Wow, changing your life is actually really hard

If the best ideas are the hardest and most scariest to implement, then my idea to leave my 9-5 life is pure genius.

When I told my friends about this idea seven months ago, I knew I would change my mind 100 times (a day). But I really, really, really felt I was on the right track with this idea. So I told them, ‘If I get distracted, remind me that distraction is not an option. This time it is really happening.’

It was so real that I started a blog about it. That way I would be held accountable.

Then I discovered remembered that starting a blog doesn’t mean sh*t.

But like I said in my last post (written three months ago), the good ideas seem to have a habit of bubbling to the surface – even when you do your very best to drown them. Kind of like a beach ball. Or giant plumes of methane in the Arctic Ocean.

There is SO MUCH on the internet about changing your lifestyle. But none of billion blogs and e-books and webinars say how hard it will be. Actually, they probably all say how hard it will be. Then why am I so surprised to learn that it’s so hard?

I have faced sabotage, resistance, well-meaning supporters who only have my best interests at heart suggesting that maybe I should just stick with my current job.

And that’s just the stuff coming from me.

I am getting enormous resistance to my idea to shift out of 9-5 work from friends and family too. Well, I think I am getting resistance. When I told my friend she gave me this really confusing look. I’m pretty sure it was a disapproving look.

I’m getting so much resistance that at the exact time I had earmarked for my departure from my 9-5 job (January 2012), I applied for and was offered a new job in my current office. More pay, more hours, more pressure. But hey, it’s a great job, I have great colleagues, they pay me well. Did I also mention the lingering, inexplicable soul destruction? But hey, you can’t have everything.

My bosses encouraged me to apply for the job. Ah, what a vote of confidence! Wouldn’t it be a great addition to me CV?! Why don’t I just do it for a year or two? It will be great experience. Maybe this new position (which looks exactly like my current position) will be more interesting?

I procrastinated the hell out of submitting my application. I told ANYONE WHO WOULD LISTEN that I didn’t really want to apply for the job. (I was not fun to be around that month. You could have been having heart surgery and I would have made the conversation about me and my problems). I even told my BOSS I didn’t want the job.

I was nudging, begging, pleading for friends and family to say, ‘you know what, don’t apply for the job. If you don’t want it, don’t do it. It’s your life.’

But they didn’t say that. Maybe a couple did. But they also said, ‘what a great opportunity! Just do it for a year or two.’

I knew that all of these people were just being supportive. They probably didn’t even care all that much. But as I forced them into yet another conversation about moi, they answered just exactly how I could have expected them to answer.

And yet, instead of listening to my instincts that said ‘DON’T DO IT! DON’T DO IT! DON’T DO IT!’ I listened to everyone else.

I applied for the job, was offered the job. And – you can see where this is going – accepted the job.

So now, instead of leaving 9-5 I have just signed on to a new job in my same office. The same job, just busier, more boring, more pressure. But they pay me more! Which is good, because I think I’m going to need a therapist.

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When you drift away…

I thought this blog was a failure. I thought the idea to chronicle my departure from a 9-5 office job was yet another idea that wasn’t quite right for implementation yet.

But its only been three months since I last posted, which, in the scheme of things isn’t that long at all. This blog is not a lost cause yet! Not even close.

Since I last posted I started having a great time at work, which makes it hard to maintain the resolve to leave. I was getting great projects that were keeping me sustained and energised. I felt valued and recognised as having something to offer my organisation.

Then I was offered a job overseas and all of a sudden it didn’t seem like the right time to be talking about leaving the 9-5. I knew I wanted to one day, but this new job was a bit unconventional and would be a step in the right direction. Sure, it would be 40-60 hour weeks, but it would be great experience.

But the recruitment for the new job has taken the best part of the last three months and I’m starting to wonder whether it’s the right move after all. The job offers adventure and the opportunity to travel which are two big things on my list of “what I want” (this is a real list by the way). But the slow recruitment process, not great pay, security concerns and what I know will be an oppressive lifestyle are causing me to pause and wonder whether I couldn’t get the adventure and travel on more favourable terms.

Slowly….slowly…slowly I’ve come back to this idea of shifting away from a conventional career and finding more space in life for the adventure and the travel and all the other things on my list (e.g. gardens, freedom, cheer.)

I feel comforted that – despite my flittering from one idea to another every 15 minutes – maybe the good ideas stay with me and bubble back up to surface when I’m ready to take some more action.

Maybe my original commitment to take a leap in six months could still happen…

The Artist in the Office – can a book change everything?

When I set out on this journey to leave my full-time office job life behind, I knew it would be hard to stick to my guns.

When I told my walking buddies that I’d made a major decision about the trajectory of my life and that in six months I would leave full-time work, I also told them “So when I change my mind, remind me of this conversation”.

It seemed highly unlikely at the time that I would change my mind – such was the clarity I felt about this decision.

Lo and behold, within a couple of weeks, I was enjoying myself a lot more at work and while I was still keen to make the transition away from full-time work, I could see the cracks starting to show.

Evidence of cracks:

  1. I said to one of my walking buddies, “I need to write a post called, How to Leave Your Job When You Like Your Job“.
  2. Ideas started circulating in my head about boundaries. About the necessity of not feeling owned and controlled by your work. The importance of being able to go home and have a life outside the office that you love. I am truly hopeless at setting these kinds of boundaries – usually to the detriment of my career. I’m pretty sure it was my lack of boundaries that had me calling my mum from under my desk one particularly horrible work day a few years ago. (NB. This is evidence because it shows I’m thinking about ‘how to make the workplace better’ instead of ‘how to escape the workplace’).
  3. I started writing posts like this one about reuniting my fragmented being.

Then, the book happened. I was in a discount book shop with the very same mother who received the call from under my desk. I picked up a copy of Nora Ephron’s I Remember Nothing, but I didn’t feel like buying anything else. I had reached the point that I reach very rarely in my life – I didn’t feel like buying any more books.

My mum picked up a book about happiness and mentioned that it had been a while since she’d read something like this and it might be fun to dip into. I mentioned that all I ever read was books like that and my brain felt read to explode with helpful information for a fulfilling life in which one’s potential is reached.

We went to the counter to buy my mum’s stack of books and my single book. Then I saw, displayed on the counter, The Artist in the Office.

It’s short, simple, nothing in this book totally blew my mind (i.e. the ideas were commonsense). It cost me five bucks.

And yet, it changed EVERYTHING.

The author, Summer Pierre, perfectly articulated the desire to leave the office and get on with the good stuff – and then perfectly articulated all the great stuff about having a job and still getting on with the good stuff.

This is the back and forth I have with my walking buddy who is also a writer who also goes to work full-time. We know work is good in so many ways.

* Don’t have to stress about where the money is coming from (especially good for people who hate thinking about money).

* Have a regular routine that keeps you on the straight and narrow.

* Keeps you connected to the humans – no fear of becoming isolated and out of touch with the world.

The best solution we came up with was the part-time solution – i.e. what this blog is supposed to be about. I don’t want to completely disconnect from formal work, but I don’t want my office job to be my whole life.

Summer Pierre agrees that my office job doesn’t have to be my whole life! But she shows a way the regular job part of the artist’s deal – something to work with instead of something to work against.

Here’s the weird bit – I’ve never, ever, not once in my whole life, every thought of myself as an artist. And yet, this might just be the exact framework I need to reunite my fragmented being.

So thank you very much Summer Pierre, your short book might have just derailed this entire blog.

What if I just need to reunite my fragmented being?

I was just over at She’s Next, and this nifty post from Lissa Rankin caught my imagination. Particularly this bit:

As a practicing gynecologist, a nationally-represented professional artist, teacher, mother and author of the forthcoming book, What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin’s Press, September 2010, with foreword by Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom), Lissa Rankin started a simple blog in 2009 to document her personal quest to integrate all the fragmented facets of her being.

I love the idea of integrating all the fragmented facets of one’s being! I’ve wondered before whether the reason why an office job is not right for me has less to do with the work and more do with my compulsion to shed parts of myself to make it easier to fit into bland office environments. As Liz Lemon said so beautifully, “My work self is suffocating my life me”.

It reminds me of a time last year when I was taking a wonderful class called “Creative Thinking and the Power of Ideas” and we were talking about the need to invest personally in your work to come up with the most meaningful and creative ideas – I got so excited that I scribbled in giant letters across a page in my diary “TAKE MY WHOLE SELF TO WORK”. It occurred to me that I shouldn’t have to leave the creative and slightly silly Sarah at home, and in fact she might be the secret to my success in the office.

This idea resonated so deeply that I ended up writing about it in my final essay and found some fascinating parallels with Marx’s theory of alienation.

I will happily keep reading Lissa Rankin’s powerhouse of personal integration at www.owningpink.com and see whether that might just be the unexpected key to avoiding being a corporate sell-out.

How on earth did I get here?

I was never meant to get trapped in the corporate life. Indeed, by anyone else’s standards I’m not trapped anywhere. I’ve been in a corporate job for six months – hardly a lifetime wasted away in a cubicle.

But boy oh boy, six months is all I need to know that I my ‘bliss’ will not be found in a Chanel suit and the corner office.

When I decided I wanted my current job I talked to my family and friends, lecturers and mentors and while everyone was supportive and excited, I also received a few looks and words that said, “really? You want that job?”

There were a whole lot of reasons why I wanted this job. Number one on the top of the list – it’s a really great job.

But if I’m honest, there were probably a few other pull factors that enticed me to go for it. Are any of these playing a role in your career decisions?

Prestige. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in a fancy suburb, or go to a fancy school, my family isn’t ‘connected’, I don’t have ready access to the upper echelons. There is something so compelling about being able to prove myself in these circles. I can’t tell you where I work, but just to give you an idea, ‘elite’ is a word thrown about the office on a daily basis. (Interesting side note – according to this test, prestige is my primary trigger).

Security. A regular source of income sounds so glorious when you don’t have it. I know I’m not the only person to have said, “I’ll just do this for two years, get myself set up and then do what I really want to do.” But the trade off is not small – 38 hours (at least) of your week working on someone else’s stuff, living and breathing a world that’s not yours. Sometimes I don’t recognise myself while I’m pulling myself into an acceptable shape for the office. All that pretending – I’m sure it’s taking it’s toll. Realistically, if I could find a salaried position that didn’t stifle the hell out of me I’d take it! Are you kidding, I turn up, you put money into my account – it’s so good! But until I find that amazing position, the trade off is too big.

Taking a rest. This one is really weird, but there’s something about getting a regular job that you can explain to your aunts and uncles, where the biggest part of the battle is showing up by 9am each day, that sounds so easy.

If you’ve ever had the freedom to do exactly what you want to do, you might recall that it can be pretty tiring. Your success is in your hands. There is no one to hide behind, and there’s so much that you should be doing but aren’t. “Have you posted on your blog today?” “Have you had a piece published this month?” “Have you launched that product?” “Are you going to that networking event?” With an office job, you can phone it in from time to time and everything is fine – you’re just a regular person living a regular life. It’s also much easier to explain a way a bad week at the office. Having a bad week when you’re supposedly living your dream – bring on the crisis of confidence!

If I know all this how did I get here?
It should be simple to make good decisions for ourselves, but we humans don’t seem to be very good at it. If we were any good at it we wouldn’t need saviours like Martha Beck and Brene Brown to remind us to ‘be our true selves’. Once my mum said to me, “I’m so tired of hearing about ‘be your true self’. Who else am I going to be?!” Oh mother, that’s one huge can of worms you just opened.

All the stuff I mentioned above about prestige and security and money – I know all that already and I’ve been down the path enough to know that none of those things are important enough to make wearing a suit to an office a good idea for me.

I was never meant to get trapped in an office and it’s STILL tricky to release myself from its clutches. What about all those folks whose families want them to be lawyers, or those people who have invested years in being an actuary. What about those people with kids to support and mortgages to pay. Oi vey, for their sakes as well as mine, I have no excuse to stay trapped in an office!

How can you live the life of your dreams without a dream?

I was walking to work this morning and I asked myself the same question I always seem to ask myself when I’m out walking – what do I want to do with my life?

Because I think about this so much I have plenty of ideas – what I like doing, what I don’t like doing. Where I like living, where I don’t like living.

But it dawned on me as I asked myself this question that I never get so far as to actually get a clear vision of how I would like my life to look. I tend to stay in the realm of “what do I want to do”.

So I started conjuring visions of a life that seems pretty cool – it had a house with a vegie garden in it and a few other signs stability. Maybe this is an important step to take – really ask myself to stake a claim on a ‘grown-up’ life. But maybe those visions don’t come easily to me for a reason – maybe I’ve been blessed to be free of a hankering for any particular lifestyle so I can just get on with being engaged and open and alive so I can just see what happens.

I’ll give this some more thought and come back to you. But tell me, do you think having a grand vision for your life is important?