Needing to Escape But Nowhere to Go

Getting a job isn’t easy, but it appears based on my experience and half-way decent interview skills, I am able to get offers. This already makes me so much more fortunate that 99.999999999999~% of people in the world. Yet every day I work in corporate-esque America, I feel my soul being sucked out of me in its entirety. If only I could fake it like so many people around me probably do, then I’d be doing so well. I’m saving boatloads of money per month (given my relatively low cost of living in a high-cost-of-living area), and I have a job that provides substantial autonomy and seniority —

I could do a job for a short-term project — say, 1-3 months of figuring out a business problem — but staying in the same role for years has me driving home from work everyday thinking I’m going to look back on my life and this will be all I’ve done — whatever this is, it surely won’t matter in the grand scheme of things — I’m just a cog in the machine and a poorly functioning one at that (with all sorts of poorly fitting parts clunking away trying to make my little piece spin) and after now 12 years of trying to push forward I am just collapsing under the weight of adulthood.

Well-intentioned individuals suggest I get a new job — that I go to a bigger company, or a smaller one — that I find a better boss or a differently-run organization… that somehow there is a company out there where I’ll be able to be extremely productive and not highly stressed out on a daily basis. At this point in my career, the reality is that no company or role in a company is going to be a fit. Non-profits aren’t any better. I’m just really bad at core elements of a successful employee: consistency, reliability, communication, and organization. What am I good at? I think I might be good at some things, or else I wouldn’t have a job at all. I am good at thinking outside the box, passionately solving problems, creative writing (*if I don’t have to write about the same thing over and over and over again), thinking about how various scenarios might play out, and caring about other people even though I’m not the best at showing it.

What is so terrifying to me is not so much starting over but knowing that the last 10+ years has been this semi-disasterous experiment where I found a role I could sort of do and managed to negotiate my way up the food chain to a position where I am paid a substantial sum, and the golden handcuffs are even tighter to unlock. Going from ~$200k to $60k to start a new role (especially one that will never make anywhere near $200k), for example, is not just a “paycut,” it’s a massive long-term lifestyle change.

Do I need the money? I don’t know. Money still makes me incredibly nervous. I have $463k in networth as of March 15 — which, compared to many people my age, is a lot — but it certainly isn’t enough to just stop working on pursue my “passions” whatever they are. I can’t just, for example, take up painting for a living and hope that someone buys my artwork, or attempt to take up a career as a stand-up comedian or cinematographer or animator or television screenwriter or theater director or novelist or cultural journalist or accessories designer. These are all things that I’m interested in for short bursts of time, but I haven’t the talent or commitment to be successful in any of them. Not only would I likely blow through my savings in the attempt to change careers so drastically, I’d end up the failure that I was supposed to be in my 20s when it’s ok to fail, not in my 30s when I have young kids (*if I have kids) and have to put a roof over their heads. In short, I feel incredibly stuck, and everyday that feeling gets so much worse.

With my savings, I could just quit. I daydream about that often. I could quit, but then what? I could travel the world, but I have a husband and a timeline around having kids and rent to pay and a family I try to visit every once in a while. I don’t like being unemployed… as much as I dislike being employed, I hate being unemployed even less. I don’t know what to do with myself.

It makes me sad, in a very privileged sort of way, that the only time in life that we get a break to enjoy life, other than early childhood, is when we’re laid off from our jobs and worried about getting a new one, or when we’re old and retired and spending down our savings and awaiting death. Sure, we have weekends and the occasional PTO day, but most of our life is spent working… because we have to earn money to afford housing and feed ourselves and our families – there’s nothing wrong with that.

When I graduated from college I hadn’t the foggiest idea what make businesses work, only that I wasn’t a “business” person. Today, I know quite a lot about businesses from the sales and marketing side to executive decision making, product planning and human resources and operations and finance. Even though it seems complicated and there are surely statistical models which make it so, most of business isn’t rocket science (well, except those businesses which produce rockets.) A business figures out a product or service that someone else wants, and then tries to get them to buy it, and then tries to get them to keep buying it or buy more of something related or something else entirely so the business can keep making money. The business must make (a lot) more money than it spends on resources and eventually be profitable so it can either be acquired or be partially owned by public shareholders who expect it to make even more money – few businesses can maintain this growth and if they do it requires pressure to be placed on employees to figure out how to make that happen, because that’s what employees are paid to do. That’s business.

Innovation can be fun… when you work for a company that has discovered a solution that will make people’s lives better, and it’s totally worth whatever it costs because it solves some major problem that has yet to be fixed, especially if it’s in healthcare or an area where the problem solved actually helps humankind substantially. But, even then, you must follow the rules of business to make money and reduce costs, improving your margin and bottom line.

Outside of business, non-profits are not much better… they may be doing good things, but the roles which I’d be relevant are those falling under the fundraising bucket, which is very much like business only those who “buy” don’t get anything for it except feeling good and a tax write off (and perhaps an exclusive tote bag and DVD collection.)

Work is work is work. As a knowledge worker I avoid hard labor in the field, I don’t have to risk my life everyday by going into a coal mine or operating dangerous heavy machinery. I get to sit in front of a computer and come up with ideas and execute on them AND get paid for it. I should be so grateful. I should wake up every morning so excited that I get to go to work where I’ll make good money and I can maybe somehow make my boss happy by getting things done and having an impact on the business. And then, 8-10 hours later, I get to drive home and arrive home exhausted where I sit in bed and my husband cooks dinner and after I eat dinner I decide to stay up and mindlessly surf the internet until way too late because I long to feel like I have some control over a few hours of the day that are mine to live, even if I’m wasting them reading story after story about politics and pop culture when I really should be sleeping.

I’m afraid that this is all life is. And it is, at least if I stay in this career, no matter if I work for a larger company or one with different management. At the end of the day, one who works in an office knows that life is about constantly working… and I know I’ll never do my best work or be my best self if I’m locked up in this world of what is expected of me and what is required to afford life in general. The last thing I want is to trade in a good job that pays well for another job that pays poorly that I end up liking even less, over where the grass appears to be greener but as I approach I notice it’s actually a murky brown pile of poop (that isn’t even working properly as fertilizer).

I am just not sure what to do at this point, I feel completely hopeless. I may get a new job soon — one that seems like it will be better than the current role — but I just know myself and I know after 3-6 months I’ll be ready to move on to something new… how can I get a job that provides that much variety so I don’t get bored so quickly? Is the only way to become a freelancer and then add on the stress of constantly finding new clients and hoping they will pay me and hire me again… and not knowing whether or not I can get healthcare due to my pre-existing conditions if I don’t have it through work… and just having to spend even more time on being organized and managing my time since I’d only get paid for what I produce… it seems like that would over time be a horrible idea as well.

I’m pretty sure there is not “right” fit for me in the work world, only short term stints in careers — some that pay well and others that don’t — that I’ll pick up in a very turbulent lifetime of pretending to be someone I’m not and falling in and out of depression knowing that I’ll never be able to fake it well enough for any momentary illusion of stability.


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2 thoughts on “Needing to Escape But Nowhere to Go”

  1. I don’t have any answers, but, you are not bad at communication. You listed that as a core employee skill, which it is, but this post alone proves you are marvelously skilled at expressing complex ideas. That’s so valuable and puts you at an advantage over so many.

    1. Thanks Steve. I’m good at empathy, I’m bad at consistent, clear communication around complex processes to multiple stakeholders. I either over communicate or under communicate but I can’t seem to communicate the right amount. I’m bad at repeatable processes as well. I’m better at strategy and one-time communication versus ongoing – but my role requires ongoing communication and that’s a big hill to climb for me.

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