The day Sarah Knight walked out of her ‘dream job’ was the day she officially stopped sweating the small stuff. She tells Grazia how it also sparked a book that’s set to revolutionise the way we deal with life in 2016...
Along the way, I’ve met a few people who truly didn’t give a f**k – like the second- grade teacher who broke a ruler over a kid’s desk to demonstrate fractions; or my friend Jeff, who’s elevated RSVPing ‘no’ to an art form. Their attitude was refreshing, but I never realised it could be possible for me. I’m such a Type A overachieving perfectionist – and I’ve been on this treadmill my whole life. What I didn’t realise until recently, though, was that if you slow down and do only the things that make you happy, you’ll have a much better quality of life – and you won’t suddenly lose your identity either. And that’s why, last June, I quit my dream job as a senior book editor in New York. After 15 years of working hard for ‘The Man’, I realised this career was no longer making me happy. I was burnt out and wanted out.
The decision to quit wasn’t easy (see: Type A overachieving perfectionist). I was used to accepting every invitation to every event in town. I worked from home on nights and weekends and, ironically for a book editor, I had no time for reading for pleasure. Every morning as I’d leave my husband – a freelance real-estate broker, voiceover actor and singer-songwriter – still sleeping, to creep out for work, a little bit of resentment would build up in me. ‘Why can’t I have his life?’ I’d think. But I wrestled with abandoning my ‘career track’ and having no money and worried people would think I was lazy.
Eventually, I said ‘enough’ and made the decision to resign. It still took me a year of planning to leave. I set up a savings plan and put a sign on my wardrobe door with a leaving date, so I’d see it every day. OK, so it wasn’t exactly spontaneous, but I needed to work my way into giving up work. After I’d given my notice, I wrote an essay on the process of becoming OK with being a quitter (yes, I was going freelance, but I had never quit anything before) and, as I shut down my PC for the last time, I posted it online. By the morning, I had thousands of messages. My piece had gone viral and was number one on publishing platform Medium.com.
I admit it’s not always easy to follow my own advice. I worried my family would think my book is about them (my mother- in-law already brought up an anecdote I mention), but I have to remind myself that one of the things I’m trying hard not to give a f**k about is what other people think of my choices. It’s not easy, but the more I do it, the more addictive it becomes.
There are two reasons you tend to give a f%%k: you don’t want to be a bad person or you don’t want to look like a bad person. The key is to be honest and polite. Me responding with timely regrets to a friend’s party doesn’t make me a bad person or make me look bad. Me saying yes then bailing on the day is another matter. January is the perfect month for giving fewer f%%ks because the festive season is so, so draining. You’re over-eating, over-drinking, over-spending and over- committed. But this is not about becoming pious or swapping a set of work schedules for a new set of rules on healthy living.
January is the perfect month for giving fewer f**ks because the festive season is so, so draining. You’re over-eating, over-drinking, over-spending and over- committed. But this is not about becoming pious or swapping a set of work schedules for a new set of rules on healthy living.
I say very clearly in the book that I don’t give a you-know-what about going to the gym. If it doesn’t make you happy then don’t do it – that should be your only rule for 2016. Personally, I’ve recently realised that money doesn’t make me nearly as happy as having free time, so my New Year’s resolution is to guard it closely, which again simply means casting off a lot of obligations rather than adding new ones.
The really important message of the book is it’s all about you. You don’t have to do things the way I did them – your f%%ks can be very different from my f**ks. The idea is to just focus on what gives you the life that you want and to go after it. And it’s not about hurting people’s feelings or being an asshole. You’d be surprised how easy it is to be honest and polite and get what you want. I’ve now had a taste of exactly the life I was looking for. Of course, there’s always going to be a little anxiety – I’m an anxious person – and I really thought I might miss being in the thick of the publishing business. And yet I haven’t thought about that job since I left. All I think is, ‘Wow, why didn’t I do this 10 years ago?’ I have never looked back, and neither will you.
‘The Life-Changing Magic Of Not Giving A F%%k’ by Sarah Knight is out now
This article originally appeared in Grazia Magazine.