How I Knew It Was Time to Leave My Job

I had written a bestselling book, but I was still in battle mode, afraid to quit scrapping for a living

Credit: MartinPrescott/E+/Getty

WWhen I was 26 years old, I started my own little legal practice. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Three years later, I got married, and a while after that we had our first baby. Life was pretty sweet. Okay, we worked longer hours than was strictly healthy, I didn’t particularly like my job, and all of that caused a few problems, but we knew we were lucky. We could pay our bills, we loved each other, our kid was healthy. What more do you need, right?

Then the subprime crisis hit the United States.

The knock-on effect in Ireland, where we lived, was cataclysmic. The mad merry-go-round of easy credit crashed to a halt, house prices were cut in half, and the job losses, pay cuts, and tax increases began. For three years, we tried to make it work. I remember very little of that time now. It’s lost in a haze of stress and tiredness and worry. In the end, I had to close the practice. It sounds simple, final: Close a practice. It took a year. A year of unpaid work to try to close the door on my painful failure.

It was 2011. We were 34 years old and wanted a fresh start, so we made the obvious choice. We made the short hop over the pond and emigrated to Western Australia. Ahem.

Five weeks later, our second child arrived. We were alone, 9,000 miles from home with two small children. We worked hard, tried to repair the financial mess that had sent us there. Australia offered us opportunities we couldn’t find in Ireland. Well-paid engineering work for my husband. A senior role for me with the Mental Health Commission in Perth. We needed every advantage we could get. We were in battle mode.

Battle mode means fighting for survival. It means figuring out who you are after your life has imploded around you. Figuring out how to love each other in the midst of all the stress and the worry. Making sure the kids see you with a smile on your face because they’ve already paid a price they shouldn’t have had to pay, dammit, dragged 9,000 miles from a sprawling, loving, extended family.

We had forgotten how to do anything but work, as if work was the solution to every problem.

Things got harder before they got easier, but they did get easier. The kids got bigger. We found ourselves on less shaky financial ground. Writing had been a lifelong dream and I was finally finding time to work on it. Six nights a week, after work, after kids, I kissed my husband and I sat at my desk.

And then, miracle of miracles, I sold my first novel, The Ruin. It was published. It became a bestseller.

Everything changed and nothing changed.

Battle mode. Old habits. I kept my job at the Commission and wrote at night. My husband stayed in his job, too, though he wanted something different. We kept writing down tasks and ticking them off. Every now and again, we would take a breath and look at each other and try to remember if life had always been like this. Hadn’t we been fun, once? Hadn’t we laughed more?

We had forgotten how to do anything but work, as if work were the solution to every problem. And other things were off-balance, too. We were great at sharing the childcare and the housework. But that meant we both felt compromised. My husband wanted the freedom to lean into his job. I wanted to really commit to writing, to see what I could do when I didn’t have one hand tied behind my back.

But we were both afraid of change. Afraid to risk the delicate structure we had so painstakingly constructed and the financial stability that had been so hard won.

We talked, a lot. We made careful plans and we built a few spreadsheets. Analyzed things to death. We had savings and I had a book contract, but in the end it came down to a leap of faith. A decision that we’d rather live our lives than worry.

In October 2018, I left my day job. My husband changed his job, too. We made a new deal with each other: Now, I do most of the childcare, and he feels more freedom to commit to his work. I have five hours every day when the kids are at school when I can write, and another two hours in the evening. We pay for some help with the housework.

My husband loves his new job. I have written another bestselling book, The Scholar. I won’t pretend that life is perfect. There are still challenges, times when the balance has to shift one way or the other. But we have no regrets. The safe place we had built for ourselves had become a life of box-ticking and bill-paying that offered little in the way of creativity, or true challenge, beyond the grind of long hours. Taking the leap opened life up for us again. Now, we don’t know exactly what’s around the next corner, and we like it that way.

Internationally bestselling and critically acclaimed writer Dervla McTiernan is the author of The Ruin and The Scholar.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store