Saturday, March 16, 2013

Another $%#@! epiphany: part two

After 31 years on this planet, I've come to recognize that the way I process things comes in a series of cycles. I set a goal, I throw myself into it, often losing touch of whether or not I'm happy. I go into denial, ignoring the signs that it's not right. Then I have a series of epiphanies and an intense wake-up call before I finally admit the truth to myself. What normally follows is a big, bold move, a leap of faith. Sometimes I land. Sometimes I get squished like a bug on the windshield. But I never stop leaping.

One day my best friend told me I needed to stop "waiting" for opportunities to come to me and create my own. It hurt my feelings, because I thought she was implying that I was sitting on my ass waiting for the right job to find me which was the furthest thing from the truth. I was sacrificing every evening to the mundane task of job-hunting, often at the expense of relaxing for a few blissful moments before I had to wake up and do it all again.

But I thought about what she said. And I thought about the business idea that's been forming in my mind for years, that I put on the back burner because it wasn't the right time or I didn't have any money. And I realized what she meant, and that she's right. With few exceptions (there is one company in this area that I'd sell my soul at a chance to work for, no matter what the hours are, because their passion is the same as mine), I'm never going to be happy working for someone else, working on someone else's dream.

I'm tired of trading my life for something that's never going to pay off for me. I want to spend it doing what I want to do. And I owe it to myself to try. That's the scariest part. I've tried and I've failed so many times, I don't know how much more I can take. But through all my many failures, at the end of the day, I've always still had the things that matter most to me, my husband and my health.  Staying where I am will surely rob me of at least one.

I have often been guilty of using timing as an excuse. And now is far from an ideal time to start a new project. But now I see that there never will be an ideal time. And if I keep putting it off, I'm never going to do it. It might take me years, but it's better than waking up at 40 going, "I wish I had started this at 31!"

And it's not like I won't have any support. Seattle is filled to the brim with strong, savvy, smart, amazing, wealthy female business owners who have broken free of the 9 to 5 and followed their hearts….successfully. I'll have support groups, networking events and plenty of paths paved for me. Now is an amazing time for a woman to become an entrepreneur. It's the motherfucking age of Aquarius, for crying out loud.

All this has been on my mind for months, but it took an invitation to my sweet Sin City to lure me into action. My Spokane-dwelling best friend Yennifer, whom I miss every day, was all set to go to Vegas next month with her friend A. Except poor A contracted a horrible worst-case-scenario case of mono with terrifying side effects. She needs to rest, and Vegas is not where you go to rest.

I've been invited to take A's place. And no matter what my situation is in life or how abysmal my finances look, you cannot just dangle a trip to Vegas in front of me and expect me to pass it up. I agreed to go, which has put me into serious hustle mode. Now instead of spending evenings and weekends applying for jobs that will bring me more of the same feelings, most of which I wouldn't actually want, I spend my time doing freelance work with a purpose (VEGAS!) and figuring out how to make my vision a reality.

Travel is everything to me. And while I love that my company has a very generous Paid Time Off policy, I typically can't afford to go anywhere exotic with it. The thought of not being able to travel, because of money or any other reason, is devastating to me. The thought of turning down Yennifer's awesome invitation was more than I could bear.  No secure job, with all its benefits and stability, is worth it if I can't ever do what I want to do. I do not live to work, nor do I work simply to survive.

This isn't about having a sense of entitlement, where I feel that I deserve to have it all for nothing or be overpaid for what I do. It's about working hard for myself, on my dreams (which fortunately involve helping others), and being able to afford random Vegas trips with Yennifer or even retreats to Hawaii to finish my book because I have a flexible schedule and the money to fund them. That's far better than a generous allotment of vacation days that right now I'm using one at a time for things like catching up on errands or cleaning my apartment. True story.

I think everyone on Earth deserves to be happy and live their dreams, myself included. I want to work for myself, and I want to travel. If I am burned out on a Friday night, I want it to be because I have put so much effort into my dreams that I am completely exhausted but have a giant smile on my face….not because I have stayed late under the fluorescent lights every single night that week, being thanked with the offer of a warm PBR. Also a true story. 

I have no idea what my steps will be, how long it will take, or what the end result will be. But I'm finally ready to start taking those steps. If it leads to nothing, at least I will know I tried. And if it leads to a break in the repetitive cycle, no more denial, no more bold life-changing moves and no more turning down trips I'm desperate to take, it will be worth every minute. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Another $%#@! epiphany: part one

Important note: I purposely have never stated where I work on Twitter or in this blog for reasons of self-protection. I do not wish to accidentally slander my company, nor get into any kind of trouble for my thoughts. My work and life are separate. Everyone reading this who knows where I work is being respectfully asked to keep it private for my sanity's sake. Thank you!

I've started this blog post many different times, in many different ways. I've started it with a joke. I've started it with a story. I've started it from the beginning. But no matter how I start it, the point I'm trying to make doesn't get any more lighthearted or less terrifying…..

I am unhappy with work and I've come to realize the 9 to 5 lifestyle is not for me.

I wanted it to be. I really did. When we first moved to Seattle, I was all about scoring an office job. Shitty lighting, water cooler jokes, a set schedule and a steady paycheck? By God, sign me up.

It wasn't that I didn't love my freelancing life. I did, but after everything went to hell for us and I spent 2010 and 2011 scared out of my mind, I was ready for stability and a routine. I was ready for a paycheck on payday rather than wrestling with freelance clients who are slow to pay and use every excuse in the book.

I was tired of fighting for what I knew I was worth. So I threw in the towel and decided to let someone else decide for me.

 I got the office job, and I liked it. I really, really liked it. It was a laid back culture without the strict dress code and weird HR policies. It was a start-up, and everyone was really young and fun. I made friends fast. My writing improved, a lot. I loved being able to explain what I did for a living without it taking 45 minutes. My parents loved that, in their mind, I was finally using my college degree. I was getting paid to write, damn it, and life was good.

And oh, the benefits. I had never known such benefits! Health insurance that allows me preventative care and massages? Paid vacation? Having those things when I never had was incredible. The first time I ever used a PTO day I felt like I had won the Lotto.

It had its downsides, of course. The salary offered was so abysmal I actually laughed when the recruiter told me over the phone, thinking he was joking (oops). But considering my income had dwindled to zero and rent was looming, I accepted it. I just figured I'd freelance on the side to make up for it. It was a start-up, he explained, so the pay was low. But the company was growing, and eventually the salaries would too.

And boy, did it grow. The company grew, and continues to grow, faster than anything I've ever seen and faster than the founders expected. I can't remember a day in the last two years when I've gone into work and haven't been stressed about my workload. Every time it starts to taper off, we get slammed with new goals, more work, longer days and more stress.

Unfortunately the salaries haven't grown. Because the company started charging us for health insurance this year, I make less than the day I started even though I'm easily doing twice the work.

And I've figured out that the reason some of these companies provide such good health insurance is because you need it. There is sickness all around me in that office. Girls barely out of college are contracting terrible stress-related illnesses, including auto immune diseases. I've been sick more in the last two years than I ever have in my life. I'm soft from lack of exercise. My pride and joy, my flat stomach, is gone because of cortisol caused by stress. Every time I treat myself to one of those $20 massages it's incredibly painful because my stress manifests in my muscles.

I'm not trying to sound ungrateful. I owe the company a lot for hiring me at the scariest time in my life, and there's a lot about my life that's awesome. But the fact is, no matter how healthy I eat, how much water I drink or how much I exercise, I wake up every weekday morning feeling like shit. I feel lethargic and hungover even when I'm not.

When I arrive at my office, a big ball of stress forms in my stomach. I spend the next 8 to 9 hours writing as fast as I can, eating lunch at my desk and getting annoyed with interruptions. By the time I get home, my brain is so dead from writing about clothes that the last thing I want to do is write creatively. And forget freelancing. I have two freelance clients right now, and I can barely muster up the energy to produce their content even though I actually love doing it.

I keep waiting for it to change, and it's just not changing.

I started applying for new jobs after the holidays. We have some really incredible companies here that are internationally known and they pay well. Writers that leave my company usually double their salaries. Except even when I was applying, it didn't feel right. I should have been excited about the prospect of a prestigious career with a well-known company. I wasn't.

I then fell into a deep pit of despair. Why wasn't the thought of climbing up this metaphorical career ladder exciting to me? I have no aversion to hard work—in fact, while I certainly need my vacations, I prefer to work. And while the job market is very competitive here, it's also decent. With opportunities all around me, I should have felt inspired, not heavy. That, combined with the guilty of having such a "first world problem" (oh wah, I'm not happy at my job and struggle to get by, when I've got a million privileges and I know it) weighed heavy on my heart.

Since January I've continued that cycle of dragging myself to work, scowling through my day, applying for jobs at night and getting no satisfaction out of any of it… until, finally, I saw the light. 

To be continued...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What I had to lose

If you're active on any form of social media, you're familiar with the "OMG, I lost all my phone numbers" posts that regularly litter the news feeds. And you think, "What a bummer. I'm really glad that will never happen to me, because why would it?" And then it does. At least, that was my experience.

It's partially my own fault. I had no diligent contact-saving strategy. But I assumed since I was saving the numbers to the "T Mobile Back Ups" option on my phone, my numbers would be saved in some magical back-up land in the internet.

Then I went into T Mobile to try and settle some "issues," and a stereotypical salesman (I've decided not to say anything unkind about him, but he doesn't  get a nice description, either) pulled out my old SIM card and plopped in a new one  while trying to "schmooze" with me, without asking me where my contacts were saved.

Needless to say, when I arrived home and went to text a friend and realized half my numbers were missing, I was not happy. Apparently saving contacts to "T Mobile Back Ups" is saving them to thin air, because they weren't online. The next three days were spent traveling back and forth to the downtown store (not an easy or cheap place to get to by car), trying to figure out what happened. I now have a new phone, and I never want to see that bloody neon pink lighting again, but still my contacts are missing.

Finally, I hung my head in shame and put up a post on Facebook. And slowly but surely, I've been getting my numbers back. Luckily, in these modern times, losing one's phone number is a mere annoyance and not the end of all communication forever.

Still, I was upset. I got more upset over this incident than I normally would have, and that didn't sit right. People make mistakes, after all. Things happen. This stereotypical salesman wanted to make money off me and do his job, not ruin my life, for crying out loud.

So I tried to analyze my anger. Was it misplaced, because I've been upset about other things? Did I overreact because I've worked in a fast-paced, high stress environment for two years and it's carrying over into the rest of my life? Was I (oh God) taking on the traits of my mother after I've spent a decade lecturing her on overcoming tension and stress?

The answer came to me on a random Thursday after a particularly horrendous day. The two wonderful women I've been spending a lot of weekend time with lately called an "emergency wine and carb session" because all three of us had been getting our asses kicked by the universe all week. I tried to bail, listing excuses, but in the end, the idea of their company beat responsibility.

Hours later I sank into E's comfortable couch, savoring her delicious pasta and chasing it with wine, taking turns venting about life's annoyances. It was more therapeutic than I ever could have imagined. And it was then that I realized that I was pissed off because the contacts I'd lost from my phone were my Seattle friends. It was like one little mistake erased two of the most amazing years of my life in one fell swoop. Though that wasn't actually the case, it was still troubling to think about.

And I can't believe that two years ago I didn't know who most of these people were, because I truly cannot imagine my life without them now. I can't imagine not being able to call D and E for an impromptu bottle of wine…or G-Chatting all day with my San Francisco sweetheart…or seeing Sydney more than twice a year. Just the idea of any of that being taken from me subconsciously pissed me off.

Losing my contacts was a terrible way to make me feel grateful for the time I've had here. But it worked. And really, if I lost any two years of my life, I'd be pretty pissed off too. Lately I've been feeling the effects of the things that I've done wrong in my life. But this painful but effective reminder has made me realize that in some ways, I'm living right.

It's pretty easy to be reminded of things you're doing wrong. But if you reflect on everything wonderful you've drawn to you, you realize the mistakes are just part of the learning curve of life and you're actually better off than you think.

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