It’s been a long time. I KNOW. I could say that life took over, that life IS, after all, inconsistent, and therefore my writing (or lackthereof) mirrors life. I COULD say all that, and even though all of the above statements would be true, there is a bigger truth as to why I’ve been procrastinating. And so, without further ado, here it is:
I’ve been busy putting all my energy, focus and time into getting uncomfortable.
As in really, truly, squirm-worthy, way, waaaay, waaaaaaaaaay out there, far out of my comfort zone uncomfortable. And I did it 100% to myself, intentionally, AND on purpose.
Why? Because I had this nagging unease caused by the fact that everything was…just fine.
I had become too comfortable with the status quo of my work life, and this level of comfort had come with a price. Everything was just fine, and that was the problem.
Instead of jumping out of bed in the morning curious what the day had in store, I could pretty much predict how it would go.
I was beginning to feel disconnected from my craft and exasperated by the endless meetings that accomplished very little except to minimize the time I SHOULD have been spending doing creative stuff, which is what I was actually hired for, and what I truly love to do. After all, no one wants to grow up to waste their life in soul-sucking meetings. Or I SHOULD say, I didn’t.
Looking at what was once my passion as merely “work” I was doing for somebody else in exchange for a steady paycheck was making me sad.
I no longer felt emotionally invested in what I was doing. The bigger the client, the more detached I became from the project, because that satisfaction of knowing that I did something that makes someone’s life, day or business better simply didn’t exist anymore. These feelings of detachment were certainly NOT the reason I got into this profession.
And yet I lived with my increasing unease because I was simply too comfortable to do anything about it.
My yoga practice had become something that I was doing at the end of a long, unfulfilling (thus frustrating) day for two reasons: 1) to cope with my growing apathy and discontent and 2) (for the sake of full disclosure) to get it out of the way so I could just unwind enough to get mentally prepared for the next day.
I was living each week on a countdown from Monday ’till Friday, trading FIVE “ok” days for TWO awesome ones, where I got to choose what I REALLY wanted to do. The irony is that what I REALLY wanted to do in my spare time was still creative stuff, yet with more control over the HOW.
The business model of advertizing / design agencies where there’s an army of people depending on “creative” yet dictating how creative SHOULD be done just wasn’t palatable to me anymore. Despite the nice paycheque.
I KNEW that I had to make a change, but simply kept putting it off. I’d justify my procrastination by telling myself that it would get better, that I would do it when the time felt right, that the right time would be right when I FELT it was right, and anything else that would keep me in that comfort zone that was making me miserable.
The REAL truth, however, is that I was scared. As in, terrified. Because I knew that in order for me to get that excitement for my work back again, to feel that sense of novelty and exploration and child-like giddyness I hadn’t felt in a while, I would have to do something more drastic than simply quitting my full-time job and replacing it with another one. I would have to branch out on my own, to lift the shackles of feeling like I was building someone else’s dreams, and to use everything I’d learned and to build my own instead. I would have to go freelance.
I KNEW what I had to do, but still, I didn’t do it. Months went by. I simply kept delaying, and stalling, and ignoring the chorus of little voices in my head that had been speaking, singing and screaming at me since I came back from my Alex-changing India journey last year: “go and get your freedom back!”.
Going for it would mean facing my biggest fears: that of potential failure, potential loss of financial independence, and the disappearance all semblance of predictability/control over my life and routine. It would mean plunging into the unknown without any kind of safety net or guarantee of success.
It would mean the potential obliteration of the career I’ve been working to build for a good, solid chunk of my life.
And then, a series of events ranging from the potential death of one of my nearest and dearest to a very unfortunate, very shocking incident of male chauvinism that burst my idealistic bubble of workplace equality of the sexes spurred my very comfortable self into action faster than I could say “fuck you”.
These events rattled my comfortable world so hard and fast while sucker punching me with such a dose of “put your shit in perspective” perspective, that remaining a prisoner of comfort seemed worse than potentially living on the streets, and becoming a total failure.
So I chose to view these really shitty events as the “sign” I’d been waiting for. I took that leap and quit my job. For the first time in my adult life, I had no job lined up, no definitive idea of what exactly would come next, and no guarantees of anything. I simply leapt into the terrifying gaping hole of “I have no fucking idea what I’ve just done, or what will come next”.
That was three months ago.
The first couple of weeks I met with new people and agencies and put myself out there as a freelancer. The universe started testing me. Initially, all I was getting were a few very tempting full time job offers. I turned them down while kicking myself asking: “Are you crazy? What are you doing?”. And sometimes, “what HAVE you done?”. To be perfectly honest, I must confess that I DID consider for about a millisecond giving in to the temptation and going back to a guaranteed good salary and a shiny new full time job, in exchange for my soul. Because that would, after all, be so much easier and far less scary, not to mention nicer on the ego. But those voices I was talking about were stronger, and kept repeating “Don’t you dare.”
Having left behind a daily work environment where panic permeates every second of the day, everything must be done 5 minutes ago, multitasking while eating lunch is the norm versus the exception and your adrenaline is on overdose ALL THE TIME, you can imagine how going one day without getting a shiny new freelance contract felt. Long and torturous.
With all this extra time and nothing to do, the voices of doubt in your head can get excruciatingly loud, and your imagination can run pretty wild constructing your worst-case-scenario future, begging for change to buy yourself something nice from the bubble gum machine for the remainder of your destitute existence.
Preparing for potential bankrupcy forced me to preemptively change my spending habits and my relationship to money.I became aware of how much I’d been consuming and wastefully spending just to “deal” with not being fulfilled in my 9 to 5 existence.
I had been spending money as a Bandaid solution for the dissatisfaction I felt from spending my days feeling like something was “off”. Because I had to make some drastic budget cuts, I had no choice but to develop more mindful money habits. I stopped being an emotional spender, and began examining the emotions that were leading me to be wasteful in the first place.
Because I was minding my spending and going out less, I filled my extra time getting healthier, getting fitter, and getting inspired. I read more. I drank fewer lattes and more water. I cut back on red wine. I began making my own lunches. I even went to the library for the first time in decades, and remembered that once upon a time it used to be one of my favorite things to do. Something magical in the smell of books.
My relationship to time also changed. Instead of looking at it as either something to “make go by quicker” until the end of the workday or something to “slow down” so I could enjoy my sparse “free time”, it suddenly became something I had more than enough of. I began to savour every second, and to fill it doing constructive, joyful things.
The quality of time spent with friends changed. I had more time and energy to catch up with people I’d been putting off for months because I was either overworked, too tired or too busy. During my first 4 weeks of freelance life, I spent more quality time with friends and family than I had in the previous 6 months. And because instead of going out to nice restaurants and drinking wine we would go for cheap tea and long conversations, my interactions became more meaningful and deep.
I also found myself spending more quiet time with no one around for hours at a time during the days. Having gone from an open office environment where I literally had to hide in order to get two minutes of peace and avoid obligatory and incessant work interactions to one where I could literally hear the urban crickets was like stepping into a monastery after trying to “window shop” in a Turkish bazaar.
The former “workplace me” persona who had to be on constant alert, two steps ahead of the latest emergency ready to put out fires, zipping around from meeting to meeting to meeting to meeting and having to be “on” and ready for interruptions every 5 minutes simply disappeared, along with all the workplace drama that no longer surrounded me. Poof. Gone.
I won’t lie. It was weird. And eerily quiet. Everything was different. And then, just when I was as uncomfortably outside of my comfort zone as I could get, things started happening.
I started getting calls and meetings and really, really REALLY cool creative projects coming my way. I became very busy, but it didn’t feel like “work”. It felt like a privilege. It felt FUN, and it didn’t come with the stress imposed by an army of people putting their anxieties into your lap.
The things I talked about changed. Instead of bitching about the things that frustrated me at work, I started to get excited about the new projects coming in and the new people I got to meet, work with, and be inspired by. My creativity levels and enthusiasm for the work I was doing surged through the roof. I found a new sense of freedom and autonomy I hadn’t felt while working for somebody else.
I’m happy. I’m excited. I spend my days working with smaller clients who inspire me, and I get the satisfaction of helping them build their dreams. There’s a new meaning in my work that had disappeared the higher up the corporate and bureaucracy ladder I had climbed in my previous job. I feel reconnected, excited, recharged, and most of all, inspired. Ironically enough, by giving up control over predictability, I actually feel more in control of my life than I have in years.
And if I have to be perfectly honest, I’m still uncomfortable and sometimes scared with all the unknown “stuff”. But I’d rather be out of my comfort zone and buzzing with joy than comfortable and apathetic.
The biggest lesson I took away from this is that the unknown scares us precisely because it’s unknown. We have no guarantees that anything we do will pay off. There’s no magic genie able to predict our futures and tell us to go ahead and take that plunge when we feel really strongly that we should, but are too scared to try.
But if we DON’T try, how do we know what might have been? Sometimes we know deep down inside that we NEED to make a change, and the more that scares us, the greater the indication is that we SHOULD be doing it.
I still, once in a while, have the nagging fears that come back to me and rear their ugly heads: “What if this is too good to be true”? What if the work dries up? What if I’m just on a good roll, but it ends? What if, what if…
But then I remind myself that me worrying about the unknown won’t actually do anything except make me crazy. There’s a saying that’s very wise, whose author I don’t know: “worrying is using your creativity to create a future you don’t want”.
We ALL do it, even though it accomplishes nothing except to take time away from the present moment.
So the next time you want to do something scary like getting out of your comfort zone, notice if your mind starts asking:
“What if I fail?”
And then replace that question with:
“But what if I fly?”
And then ask yourself if you’re really happy, or just really comfortable.
And see if that makes you uncomfortable. And if it does, perhaps it’s time to make a change.