“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates
Changing your life is hard. Period.
Don’t let any motivational speaker or celebrity tell you otherwise. I’ve decided with three decades on this planet to change careers and do work that I actually enjoy (many of you are probably confused “work” and “enjoyment” don’t usually go together.) With the critical illness of my Dad last year, it made me realise the 40-40 plan (40 hours a week for 40 years) no longer holds true in this crazy world – you just have to go for it. Nothing is guaranteed.
For the last decade, I built up a teaching career, paying my dues, being caught in the crossfire of office politics to get to mid manager position. But as each year went by, a tiny piece of my soul was withering away. Monday mornings became more and more depressing while I was clawing my way through the week to get to Friday and escape for the weekend. That’s no way to live life. Thus I quit my job, went part-time and started to learn web development.
And I really happy to say, that, I have never felt happier.
I’m not a professional writer. Nor am I a motivational speaker. This post really is my ‘moment of clarity’ – I’m just an ordinary guy who looked at the last couple of years of my life and realised there were things that I needed to change, pronto. I won’t tell you how to make millions (well, give me some time people!) but I can tell you the things that I did that made me extremely unhappy and hopefully make you look at how not to mess up your own existence.
1. Don’t follow your dreams
When I was a little seven year old kid, my dream career was… being a window cleaner. Seriously. There was a guy that used to come to our house every Saturday morning and clean the bottom windows and using his little ladder climb up and clean the top bedroom windows. Mick (well I forgot his name, but he looked like a ‘Mick’), would greet us, then get to work making sure all the windows were glowing, whistling, smiling and laughing the whole time. Playing with my toys, I was enthralled – all the adults that I knew when they came back from work were so angry but he was so…happy and I wanted that.
One Saturday afternoon, summoning up the courage, I approach to my stern African father, while reading the Financial Times. (By the way, interrupting Dad when reading the FT was like approaching a sleeping lion – dangerous ground)
Dad “Yes son?”
Me: “Can I have some money?”
Me: “I need money to buy a bucket and a ladder”
Dad: (Dad now put the paper down, and gave me the “this better be good or else” look) “Why do you need a bucket and a ladder?”
Me: (I started grinning and started my sales pitch) Because… I want to be a window cleaner just like Mick and be really happy!!!
Dad: (Paused and then wrinkled his nose in disgust) Don’t you EVER, say that to me again. No son of mine will EVER be a window cleaner! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
That day, Dad destroyed my dream of my window cleaning business. But on a deeper level, Dad affirmed what I already sensed, ‘work’ and ‘pleasure’ were never to be put together.
And thus I followed the traditional career path, go to school, then go to college, then go to uni and then get a job – and I hated every single step of it.
But I did it to make everyone around me happy. But I came to realise through a personal health crisis (I’ll write a post on that later), redundancies and heartache, that you MUST be happy in what you do. You will spend the majority of your waking hours working & I quickly realised I spent more time with my annoying bosses than my loved ones. It took me awhile (almost 2 years intact) of experimenting, failing and embarrassing myself to figure out my path, but I’m thankful that I finally did.
Mick was right. Yes, the dream job will have it’s frustrating, annoying and tedious days. But there needs to be good days as well. If (like me) you started dreaming about dropkicking your boss and running out of the office screaming on MOST days then that’s not a good environment to be in.
2. Being scared of everyone else’s opinions
“I’m so proud of you – you got the job!!!!” My Mum threw her arms around me after I got my first serious ‘career’ job after finishing University. They organised a surprise party in my honour – my siblings were there, beaming away and we all gathered round talking about my new sparkling future. Everyone was so happy except… me.
To be honest, I hated my graduate job. The daily commute on the packed tube lines made both angry and depressed and at the time, London was on red alert for an imminent terrorist attack so every morning was spent trying to avoid anyone that either had a massive bag or who looked too nervous for my liking – what a great way to start the day!
I got in and sat at my ‘open plan’ desk, next to a lady who I’m sure hated me (she just gave me dirty looks all day and sighed everytime I wanted to speak to her), to a boss who one minute was my best friend and literally a second later was a demanding tyrant. I got emotional whiplash trying to keep up with his moods. Lunchtimes were spent on Facebook proud of the accomplishments of my friends but secretly hating their guts because they seemed so ‘happy’. Day after day, month after month, my ‘new job’ smile faded to my ‘I-hate-my-job-but-I-need-to-pay-my-bills’ frown.
But I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to disappoint Mum.
If I quit, what would the family think? My Aunts? Uncles? Cousins? Classmates? Misty the Cat? I was constantly told ‘you got a good break, stick with it’ and I swallowed my frustrations & went back to my Jekyll/Hyde boss & my arch-nemesis coworker. I was made redundant within a year.
You would have thought that I learnt my lesson? Not exactly. Subconsciously, all the subsequent jobs were not based on how they make me feel but how they would make me look. Although I’m ashamed to admit this, part of me loved the feeling when told people that I was lecturer – I felt ‘important’. But after a while, that started to fade and I realised that wasn’t enough.
I slowly realised that I could not tether my identity to a position and gain true satisfaction. I was so scared of what other people thought of me that I forgot to check in on what I thought of me. I grew sick of that and launched out in search of what made me happy and as Steve Jobs said, where I could create my ‘dent in the universe’.
Are you messing up your life? What have been your experiences? Please let me know what your story is in the comments below.
Thank you for reading.