“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short,for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” ~ Studs Terkel
I had been out for a meeting. When I walked back into my office, I closed the door, pulled the blinds down and went over to my desk. My brain ached from too many agendas, too many board minutes and too much strategizing. I’d had this feeling before. I slumped down into my chair and faced my desk.
“No! No! No!” everything inside of me screamed. I didn’t want to be there.
I didn’t want to go to any more meetings or corporate lunches. I didn’t want to dress right, carry a calendar the size of a phone book, answer over 100 e-mails and voicemails a day, develop any more programs, run any more campaigns or meet anymore god damn people!
I was burned out, turned out and inside out. Exhausted, flat out of ideas and solutions and motivation.
And I was terrified.
I needed that job. I didn’t have a husband to pick up the slack anymore, pay the mortgage anymore or even to pick me up from work and take me out for a drink anymore.
I was alone. I was my sole support. And this was as big ass job and I needed it.
I looked at my office door to be sure it was locked, put my arms kindergarten-style on my desk, buried my face down into them and sobbed. Strangled and trapped. Confused and desperate. I sobbed.
What was I to do? What was I to do?
It’s funny how sometimes two things can happen at once.
Through the tears and the sobbing, a vivid scene began to emerge from behind my closed and swollen eyelids.
I was standing on the edge of a very high cliff. The air was cool and crisp, and the wind was blowing through my hair. The world was spread out before me. No matter where I looked, I could see all the way to the horizon. I could even see its strangely beckoning curve.
I was mesmerized.
At the same time, I had the overwhelming feeling that what I was seeing was not merely the world as I knew it—the world with forests and fields and mountains and oceans—but another world, a special world, a world of opportunity. I cast my eyes this way and that and couldn’t erase the exhilarating feeling that wherever my eyes landed, opportunity lay before me.
I took an involuntary intake of breath at the wonder and complete expansion of it, at how enlarged and empowered and hopeful I felt. The world—a world full of opportunity—was at my feet.
All I had to do to get there was step over that cliff.
Moving slowly, I took a step away from it. The wind fell. My hair stopped blowing. I continued back, away from the edge and felt myself shriveling down into myself.
As I continued stepping away from the world and back toward my desk, my 401K, my responsibility, my salary, my future with the corporation, that world—the world of opportunity that had been spread out before me—grew smaller and smaller before my eyes.
Soon, I was so far back, I couldn’t see that world at all.
I stopped. I had backed up, right into a wall.
I raised my head from my arms feeling as if I had been in a deep, deep sleep, and that in my sleep, I’d had a profound dream. I felt a little drugged.
I felt no longer afraid. I knew what had been presented to me and I knew what I had to do to get it.
I got up from my desk, wiped the tears from my eyes, walked down the hall, knocked on the CEO’s door and went in.
“I just had a dream,” I said.
“A dream?” he said.
“Yes.” I said. “I’m giving you six week’s notice.”
I did quit that job. I never doubted that it was the right thing. I left a huge salary and a huge title with lots of image and visibility attached to it.
The next job I had was sitting naked on a pillow in front of a room full of art students while I modeled for them. I earned $10 an hour and the irony of going from everything I had in my corporate life to being naked on a pillow wasn’t lost on me.
For the next 20 years, up until today, in fact, I worked at every job that presented itself to me. I sang and played cocktail piano, I owned my own junk store, worked nine to five in an antique mall, made and sold watercolor paintings, wrote stories, made rag rugs for the museum of art and even transcribed police interviews.
More than anything else though, I jumped off that cliff I saw in that “dream” in my office that day.
And learned that I could fly.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Evan Yerburgh