Do you ever feel like you are watching yourself from the sidelines as you move through your day; as if it is someone else’s life? Oh, you are making decisions, taking actions and getting all the results of your action, but it’s not you. This person doing all these things is a clone who has been programmed to do whatever it takes to get through this game of life. There are always those glimpses into joy where you can release and do the thing you love, but they are fleeting, and often you are exhausted. You just hope to get to the end with a little time left to do what you have always wanted to do with your life. Maybe when you retire.
What did you want to be when you were a kid? What turned you on and made your eyes sparkle? Could you see yourself working at that thing for the rest of your life? I could. I wanted to be a writer. Perhaps a journalist, but I would still write novels. And an artist. Maybe I could write kids’ books. I could also visualize myself as a teacher who wrote books on the side. Not once, did I envision being tied to a messy desk in an open-concept cubicle with unrealistic deadlines planning extremely boring procedures and systems for some business that I was totally not interested in working under a boss that did not appreciate my wonderful writing skills. How did this even happen?
As I said before, this was not my life; I was not living the life I was meant to live. This job was not what I was meant to do and yet here I was, doing it. I did not attend university; instead, I got married and had kids, and had to make ends meet. How I got there is a story for a different time.
How many times are we told by other people – our parents, siblings, coworkers, friends, people we respect – people who we actually believe know more about life than we do – that you just have to suck it up and do what you have to do to make a living? I was making a living alright – over $100,000 a year – pretty good for someone who does not have a University degree. Where else was I going to get that? There were our finances to think of; retirement; kids’ weddings; other future goals. But…I was miserable. Through my misery and lack of fulfillment, I had resolved to see it through to retirement, but it would be a slightly early retirement, no later than 62. My company had a pension and mine was growing nicely. I thought I could do something I hated and put my dreams on hold for a little money. When did I lose my integrity?
With this resolution, I persisted and tried very hard. Yet, I continued to feel that my life was streaming before me, hurrying its way to an undetermined, but rather consequently predictable ending. I was having major regrets for all the things I had given up to make big money. Throughout my career, I had made many attempts at pursuing my ‘dreams’, but in hindsight they were just mild wishes; no real action took place. Oh yes, my husband and I had a small business that we really enjoyed, but when the rules changed, we just let it peter out; we didn’t take any action to keep it going. And yes, I have written one novel and one non-fiction book as well as countless short stories, but I never did anything to get these into print. Lazy.
I recall one of my first impactful moments that tweaked my motivation for change – not yet the epiphany I needed, but definitely some basis for those yet to come. I attended a retirement planning session at work. As the presenter worked his way through the day unfolding what we could expect in retirement, many attendees made comments that got me thinking. Most of them realized they would need to continue working as a contractor or start a small business after retirement to supplement their pensions. The attendees had calculated right to the day when they would retire, barring any medical issue. Many said that they had been holding off on their hobbies or interests so that they could have the time and money they needed to pursue these in their retirement. My little mind was thinking, ‘Hmm, my employer gets to tell me when I can retire, how much money I will have, and what my life will be. I’m sorry, I don’t think so!’
Many of you may be thinking, what makes you so special? What are you planning on doing, robbing a bank? No. I am going to take control of my life and my destiny and stop letting fucktards who think they own me determine what happens to me! Do the rest of you actually believe this is OK? I don’t. I had no idea what to do, but I can tell you I’m no dummy. Nor are you. Look at all of the things you have accomplished in your life. Really think about it – make a list! Now, why are you letting someone else determine how your life will turn out? Honestly, I was working my ass off to get a mediocre retirement. Why wasn’t I willing to work my ass of to have a fantastic life, NOW!
Right here, I could whine and moan about my job. The unfair practices, the oppression, the bully leadership, the unrealistic overwhelming deadlines, and the lack of empathy; however, if you work for an employer, you already know about this. Every company has these things to some degree. Yes indeedy, there are lots of open-minded employee-focused companies out there, but I have yet to work at a truly great one. And everyone’s got a sob story that would break your heart – oh, I didn’t go to university; boohoo I didn’t grow up rich; waaah I have so many bills and so much to do all the time. Show me one person who doesn’t have something to whine about.
I think the events at my organization just happened to catch me at the wrong time in my life, when they tried to change too much on me, and I had already allowed life to keep doing me over and over again. And thank God, this organization did irritate me enough. What changed for me is I FINALLY realized (big epiphany here) we only get ONE life. Yes, I know, we all know that. But do we really? What have you done for the last 10 years? The last 20? The last 30? Probably pretty much what you have always done and are doing right now. Sure, maybe you changed companies a couple of time, but did you really make any huge change, a real difference, some impact on you, or someone else, the world? What was your plan in Grade 2 (mine was to be a published author, not yet done after almost 44 years)?
Everyone in the world has one thing in common. Rich or poor, black, white, Asian, educated or illiterate; we all have the same amount of time. 168 hours to be exact. The great equalizer. Each week you are given this 168 hours and it is up to you what you do with it. While employed at my last position, I didn’t have a lot of personal time. I was struggling to pursue my personal goals of writing books and keeping my fitness and dancing up. Like so many other people, I was falling into the routine of getting up at 4:30 am, arrive at work at 7 am, leave between 4:30 or 5, or 6, or 7 or later pm. Just enough time to get home and get ready for the next day, eat dinner and go to bed. Yay! Still, I thought I could make it to retirement – only 10 or so years away. I had given up my precious time to an employer. (Is this epiphany number 2?)
Yet, I continued to work. At a job I did not like. With leaders who did not respect me (most days my leader didn’t even say good morning). Under rules I did not agree with. Doing things that did not interest me. A company merger brought significant (more) change. My job changed drastically. Staff were fired. Those that stayed were bullied and abused, we were expected to do much more with less and wages were frozen. Like so many others before me, I was stressed.
Things spiraled on. I did nothing (really) about it. Oh sure, like anyone else who thinks they are going to be fired, or stuck doing something they hate the rest of their life, I worked on my attitude, I tried to learn new things, I tried to network and ‘get with the program’. I realized this program was not for me. But I let it go on anyhow.
My new leader took her position in October. By February, I was in my doctor’s office. I was having a panic attack. My doctor gave me some medication and told me to get some counselling, which I did. The counselor told me to leave my job. I did not. I told her that I needed to persist and work it out. She insisted this environment was toxic to me and my issues may not be resolved. I pushed forward and continued. Things got worse. I was now working OT every day and through lunch most days. I missed a lot of dance classes. Oh yeah, and I was not writing. Not a word. I started a little online retail business and that helped to motivate me, somewhat.
Every week something changed in my job. The scope of our team’s work changed repeatedly, but these changes were not clear to me. Soon, I felt very unsure of what exactly my job was. Even though I tried to work this out with my leader, I know that she must have been under the same pressures that I was feeling. The message is just relayed down through the layers to the troops and action is expected. I don’t need to belabour the details, the environment got worse. My self esteem and confidence was waning. My team had always been known as the place everyone would come to if they had a problem and we would work it out and help them resolve it. Now I was being reprimanded for doing what I thought was my job, and in reality, I had no idea what my job was. I also did not care. I didn’t want to do it. Not fun.
My second panic attack hit on February 23, 2016. I had just had my 51st birthday three days earlier. I met with my leader to discuss some issues my team was having – potential staff absences, deadlines looming and no possibility of making them, and information required from another team. I think the thing that specifically set me off, the proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ was our last conversation. It was not contentious, it was not threatening or demeaning. It was real. I explained that a person on another team owed me some information that I really needed to meet a deadline. I was concerned because this person had been working so much overtime he was sending me e-mails at 2 o’clock in the morning in an effort to keep up (not catch up, that would never happen). I did not want to stress him out by demanding the information right away and I asked for her thoughts. Her response was ‘He’s responsible for his own busyness. Ask him for the work.’
I get it. I know we all need to prioritize and figure out what is the most important. The problem was, absolutely everything was urgent, number one priority and needed now.
I felt my chest tighten. A deep sharp pain right in my sternum, like really bad heart burn. My left arm and shoulder blade were aching. I shifted in my chair. It was five o’clock, already 30 minutes past quitting time.
“O.k.” I said, “I’m not sure how we are going to handle it, but I will do what I have to.” This seemed to satisfy my boss or maybe she was just relieved that I was leaving, but to tell the truth, I just felt bad for her because I thought she must believe that she could not change any of this lunacy. I decided that I could not do anything else that day, so I packed up went to my car and left.
Driving down Memorial Drive, I could feel the ‘indigestion’ coming up my sternum to my throat. I could taste bile. My left arm was aching so badly that I could barely hold the steering wheel with it. I was finding it difficult to breathe. My head was pounding. Tears were streaming down my face making it difficult to see. “You’re ok, you’re ok, you’re ok!” I told myself over and over again in a soft soothing whisper. But I was scared that I was not ok. I sure didn’t feel ok. I did not know what I was going to do.
Writing this now, I still get a feeling of dread and terror for myself. It’s like reading a story about another woman and I just want to reach out and give her a hug. I guess that feeling will always be with me, so scared, so alone, so sure I was about to fail the biggest fail of my entire life.
When I got home I immediately poured myself a big glass of red wine and ran upstairs to the bedroom. I changed into comfortable travel clothing and packed an overnight bag. I had decided that when my husband got home from work I was going to have him take me to the hospital emergency – I was pretty sure I was not having a heart attack, but I thought it was much more intense than just a panic attack. By the time my husband got home at 7 pm I had changed my mind. I put my bag away and decided I would figure out how to make this work. In the meantime, I called the Employee Family Services hotline and asked to set up a series of appointments with the same counselor I had worked with the previous year.
The next morning, I still had the excruciating pain in my chest, the shortness of breath and the overwhelming feeling of dread; my beautiful, wonderful, supportive, caring (superlative adjectives could go on forever here) husband drove me to the doctor. He was determined I would not be going back to work. My doctor could only give me two weeks off to gather my composure and a prescription of Lexipro (excitalopram oxalate) to help me deal with my anxiety. I really felt that I didn’t need any medication; I just needed to be out of the environment. She said that I would need something when I had to return to the environment. Really?
Next epiphany incoming. So, now we as a society are prepared to drug ourselves up to cope in excruciating environments where there are unreasonable demands and irrational, unrealistic expectations. My mind was already starting to make decisions for me.
I didn’t require the whole two weeks to make my decision to leave my job, but I did want more time to deal with it – a luxury I did not get. Suck it up, take a deep breath, put on those big girl panties and face the music. I had been very angry, but that anger was directed at myself. In truth, I felt sorry for my leader, for the people who were left, and for the universal belief that this is how things just are. I was able to manage my feelings and my thoughts to articulate words that explained my message well. The work and environment did not align with my personal goals and pursuits.
This is my life. My ONE life. I am going to start living it. That’s why I left.
Questions or exercises you can do on your own:
What is your personal goal, passion or life purpose? Are you currently living it? Why?
What is it in your life that is not working for your right now? Why are you putting up with it? What are you willing to do?
List your current age and the age of all the significant people in your life – your spouse, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, etc. Now list the ages of all those same people in 5 years; 10 years; 15 years; 20 years. What are you waiting for?