I’ve spent the last few days finishing up a redo of my business website—the one that promotes my digital marketing services. It took weeks to complete because of my ongoing procrastination, so it seemed appropriate to step back and examine this unusual reluctance to work on something that’s mine. And in doing that, I got super honest with myself: I really don’t want to work in my field anymore.
It’s an unsettling moment when you realize you no longer want to do the thing you’ve built your life and livelihood (and business!) around. In fact, I was just getting really good at my job after spending almost a year being in charge of everything. It wouldn’t make much sense to walk away from something that I do well and that pays me well, right?
But I’ve been graced with a break over the last few months. I was on medical leave for my health issues first, which created a lot of thinking time on the sofa, and then I became unemployed and transitioned into the thoughtfulness of pandemic life. And I find that I’m exponentially happier now that I'm away from my job despite the swirl of uncertainty about what lies ahead.
I took a walk several months ago (well maybe it was a good six to eight months ago; the pandemic has distorted everything) and I remember making a pact with myself. I told myself that by the time I turned 40, I was going to be done with corporate America for good. I had no idea how to make it happen and also had no idea that I’d be unemployed anyway just six months before said birthday, but I set it as an intention and decided I'd figure it out in the coming months.
I took another important walk a few weeks after that. It was a late-morning speedwalk meant to disperse a buildup of negative energy and frustration about things going on at work, and about fifteen minutes in, as I rounded a corner while lost in thought, I started screaming inside of my head, “I HATE business!” I continued those screams, with my fists clenched and my eyes wide, for probably a good thirty seconds before heading home with tears rolling down my face.
I knew my truth. It was coming through loud and clear.
I think each of us already knows our truth if we just listen carefully. It’s not always what we want to hear because it can contradict our lifestyles or our plans, so sometimes we ignore the quiet voices until we end up having a breakdown on the sidewalk on a random weekday morning. Then we go home with our hands still shaking, and we tell our spouses that we just cannot keep going like we are and that we’ve got to find an exit route. And then we cry some more.
I deployed my new website into the world today despite all of the above, because it cost a lot of money to create and because I need it as a sort of insurance policy in case finances get worse. But beyond that, I plan to just let it sit out there like a business card that I can pull up and share on demand if I need to. I think it’s finally time to walk away if I can, since I’ve reached the point of screaming inside my own head.
From a logic (and logistical) perspective, however, this seems like a really dumb thing to do. I have a ton of experience and I actually really know my stuff, so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that it wouldn’t be all that bad if I just took a part-time gig that paid well and then did whatever I wanted on my own time. And then I think about the last decade of my existence, and how the continued drudgery of corporate work hampered my progress as an artist.
I remember how I’d wanted to set my Fridays aside for writing but that it pretty much never happened. My paid clients consumed every single weekday despite my best efforts, and the intense copywriting I had to do for them often stole every last bit of my creative energy. I had nothing left for myself.
I also remember how my creativity always dried up and cracked like scorched earth when I was subjected to work I didn’t want to do—even small bits of it—because the negative emotions snuffed out all of the other parts of me. I think I’ve spent so many years in jobs I’ve disliked that even a small dose of one makes me recoil on all levels now. I become paralyzed and sink into a heavy depression.
So I can't help but ask myself, do I really want to spend another decade of my life feeling broken simply because I didn’t have the courage to finally let go of my established career?
This decision isn’t easy, of course. Right now we have a pile of bills and I still haven’t heard if I’m going to get unemployment. But then I also want to vomit when I think about going back to what I was doing a few months (and a few years) ago. In fact, the “not wanting to go back” is a lot more powerful than the “not having money to pay bills” at this moment in my life, and I think it keeps me grounded on my more fearful days.
When I made the vow during walk #1 that I’d be out of corporate America by age 40, I didn’t understand that what I actually meant was I wanted to be out of corporate activities by age 40—out of marketing, out of tech writing, out of social media (except for my own use), and out of anything related to making money for a business. Because, remember? I hate business (walk #2).
I’m trying really hard to be okay with that decision despite the recent loss of money on my website and the ongoing uncertainty about finances. But I have to let go of what was in order to make space for what could be. There's no other way forward if I want to finally change my life. So let's say it together now:
We have to let go of what was in order to make space for what could be.
And what could my life be? Well, I know that I’d like for my literary magazine to take off and for my book to sell. I know that I’d like to spend my days alternating between my publication and my personal creative projects, which would allow me to make my living in an authentic way by doing the things that feel right to my soul.
Sometimes we’re forced make hard decisions when we’ve hit rock bottom with our health or our emotions or our jobs (or all three, like I recently did). Letting go of who we used to be could mean we lose a little—or a lot—financially or otherwise. But I think this losing is temporary if we’re following what we believe is right for us. I think we lose more of ourselves by staying on the wrong path, even as our bank accounts grow and our prestige increases, than we do by taking a risk to make a change. And that’s what I’m holding my hopes on today: that I’ll lose a little by letting go of what was, and gain a whole lot by reaching for what could be.
What about you? Could you dare to step out of the life you used to have, and into the life you truly want to live?
My first book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife, will be published in summer 2020. To be notified when it is available for purchase or to follow this blog, sign up for my mailing list.
The Big Pause