It’s my duty as a storyteller to eavesdrop on the conversations taking place around me. Lately, the most popular topic has centered around resetting life’s great expectations. We are living in a time of historic change. It’s painful, but struggle leads to growth.
When faced with a legitimate challenge, my instinct is to throw my full weight against it and fight like hell. But if the opponent or cause is deemed unworthy, I’ll simply walk away with a cold indifference that is somewhat surprising, even to me.
2020 has brought major changes to all of our routines. Formerly mindless acts like running down the sidewalk now require a behavioral change. It’s been a huge year of change for me personally, too. I moved to a new city 2,000 miles from home. I lived alone for the first time in my entire life. I started a job in a new corner of the advertising industry. It didn’t snow this winter. It hasn’t gotten hot yet this summer. And on top of everything, there’s still a scarcity of toilet paper.
I never would have guessed this would be the year I learned how to sit still.
Once I was no longer able to run around town and country distracting myself, I sat down and started thinking clearly and critically about my choices. Many have been knee-jerk reactions to my immediate surroundings. I thought I was addressing the problem directly by solving it quickly. Turns out, some things just need to be put on ice for a minute and the truth will reveal itself in time. Waiting, much less patiently, is my single greatest weakness. I simply cannot deal with it.
Covid-19 bitch slapped that look off my face. George Floyd was killed in the street I lived on for ten years. Suddenly, in the midst of the greatest uncertainty I’ve ever known, the urge to fight sliced cleanly through months of haze. I did the thing I’ve talked about doing for years, but haven’t been brave enough to follow through on. I’ve quit building someone else’s dream in pursuit of building my own.
I don’t know if it’s going to work out. I don’t know if I can survive on a freelancer’s income. But for the first time ever, I’m going to give myself permission to try something that has a high likelihood of failure.
As a life-long perfectionist, this is big. Steadily, I’ve worked my way into a director’s position and for the first time, a six-figure salary. It felt like a huge accomplishment to see that number on my offer letter and I was excited to rise to the occasion.
Almost immediately, I felt the weight of the position. I thought I could carry it and still pursue my passion. Writing was the first thing to go. I missed deadlines. I stopped pitching story ideas to editors. My blog stagnated. My portfolio website remains half-built.
The work itself wasn’t hard, but the bullshit surrounding it sure was. Office politics ran deep and dirty at the top. It wasn’t enough to simply do my job well anymore. I had to navigate toxic power struggles with people who were actively sabotaging my success to shore up their own.
Every day became a battle of psychological warfare I had no interest engaging in. I tried to solve problems with direct communication, but rational action made them worse. After six months, the only reason to keep the job was its paycheck. That wasn’t a good enough reason for me to stay. Blame it on my Boomer parents, but I just couldn’t be the person who sold her happiness to the man.
I realize many of us are in this position – stuck between money and happiness. I also realize I’m very lucky to have the option to choose one or the other. Working in a volatile industry taught me early the importance of creating my own security blanket. I’ve also learned a lot of hard life lessons over the past two years that have given me a sense of clarity regarding what’s really important.
We’re not guaranteed anything – 100 years on this Earth, our dream job, our dream house, or a perfect nuclear family. Guess what – that’s life. Actual, real life. And that’s how it should be. We were promised these ideals as kids if we did the right things to earn them. But we’re learning that not all of the messages we’ve received throughout our lives have been true. Success, for some, is defined by money. For others, it’s freedom. It’s loving who they love. It’s getting their hands dirty. It’s leading with their hearts.