Vietnamese Spring Roll Salad

Last December, I quit my job. As my therapist wisely told me, it was just a job. I didn’t owe it anything. And yet, quitting felt a little bit like running away and a lot like giving up on a mission I hadn’t yet completed.

Ever since graduating from college, I’d wanted to be the boss — the high powered female leader who ran meetings, made strategic decisions, launched new initiatives, and hired fantastic writers and editors to join her. When I was given the opportunity to work directly with a female leader whom I respected very much at Upworthy, I said yes without asking any questions. But after more than a year of writing and editing and managing and scheduling and strategizing and watching my boss work, I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to be in charge. I didn’t want to run a huge team. I didn’t want to work 12 hour days. I didn’t want to be constantly bothered with questions and problems. I didn’t want my life to be about my career alone.

This was, of course, a very personal decision. For many people, work and leadership are gratifying enough to tolerate the downsides of being in charge. But I have a backstory of anxiety and I’m a people-pleaser to my core, so I saw the writing on the wall very early: if I wanted to be a healthy, calm and balanced person, being in charge wasn’t for me. I’d stay on for another year at Upworthy in a number of roles, but I eventually hit burn out and walked away in December, feeling confused about my dreams, my direction, and my career. What was next? My desire to make it to the top of the media industry had been driving me for so long that I didn’t know what to do without it.

After I quit my job, I freelanced. I wrote and edited stories and books for a bunch of different companies. But I also spent many hours thinking and writing about what I really wanted. What was my definition of success? How much did I need to work to be happy? What did I really like doing? While freelancing wasn’t easy — the finances were very unstable and the work tended to ebb and flow — I quickly got a strong sense for the work I liked (with no boss standing behind me, I epically procrastinated on the projects I hated). And while all that free time felt weird at first, I slowly started to relax into the idea of having time to breathe. I could practice yoga, take walks with my dog, actually eat lunch away from my computer, learn new skills, and launch creative projects with no tie to money or productivity — like this blog!

Today, my idea of success is waking up in the morning without dreading what’s ahead of me. It’s taking the time to do at least one thing every day that makes me feel joyful, like a little kid. Success, to me, is having a work schedule that allows for time with the people I love, especially the ones who make me better. It’s learning to work on projects consistently and sustainably, not aggressively. Usually, success looks like taking the time to cook and move around and work and make things with my hands, every day.

That’s it. Simple, but complex. Many jobs could fit into this framework — but if something doesn’t fit into that view of success, it’s out. When I started my current job, I made myself a list of rules and learnings, things I wanted to keep in mind as I jumped mindfully back into a full-time job in a healthy way. They were:

  1. Only work 9-5 or 8-4. No weekends, no early mornings, no late nights.
  2. No work email or Slack on my phone.
  3. Take lunch breaks, always, every day (see the recipe below).
  4. Move/ stretch/ keep good posture at my desk.
  5. Be okay with slow days.
  6. Set boundaries: I will not be the person who does and/or knows all of the things.

I also set a mantra: “This job is how I make money. This is not my life.”

Vietnamese Spring Roll Salad

Makes 6 servings. Adapted from this Pinch of Yum recipe.
Or “A yummy salad to eat away from your desk, in the sunshine, at a park.”
  • 6 oz rice noodles
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into sticks
  • 1/2 cucumber, cut into sticks
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into sticks
  • 10 fresh basil leafs, cut into ribbons (or 1 t dried basil)
  • 5 fresh mint leafs, cut into ribbons
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 10-15 cooked shrimp, cut into chunks (or 1-2 chicken breasts or thighs, roasted and shredded; or even tofu!)
  • 1/4 cup chopped, unsalted peanuts
  • Optional additions: minced cilantro, sliced green onions, cabbage, thinly sliced red onions

For the dressing:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3-4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil

Boil your rice noodles according to the instructions on the package. Usually, this means dropping them in boiling or hot water for 2 minutes before draining them — but follow the package’s specific instructions for the best results.

While the water boils and the noodles cook, prep all your ingredients: cut the pepper, cucumber and carrot into sticks. Mince your jalapeno. Cut the herbs into ribbons (fresh herbs really make a difference in this recipe). Chop your shrimp (or chicken). Add all of those ingredients to a big bowl. Combine dressing ingredients in a separate bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Once the noodles are cooked, add them to the big bowl with your other ingredients. Pour the dressing over the top and start to mix it all up with tongs. Sometimes the rice noodles will stick together a bit, but that’s okay — you can pull them apart with the tongs. Once the dressing is fully incorporated, do a taste test. If you prefer more spice, add some red pepper flakes. It should be salty enough (fish sauce provides the salt elements you need) but if not, add a bit more salt. You may also want to add some cracked black pepper. Top the salad with chopped peanuts, cilantro, red onions, green onions, or anything else — and enjoy!

*This is one of those “throw in whatever’s in the fridge” salads. Feel free to add more or less of each ingredient, or to add in other things that sound good — just keep the dressing quantities the same in relation to one another.

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