seven years on – why it’s okay to quit

One of the phrases most commonly associated with cancer is ‘life’s too short’. Then there’s ‘live every day as if it’s your last,’ ‘appreciate the little things’ and ‘what would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ While I absolutely agree with all of the above, I think that anyone who is living with, or has had, cancer will tell you that in practice they aren’t always possible.

When I had cancer, I wrote a list of all the places I’d visit and the goals I wanted to achieve after my treatment. Seven years on, I am fortunate enough to have ticked many things off that list. I took a ‘year out’ after my treatment and went back to university to get the Masters degree I’d always wanted. I went travelling, got 12 hours sleep a night and started to write a book. But if I’d stopped working the day I got cancer to live a stress-free life, I wouldn’t have been able to support myself.

So I went back to work. And, as much as I tried to avoid the levels of job-related stress that I believe contributed to my cancer in the first place, it wasn’t always possible. Like many people, I worked long hours and took on an increasingly extensive schedule involving late nights, long-haul travel and jetlag. If I’d hated my job, I would have quit without question, but I loved it. It’s just that I had other ambitions: to go freelance, to manage my own time, to finish writing my book*.

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Actually at work, September 2018 in Sonoma County, California (Portrait by Sara Beth Turner)

At the back of my mind there was one recurring niggle: if I am diagnosed with secondary cancer (which has happened to far too many of my friends) then will I wish I had gone freelance sooner? The answer, every single time, was yes. And yet holding me back were concerns that by quitting my job I might stunt my reputation and damage my career. I would miss out on trips and opportunities that were dangling like a carrot – the journalist’s equivalent of the banker’s bonus. So I stuck it out, just for one more year, then one more year, then one more year after that.

One thing I’ve learned is that fear often comes from other people. ‘How will you make money?’ ‘Won’t you get lonely?’ ‘Why don’t you stay just a little longer while you decide?’ It’s easy to look at other people’s lives and be put off doing what you know is right for you. But when I silenced the other voices and just listened to my own, I realised it was time to quit. So I left my *amazing* job after five years and, from the very first day, I knew it was the best decision I ever made.

I created the office space I’d always dreamed of – it’s a five-second commute from my bed and my kitchen, the dress code is pretty lax and I don’t have to argue with anyone over the air conditioning. Oh, and my new colleagues are pretty chill.

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Office bants

I got off relatively scot-free from the side effects of tamoxifen but I do suffer from fatigue. I sleep 10 hours a night and there are days of the month when I simply can’t get out of bed. For years I forced myself to get up and do a long commute when my body said no, and it was one of the reasons for quitting.

I no longer have to get up at the crack of dawn, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost discipline. Working for myself, I’m as motivated as I’ve ever been, because I have to be. It’s just that I can hustle from 11am to 9pm if I like – no one is tying me to strict hours. I can go to the gym or the post office or my hospital appointments in the middle of the day. I hope we get to the point where all employers trust their staff to work wherever they want to work (within reason) as long as they get the job done.

I’m not saying everyone should quit their job – they shouldn’t. And I’m not saying treat every day like it’s your last – I, for one, would be lying under a pile of cats, comatose from eating the biggest ever Sunday roast, and that just wouldn’t do. But do listen to the voice in your head, and if it’s telling you time after time there’s something you really want to do, then don’t put off it for tomorrow. Tomorrow might never come.

Curtis Brown June 2019

The reception area at C&W / Curtis Brown

*A little update on the book:

Well, I finished writing it – it took me three and a half years to get to that stage and was undoubtedly the hardest thing I have ever done. Buuuuuuut… I am incredibly excited to reveal that I just signed with an amazing literary agent at C&W in London. It’s just another step in a long process, but fingers crossed it works out. I can’t wait for the day my novel is on the shelf alongside these amazing authors!

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12 thoughts on “Seven years on – why it’s okay to quit

  1. Elizabeth Walker says:

    My great friend Pricey,

    You are amazing and keep inspiring me I lovely the way you write, you are such a talent, I knew that when we were at college together you would flower into a inspirational individual and you have proved me right.

    I totally agree with what you say about listening to the voice in your head when work is not right for you and you need to change track.

    I did this a few years ago and came out of office work to achieve my dream of being a professional Jazz Singer and I’ve achieved it with lots of hard work.

    I also have a dream of making my own music and learning the guitar and piano again so I can accompany myself when singing in the future, these are all aims to achieve in years to come but you are right in not putting things off, to do it now and we need to live in the now.

    Well done with your book, let me know what it’s called and I will defo buy it when it comes out xxxxx🌟

    • Thanks Lizzie G! I will be the first to let you know when I have some book news. You made a brave move changing careers and you’re absolutely smashing it. Sending loads of love xx

  2. Nick Welch says:

    I think you should come and design me a new office, I think it needs a better eye than mine! Perhaps a nice little sideline in home office design?

    Although my working from home was semi forced upon me I feel so fortunate to have employers that have allowed and embraced it, it’s quite a rare trait in hospitality.

    Totally agree being able to schedule your own time is such a joy, I dont think I could ever go back to the daily grind of commuting and working late.

    I cant wait to read the book.

    • Thanks Nick, maybe if it doesn’t work out with the writing I can do a sideline of interior design instead then. Hope all is okay with you and see you soon x

  3. Pablo Dagnino Pinasco says:

    Hermoso! Es una súper decisión , creo que la mejor Laura, ahora que tu disciplina sea darle tiempo a cuerpo, hacerle caso a los momentos que te piden hoy quédate en la cama y descansa, deja para mañana lo que tenes que hacer hoy.
    Siendo freelance me paso todo lo contrario fui más exigente conmigo mismo, creo que si fuera empleado mis jefes me pedirían … hey descansa un poco… ( algo que cambiare muy pronto )
    Te felicito Seguro te va a ir súper bien ! Éxitos éxitos éxitos , esperamos leer tu libro muy pronto.

  4. Vicki Culverhouse says:

    I love this Laura. I was fortunate to be a business owner when I received my big C bombshell, so I had the comfort of being able to work as and when I felt up to it. There is nothing better than feeling like you’re in control of our life without being a slave to the daily grind. Well done for taking the leap and the path less travelled.

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