August 16, 2018

Is Right Livelihood a Privilege? Thoughts from someone who Quit her Job to Pursue her Dreams.

About five months ago, I quit my job.

It wasn’t an easy decision. In fact, it took breaking my ankle, which pulled me out of my normal routine, and a total shift in perspective to bring to the surface all that I’d swept underneath.

When I went back to work, I just wasn’t the same. Every day I was consumed with thoughts of leaving and pursuing that which I really loved: writing. It was also my first job out of undergrad and, at the time, I was desperate to find any sort of work that I felt so lucky to land the great job that I did.

Lucky. I had heard that word time and time again.

I heard that word when I first got the job. I heard that word for the six months leading up to quitting when I would try and talk to people about how unhappy I was.

I was lucky to have a great, flexible job that let me leave work behind when I got home at 5 p.m.

I was lucky to have a job that paid well, with good benefits, good vacation days, and a culture that supported personal development.

I was lucky—I know I was. And yet, I was miserable.

I felt unfulfilled every day. I wasn’t utilizing my creativity or talent and I was so sick of the monotony. Day in and day out. Same hour-long commute. Same walk to my desk. Same conversations over and over. Same burning desire within for something more.

But if I was lucky, I should just learn to be happy and stick it out, right?

When I was thinking about quitting, I read a lot of articles on the topic of changing paths and pursuing meaningful work. There were so many motivational gurus out there advocating that you too could have the “life of your dreams.”

It was always the same message: Do it. Quit. You only have one life. Make it yours.

And it worked.

When I finally did quit, I didn’t have a plan. But I knew that I wanted to make a difference in the world through writing, and I knew I needed to figure out a way to make money while doing it.

Right Livelihood is part of the Buddhist tradition and is defined as making a living doing what you love while also being of benefit. To me, this was the trifecta of pursuits.

In these five months since quitting my job, Right Livelihood has been the beacon with which I lead my life. I don’t know what exactly it looks like for me just yet, but I feel like at least now I’m on the path to figuring it out.

The thing is, I am the perfect target for motivational gurus to say: Quit your job! Pursue your dreams!

I am the perfect target because of the privilege I was born into. I am the perfect target because of my class, gender, sexuality, and race.

It’s so easy for these people to shout one-liners from the rooftops, but they also have to acknowledge they got lucky with the hand that life dealt them. It’s not to say that they didn’t put in the work—I too have worked hard in my life.

But they, like me, began their journey about 10 feet in from the starting line.

Yes, I am a woman—which comes with a lot of its own difficulties—but I am white, I am straight, I was raised in a middle-to-upper class family (although, we didn’t start off that way), and yes I do have body image and self-esteem issues, like so many, but I am very much aware that my appearance is one that is accepted within society.

The question is: just because I am lucky to be in the position that I’m in, does that mean that I should stay in a life in which I am unhappy and unfulfilled? Or isn’t that more reason to pursue my passions?

Isn’t it my duty to pursue Right Livelihood because I have the privilege to do so?

I quit my job because I wanted to make a difference in the world with my words, to inspire others to think about how they can do the same in their own way. I quit because I wanted to make the absolute most of my life so that I can give back, so that I can be a strong ally to those who may not be so lucky.

Right Livelihood isn’t about quitting our day jobs and spending our days surfing in California, advertising on Instagram that this life is possible for anyone who has the balls to make it happen.

Right Livelihood is about being of service to others, in the best way that we know how. Right Livelihood is about the honour with which we interact with the world. It’s about practicing ahimsa daily—non-harm to others and to ourselves.

Right Livelihood is not selfish. It is not narcissistic or naïve.

Right Livelihood is a way of being selfless while also taking care of our own fundamental needs.

We can’t give back to the world if we can’t first feed ourselves and our family, if we don’t have a roof over our heads, or if we don’t know where our next paycheck is coming from.

When I quit my job, I had some money saved from working, but the only real worries I had were rent and food. I was scared, but what I was even more afraid of was the idea of waking up 10 years from now, sitting at the same desk, doing the same unfulfilling work, and feeling like I should have taken advantage of this opportunity while I had the chance.

It’s also important to remember there are so many people doing great things who are not privileged. There are people who give back and who dedicate their lives to being of service while their fundamental needs are barely being met.

When I think of those people, it’s even more of a reminder that I have absolutely no excuse not to do the same. It reminds me that the world needs each and every one of us to realize our ability to effect change.

Sometimes, I pause and think about how lucky I am to have the life that I do. Sometimes, I think back to that girl sitting at the same desk, doing the same commute, having the same conversations, and I wonder what may have happened had I never broken my ankle all those months ago.

I think about all that has changed for me in the last year, from realizing I was unhappy at work to the time that’s passed since quitting my job. In my pursuit of Right Livelihood, I have already found more fulfillment in the last few months than I did in the year and a half at my old job.

Right Livelihood isn’t selfish, but I sure am feeling lucky to be where I am now. And I think that’s something we can all keep in mind: we owe it to the world to do good with the privilege that we have—but, more than anything, we owe it to ourselves.


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