Why can’t I just be “normal”?
I’m in the glass elevators at my hospital heading up to the 5th floor where my office is. I look at the people around me as I always do and wonder what they’re thinking. It’s particularly hard to guess right now because everyone’s faces are covered by masks due to the pandemic. I try to stifle a yawn- they don’t feel good in masks.
I wonder how the people around me are feeling. Do they love the jobs they’re about to go do? Are they happy? Do they think about resigning or making a change the way I do?
I get to my office and again wonder why I can’t be normal. Everyone works; it’s part of life. In most respects my job is desirable: Good wage, ability to help my patients, and weekends off. I have the things everyone wants.
Yet as I sit in my window-less fluorescent lit office and realize I’ll be in this chair the next 8 hours, I feel like a caged animal. I reminisce that just yesterday I was in the mountains in the fresh air scaling a rock wall. I felt wild and free. That feeling is gone now.
I can’t help but think back to my trip to Africa many years ago. One morning I saw a lion in the wild, and that afternoon I saw one caged at the zoo. They didn’t even seem like the same species as the zoo lion paced his cage with dead eyes. I wonder which lion I am.
“No, don’t think about those things! Everyone works, and your job is pretty great. Plus, it pays for the things you like doing. You should feel lucky.”
Institutional work has never felt quite right to me however. I’ve known it from the first day I started 4 years ago, but I have tried desperately to convince myself I’m wrong. Yet, I still long for autonomy over my days. I long for the ability to do things a bit differently than others. The bureaucratical bullsh*t that occurs at work drives me crazy. I hate sitting in front of a screen for 8 hours in an office without a window. It’s particularly bad in the winter; sometimes I don’t see the sun for days. Is it ok that that these things make me sad?
I again wonder if everyone else is truly happy with their jobs here. Sometimes they appear to be, but usually they don’t.
“Why can’t I just be content like everyone else?….. Ok, time to stop thinking about these things and get to work. 30 more years to go!”
I gave my notice yesterday and am leaving my career.
The enormity of that decision is hitting me today, yet I have no regrets. It was honestly one of the hardest decisions of my life because I’ve felt tremendous guilt even considering it. I was chasing the carrot for so long that I forgot to stop and ask myself if I even like carrots.
I listened to a podcast years ago featuring Jillian Johnsrud. She made a fascinating argument about how you should fear the 6’s in your life.
6 is fine. 6 is when you try to tell yourself something is good enough. On a scale of 1-10 for how much you enjoy something, 6 is past halfway! She argued that if something is a 2 or 3, you’ll be unhappy enough that you’d change it so it’s not actually a problem. It’s so low on the scale that you don’t risk ending up in a worse position by leaving it, so you naturally will. It’s easy to leave when there’s basically only room to move up.
6 is scary though. If you leave, there’s actually a higher probability that you’ll end up in a less happy/worse position. Statistically, there’s more room to fall than to elevate. If you spin that wheel, you’re more likely to end up even lower. So, people try to convince themselves that the 6 satisfies them. That it’s good enough. They never take the leap because of that terrifying risk of ending up worse off.
“Fine” slowly chips away at your life though. You always wonder if there could have been better.
Hilariously, comparing my career to dating and applying “fear the 6” helped me rationalize leaving. Say I’m dating an okay man. He’s stable, not hard to look at, doesn’t do anything overly negative. He’s boring though. My life with him would be fine. Do I marry Mr.6? No.
Ah, but what if the next guy you go on a date with is a 2. He shows up late, he’s rude, and you just plain dislike him.
Did you make a mistake then by leaving Mr. 6 since the next guy was even worse? No, you simply try again and go on a date with a different person. Mr. 6 never would have made you truly happy.
The fear of 6’s assumes you’re locked into two options: what you currently have, and the thing you leave it to try. That’s not how life works though. I was so scared of leaving my career and maybe finding that the next thing I try suits me even less. I came to the realization though that so what?…. If that occurs I pivot and try something else again.
There’s always a cost (time, financial, emotional) to leaving and trying something new. We forget though that there’s also a cost to staying. When you settle you shrink.
There’s a long quote I like from the book Nothing You Don’t Already Know:
Leaving my job is requiring me to face a whole bucket of fears.
Worry that others will judge me. Worries that I’ll regret it. Mostly: worries that I’ll end up financially ruined. I don’t like making poor financial decisions, and leaving a good paying career seems like one.
If Mr. boring 6 was rich, should I have stayed with him though? No, he’s still a 6.
It does not matter if I flounder or if the very next thing I try career-wise isn’t right for me. That would not mean my current career is right for me, and I should have stayed.
I had a lot of time for self-reflection last weekend while I drove solo for hours. By the time I got home I knew the time had come to leave my job.
I reflected on the past 5 years of my life and how far I’ve come. Climbing is one of my most proud moments in that time, and a huge visual example of personal growth. My fear of heights used to cripple me (I’d cry going up a ladder). However, I wanted to see the view from the top of those peaks. I forced myself to face it and became a climber. Every time I summit a mountain a massive amount of pride washes over me. My biggest sources of personal growth and pride have always come out of facing situations I’m terrified of: going to Africa solo while I was in high school, moving to a new province for school, accepting that I needed counselling to address childhood horrors, walking away from an abusive relationship.
I now need to face my fear of leaving a career I don’t feel is right for me. It’s time to try things I’m interested in, even though I don’t know if I’ll succeed at them. I need to learn again that it’s ok to take a chance on myself and want more. I’ve maxed out on the personal growth I’m going to get at this career, and look forward to pursuing new opportunities.
So, what is next? Not having a concrete plan is hard on my Type A personality, but it’s also exciting. I have a loose plan, however I will keep that private while I try it. A natural part of my personality is wanting validation and approval from others about my choices, but I’m walking this new road for myself. I’ve come to realize that the most important thing is whether I’M happy with my choices. Ultimately, it’s my life.