“I can’t do this anymore. It’s not who I am.”
I blurted out these words to my husband five months ago, barely looking him in the eye. I wasn’t afraid of his reaction; I knew he’d support my decision. I was more concerned about admitting defeat, something that doesn't come easy for most people and certainly not me, given my current circumstances in life.
I had been working hard for months on a side project, a hybrid hobby/make money now scheme when this realization hit. It wasn't a sudden decision as I was picking up signs along the way, knowing this wasn't how I should be spending my limited days. At first, the signs were subtle, a little procrastination here, a couple of excuses there.
I was passionate about the subject (brand and content strategies) and certainly knowledgeable, given I spent that last 15 years in the industry. I loved helping people find their voice online and even more so, loved to celebrate their successes. Setting up my business was half the fun - days were spent developing my site, organizing systems for optimum efficacy, brainstorming content strategies, and networking with potential clients.
I had even joined a trendy (read: expensive!!) mastermind for online course building, a skill I was certain would help me earn a profitable living from the comfort of my home. You know, while I'm on a beach enjoying Mai Tais or something.
Imagine my surprise when my husband responded with a simple “I know.” And then a reassuring follow-up of, "It's ok."
At some point during this project, it dawned on me that I was repeating the same mistakes I believe I've made in the past when it came to my career. This somewhat obvious conundrum prevented me from being productive and more importantly, creating something that spoke to my soul. When I realized this, it felt catastrophic. The notion of sunk cost fallacy - all that time, money, and drive, now wasted - was preventing my ability to recognize that I was going down the wrong path.
It wasn't just the last seven months that suddenly presented itself as a colossal waste of time; I felt it was the last five years of my life, maybe even longer. Instead of creating something I was proud of, this project acted as a microcosm of my professional life, amplifying everything I had once forgotten that I loved.
As a product of Generation X culture, I went about my career path like I went about life - hating authority but never questioning it. I hit the expected beats one follows after leaving college - job, promotion, more job, more promotion, plus the occasional layoff. Throw in a marriage, a house, couple of cats and my fate was sealed. In my 20's I fought expected outcomes and perceptions of who I should be. I indulged in my natural gifts of creativity and prose. I created, I hustled, I worked several jobs to pay the rent. It was tough but in hindsight, I wish I spent more time embracing who I was and less time trying to fit within someone else's version of success. To quote the iconic film Reality Bites, "I disemboweled my revolution for a pair of running shoes."
The allure of stability is what pulled me in and tricked me into trading up my untamed creativity into a more contained version; one that was acceptable for mass consumption and safe perceptions and yet on the surface presented itself authentic and bold. But, let's be clear, I sold out.
The speed at which I inadvertently erased my identity was slow at first Much like a frog tossed into a pot of lukewarm water, I was ignorant of the rising temperatures, caught up in corporate culture, obsessed with obtaining a more prestigious title than maintaining the quality of my life. Work was all I knew how to do, and I never stopped to ask myself if what I was doing was worth the sacrifice.
One thing changed all this. A year ago I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Due to packed treatment schedules and the waning ability to manage both the stress of a terminal disease and the stress of a highly demanding job, I made the difficult decision to leave behind my career and focus on my health.
I found it challenging to alter my behaviors, which led me to develop my project that I referred to earlier. I couldn't let go of this identity even though I knew in my heart this wasn't who I should be. It took seven months for me to understand this and ironically, it was my chronic illness that gave me the chance to do life right, invest in something I want to become vs. what I think I must be.
Shifting my priorities is still a work in progress as I come to understand this "new normal" state of being. I certainly don't have everything figured out, and I'm still trying to discover who I am at the age of 40. Now and then I am pinged for a job opportunity from my old life, and I'd be lying if I didn't feel a little thrill, that desire to throw away my new identity and simple ease back into the comfort of the familiar, happiness be damned.
Which brings up a tough question; If everything returned to normal tomorrow, would I go back to my old habits? Would I give up this fight to carve out a living based solely on my passion? Would I succumb to the whispers of doubt and the knowledge that living your passion is just a luxury, something many never achieve?
These questions, at times, keep me up at night but instead of trying to answer the impossible, perhaps a better way to look at this is to accept all of the professional experiences I've collected and use them to better my transition into a new life. I can allow myself to be disappointed, even angry for ignoring my gut and placing my career on autopilot. It benefits no one to strike a match and burn down all that was learned.