Morning latte in one hand, mobile phone in the other, upbeat mood firmly in place.
G’ morning water cooler, colleagues, swivel chair and computer. Another day at the office.
When was it I first realized I didn’t belong? Probably right at the beginning but we had just come out of an economic recession and I was only too happy to be working at anything that offered a regular income.
I had no intention of staying long—just long enough to find my feet and some kind of direction in life. I was a languages graduate, was studying acupuncture part-time and had dreams of picking coffee beans in Nicaragua. That was as far as any career ambitions went.
But that was before I got serious with my new boyfriend and before my first promotion. That was before I lost myself. Somewhere in my late twenties (Saturn-return territory, for those who are astrologically-minded), the momentum of the life I’d been creating by default, or perhaps higher design, took over.
What had started as a job became a career that I thought about outside of work. Acupuncture gave way to further business studies at night and weekends became about spending the increasingly good salary I was earning. Life was sweet—meals, holidays, clothes, beauty treatments and work that kept me both challenged and amused. But something was missing, and I had no idea what.
There was an emptiness lurking underneath it all.
It took me more than two decades to walk away from a regular salary and to finally get it that being employed—rather than self-employed—really didn’t suit me. Hell, I’d even had serious issues around having to dress a certain way for work!
It took several years of trying to juggle children and full-time work, of having to steal time for my creativity, before the squeeze became too much and I arrived home one day with the decision already made that I was quitting. Just like that. No nice golden handshake or financial support to see me through for a few months. It was time to get out and I knew it.
The feeling of freedom was immense, but it was bitter-sweet, tinged with mixed emotions that caught me by surprise as the remnants of my old life slipped away.
As I worked through the last few weeks and turned my back on a work environment I’d been part of for a long period of my life, there was a subtle undercurrent of sadness that I hadn’t been able to make it work. It felt almost like the end of a marriage. I always thought I could make the best of anything and I had indeed enjoyed my career-by-default for years.
Walking away felt as if I’d failed.
Although I had tried, no amount of focusing on gratitude or appreciation had really been able to make it a fulfilling place for me, just as there are times when no amount of marriage counseling can make a relationship work. Sometimes we just need to move on and it took a while for me to accept it wasn’t a failure on my part. We had grown apart and weren’t good for each other any more.
To add insult to injury, I could also see clearly that the regular pay-check was what had kept me holding on, long after I had come to the understanding that it wasn’t the place for me. I felt as if I’d prostituted myself, selling myself simply for money. No wonder my blood pressure had shot up in the last few months as I continued to hold myself back from fuller self-expression.
I’d never really been held in the first place, though—by money or anything else outside of myself. Now that the transition from employment to self-employment is behind me, I can see that so clearly now. I could as easily have walked away years earlier and saved myself that awful downward slide and inner struggle of trying to make peace with a job I no longer believed in.
It was only my own beliefs about what I should or shouldn’t do that held me back—my own limiting beliefs about what was possible. All I really had to do was walk out that door and trust myself to find the way.
And then there was also the gentle sadness of letting friends and acquaintances go—people who’d made me smile or growl, who’d made work all the more palatable by their presence. They were people with whom I’d shared a substantial amount of time, but with whom I mostly had little in common apart from circumstance and basic humanity.
Now, as I sit here with the rabbit hopping around on the rug in front of me, music on the radio, a few hours on my novel ahead and a rare day of using my business skills tomorrow, I feel completely fulfilled. The financial insecurity is much less of a concern than was the emptiness I used to feel, and I get to see more of my partner and kids too.
If I was to wind back the clock and do anything differently it wouldn’t have been better financial planning (although that might have been useful). I would have accepted who I was, deep down, and set myself free a lot sooner rather than continue trying to fit my round self into a square hole. And if there’s anything I’m particularly proud of, it’s having listened to myself that day when something deep inside whispered ‘this is your last meeting’, and I finally resigned.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Wiki Commons