One month ago I quit my job. I had been plotting an escape from the monotony that had silently crept into my life and overtaken what once felt more unsure but exciting, unknown yet rewarding. I wanted to get back to that feeling of not really knowing what the next day would bring. This was in stark contrast to what I was experiencing.
The work week always felt like a blur. Alarm goes off at 6:30, coffee, dress, leave. Clutch in, turn key, drive to work. Swipe badge, push open door, take the same three flights of stairs. Walk past the same conference rooms. Walk down the same hallway. Go to row 12. Proceed to the fourth cube. Open bag, get laptop, power on. Sit down and look at the clock. Only 9 hours until I can leave.
The level of monotony and routine increased by the week. I would make it through Monday. Pray that Wednesday came sooner. And by Friday I felt more like a machine, spitting out spreadsheets, completely unaware of life outside. A sense of freedom washed over me when I pushed open the doors and made my way out each Friday. It was almost like I had no idea I’d be coming back and doing the same thing all over again in less than 64 hours.
You know the feeling of driving home from a place you’re very familiar with and have driven more than 1,000 times? You get home and you have no idea how you made it back, what you saw or much of anything that happened along the way. I had that feeling most of those weeks. All those hours masked in a giant fog, slowly fading to the weekend, when you can finally wake up and set out to do the things that you find most important.
What is the point of doing all those things, day after day, if nothing is memorable? If the only reason you’re doing Monday through Friday is to make it to Saturday and Sunday, something is wrong.
It’s an unsettling feeling to start the week wishing the next five days would end as quickly as possible. I wrestled with this feeling after the novelty of my job wore off. About six months into the “real world” and I had no idea how I was supposed to do this for another 30+ years. After another six months of anxiety, confusion and general depression from sitting in a 4×4 space all day, staring at spreadsheets, I had enough.
It took me another TWO YEARS before I finally left (that’s a story in itself).
But let’s backup.
Before graduation, I did what most of my peers were doing—update the resume, apply for a respectable corporate job, do a few interviews and wham! Land a job. I did all that just like I was supposed to. The path is straightforward: you navigate the obstacle course from Kindergarten through 12, apply to the best school you can get into, get decent grades and then you get rewarded. Right? You start earning money to pay off whatever debt you got yourself into. Then the fun begins. You break zero. You get the first comma in your account. You buy new clothes to compliment the new job. You rent an apartment commensurate with your new salary. You buy a shiny new car like everyone expects. You make money to spend money so that you can make even more money to continue spending money. You deserve it. You earned it.
I adhered to that logic my entire life. I studied. Advanced. Applied. Was accepted. Now was the big payoff. Except something didn’t quite feel right about it. Sure, being able to afford new clothes, electronics and maybe even a car was fucking nice. And to continue to rationalize the new money in my account, I had to keep buying and keep acquiring. Why else was I working? But, every purchase seemed to provide a diminishing return and the luster wore off much quicker than expected.
There’s nothing wrong with striving to make money. That is, after all, how I can type on this laptop while sitting in an airport waiting for a huge car with wings to take me and 200 others across an entire ocean in less than eight hours.
So totally. I get it. Money = things and being able to do things and then all of that eventually = happiness. I’m not arguing that money can’t provide the means for happiness. And I’m certainly not naïve to the point of denying that money provides stability and enables you to eventually live a decent life once all your physiological needs are met. This is more directed at an attitude of complacency and the status quo. The acceptance of standards that society placed on me and you—those norms you follow, sometimes unknowingly, to meet the expectations that you’re supposed to live up to.
I admit that there’s innovation and great work being done by people where I was and in every other place where 9-5 is the standard method of operation. It’s impossible to make the world turn without them. But—and this is a big ‘ol stinky but—one size does not fit all. The path much of society agrees with and what most of the focus in a traditional school setting plans for may not work for you. But don’t expect anyone to tell you that.
High schools and universities don’t offer a course on, “Oh shit I’m three years deep in what is supposed to be my life and I’m unexcited, lack passion, mentally drained and want a change.” Of course they don’t teach that. Just like cursive writing, some people will never experience a time in their life when they actually need that information. Some will go about the time-honored route of school, higher education, career, retirement and death. Some continue without even questioning or giving real thought to where they are and what they’re doing. It’s a pretty good life, though. It’s usually the most secure. It tends to offer the greatest opportunity to blend in and fit within the box of everyone else’s expectations. You definitely won’t rock the boat by following these guidelines.
But I reached the point where I want to rock the boat. I want to upset the balance. I want to take more risk and make a mess. Most of all I want my own expectations to guide my decisions and choose for myself which way to go. I have no idea what to expect. No sense of the failure lurking around the corner. But the uncertainty has actually taken a weight off my mind and it’s crushed the resentment I had from sitting idle, day after day.