What do you want to be when you grow up?
My Aunt Margaret tells the story of when she asked me that question. I have no recollection of this, but she swears I said:
“I don’t know, but I just want to make a lot of money.”
While my childish wish hasn’t come true, my career’s zig zags over the years have made me spiritually rich. I could not be happier and more fulfilled than in my roles as Mother, Partner, Writer, Friend and Teacher. But it sure was a long, strange, tumultuous trip to arrive at this place of perennial satisfaction.
As the Zen saying goes, “Every day is a good day.” Every day of life is one to be grateful for. Even the worst ones.
In 2002, I graduated from college and started working full time at the ad agency where I’d been interning for three years. I became an official member of the illustrious Creative Department. I was assigned to concept headlines that hook, taglines that reverberate in consumers’ minds and body copy to increase profits.
In other words, words that sell. Before, my workdays had been cluttered with pesky client meetings, schedules and estimates.
As a Writer, I was paid to think and to present my expensive ideas in sleek conference rooms where coffee and assorted cookies were served on faux silver platters. I quickly became disillusioned with advertising and dismayed by the prospect of only two weeks of vacation per year.
I was suffering from cognitive dissonance; as I got more and more into yoga and mindfulness, I saw advertising as the evil source of our consumerist culture and felt guilty that I was doing nothing to make the world a better place.
I started spending most of my time looking out into the future, and I didn’t like what I saw: my whole boring, lonely adult life stretching before me.
So, I decided to leave. I was going to take a trip to California that might end up being a move, if things worked out. I packed my 1996 Mitsubishi Eclipse to the gills and took off.
Things didn’t work out.
My car broke down in rural New Mexico, 10 hours from home. The timing belt snapped. Game over. I tearfully got a room in the shitty roadside motel and ate microwave cheese enchiladas—the only vegetarian option on the menu—at the shitty roadside diner in Fort Sumner, the closest town. My parents had to come pick me up, as my car would take two weeks to get fixed. So instead of moving to California, I flew there for two weeks and then came home to Austin, ever discontent.
Eventually, I started having suicidal fantasies. I thought of offing myself with the oven, only it was electric. I thought of hanging myself in the closet but I didn’t have any rope. I thought of drowning in my parents’ backyard hot tub. In time, I got over my death wish. I went on living and working in Austin, Texas.
After a chance encounter with an acquaintance at a coffee shop, I read a New Age self-help book called Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. It’s all about visualizing and affirming your goals as if they’ve already happened and connecting with the emotions you’d feel once those goals were realized. I decided—again—that my ultimate happiness was tied to finally leaving Texas once and for all.
By then, two of my closest friends from high school were sharing an apartment in Mountain View, California. I was going to follow in their footsteps!
My affirmation was: “I, Michelle, am now thriving in the San Francisco Bay Area, making a successful living by teaching Hatha Yoga.”
I traded in my faulty Eclipse for a flawless, new, forest green Mazda Protégé. I bid farewell, again, to my loved and hated hometown in July as I embarked with confidence on my one-way cross-country road trip.
I wrote in my journal, “Stuff is falling into place. I am manifesting my life. The Universe is listening.”
They offered decent starting pay, all the free lunches I could swallow, healthcare, and hammocks and babbling brooks in the landscaped lawn surrounding its office complex. For a short while, I convinced myself that it was corporate heaven on earth. How could I say no to a job with the world’s most popular search engine?
After a few days of training, each morning, I’d settle in and begin my only task: reviewing those tiny text ads that come up on the right hand column of any Google search.
My fellow mouse-clicking monkeys and I reviewed those ads and their corresponding links against dozens of policies on everything from grammar to guns to porn.
Our managers emphasized “quality over quantity,” but it came down to a sheer numbers game. How many ads could you correctly review in the mind-numbing 40 hour work week? Because the task was so boring and repetitive, I began to treat it like a game. How fast could I go?
I was warned to slow down. I didn’t.
Yet, I was blindsided when the manager asked me if I had a minute, led me to a secluded conference room and lowered the guillotine. I was shaken by the immediate shock of rejection: I’d been hired and fired by Google within a month.
My ego was bruised, my root chakra punctured…but when I woke up the next morning, I was genuinely relieved not to have to go to a job I despised.
Being released from my duties at Google was the best thing that could have happened to my yoga teaching career.
I blanketed Silicon Valley with my yoga resume and immediately got a few subbing gigs at gyms and yoga studios and before long I would be teaching a dozen classes a week. After a couple months, I found myself teaching 12 or more yoga classes per week all over the Bay area. I was overstretched and underpaid.
Burnout was imminent.
One day, I inadvertantly parked my car in the notorious Tenderloin district of San Francisco and came back a few hours later to discover two of my windows shattered and my yoga mat and case of music CDs stolen.
I hoped that the thief would enjoy learning yoga on the fancy mat with its fashionable carrying case but realized it was most likely a homeless person who would use it as a makeshift mattress. Hopefully it would at least bring him some peaceful rest and perhaps some joy?
(But did he really have to break both fucking windows?)
I came full-circle when I began posting my own Google AdWords ads for my fledgling business, Yoga Freedom. I clicked ‘submit’ and sent a little vibe of compassion to the poor peon who would be reviewing my ad at the other end.
In hindsight, it’s obvious I had sabotaged my burgeoning career at Google. I hated working 9-to-5 in an office, even if it was a colorful, “eccentric” pre-IPO Google office. What a waste of a day!
Getting fired from Google drastically improved my life, because it pushed me to become an entrepreneur.
Running my own yoga business at age 23 gave me confidence, and even though it eventually failed when I got tired of being a broke ass yoga teacher, the whole endeavor was an incredibly valuable experience.
In the greater scheme of things, getting fired from Google kind of led to my financial downfall, which led to me moving back to Texas a year later, which eventually led me to Guatemala, which, in time, led to me meeting the love of my life and having a darling baby girl.
In my book (no pun intended) that’s one drastically improved life.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise