Are you the one who says ‘I love my job!’ or are you the one who gets up in the morning with a heavy heart, or heavy feeling, knowing its ‘(not!!!) another day of work’?
While not all of us are lucky enough to be working (and getting paid for) doing what we love to do, there’s one thing that makes a difference – our attitude towards what we do.
I know many people who love their jobs, unfortunately, I also know many who do not – who’d rather be somewhere else doing something else, or who are bugged down by bureaucracy, heirarchy or administrative limitations to their full potential as a professional. I’m not here to tell you to quit your job (I know it’s not as easy as it looks – I’ve been there). I am here to share with you how CHANGING MY ATTITUDE (and reaction) towards my situation helped me reduce my stress, gave me freedom in my heart, made me live a little happier, and eventually helped me in making such a big decision to let go of financial stability in exchange for my physical, emotional and mental stability (and sanity!) One thing is to feel frustrated, stressed and bad with your job every once in awhile (it’s not always nice and fun and meaningful) , it’s another thing to be in a constant struggle to force and convince yourself that you are BETTER OFF with a job you’re cynical about than jump out into the unknown. In short, it´s another thing to lie to yourself that you are actually living your life well.
2 years into my job in a non-profit private foundation (I stayed for 5 years), I realised I was not finding meaning anymore in the work I was doing. I was dragging myself on a bicycle to go to work, where I enjoyed the 10 minute ride to the office more than I enjoyed the 8, 9 or 10 hours of the actual work itself. Sometimes, I’d get off-balanced from my bike because I was distracted by my thoughts (‘should I leave?’ ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ ‘it’s time for change’). I was not fully focused on my goals and stopped enjoying the project(s) I was writing (I really enjoyed them when I started in the job). I stayed 3 more years, even when I knew it was time to go. I knew it was affecting the dynamics of my (then) relationship, and I knew it was unhealthy for me to stay. I knew. I really did. BUT it was a huge leap. It was an uncomfortable situation to even think about. It meant starting all over again (I was scared of the uncertainty), not knowing where to go and how to do freelancing on my own (this was my excuse!) I thought to myself ‘maybe I can still change things from the inside’ (another BIG excuse I gave myself!) Then I realised it was not because I was not ready to go. It was because I was in such a (kinda) comfortable place (I have a job that matches with my studies, my passion, and many people would want to be in my place). Too comfortable that moving away from it would give me the biggest and most uncomfortable WHY?
‘Meg, but your job is so cool, you travel around the world and you get to meet lots of interesting peacebuilders! Why leave?’ ‘You are lucky you have a job, and in Barcelona…in Spain where there’s a huge unemployment.’
That’s just one aspect of my job that people saw. The day to day is much different. Anyway, I chose to stick to the comfort of having a job that I was not happy doing, even if I was not growing anymore. Yes, our comfort zone is a nice place to be in, but we don’t learn anything anymore. I made too many excuses to stay (good partners, didn’t want to leave a project halfway through, interesting new initiatives, I have my autonomy as director, it’s Barcelona, etc) Too many excuses to drown me, yet at the same time keep me afloat all those years (I have to be sane).
In 2013, I decided that since I was not ‘ready’ to leave (whatever the word ‘ready’ meant), I needed to change my perspective and attitude towards my job. I asked to come to work at 11am most days (I stay until 9 or 10 pm anyway!) I asked to work from home on Fridays or Mondays (it did not quite last awhile). I cut down on my project-proposal writing and focused my time on doing quality work with the good (and sustainable) project partnerships I had. I decided to co-author a manual with a great team. I spent more quality time with my volunteers and colleagues (who were wonderful people!) I decided not to ‘take home’ work. I focused to get more training courses approved (so I get to facilitate them). I made friends with the building cleaning ladies and would sometimes join them for a chitchat while they sit and have their snack. I enrolled in the gym next to my house and made commitments with people to join them for swimming sprints, kickboxing classes, after-yoga yerba mate sessions on the beach (that was my way to get my butt out of my chair and throw myself out of the office when it´s time to go). I did my best to enjoy my weekends fully (which meant not opening my laptop, nor talking about work). I made some guidelines for myself and my (then) partner to only engage in work related conversations during weekdays AND office hours (because we worked together!) I started enjoying more movies and spending less time in typing in my laptop whenever I can. I started yoga again, swam 3 times a week, and then went back to capoeira (again to give me reasons to leave the office!)
I realized, what´s the use of my financial stability when I am not living my life fully? What is my financial stability for anyway? To live well and comfortably in the future? At the expense of what? The present. It started to not make sense.
Then in 2014, I said ‘basta ya!’ I decided to leave for good. I decided I didn’t want to continue anymore, and I had to negotiate it with my colleagues. Slowly, I felt being liberated; I felt the chains around my whole body slowly loosening up. It took me a full year after that to really clean up and free myself from the organisation (pending reports, back-payments I had yet to receive and whatever) and the little strings attached to me.
My first year as a freelance trainer was challenging. I was testing the hot waters, and I was not very good at selling (marketing) myself, partly because I was not comfortable with talking about myself (and preferred if people saw how I actually worked; or that I get recommended), partly because I wanted to ‘take a break’ from the NGO world for awhile and enjoy life. I *wanted* to recuperate those times I missed living life while being stuck in a stressful job I chose so myself. But I also knew I could never get that time back. I learned to stop looking back at ‘what ifs’ and start enjoying what I had at each moment (with a paying or voluntary project or not, it did not really matter). Right after leaving my job, I spent the first 6 months traveling and doing what I love – I went on a cross-country roadtrip, enjoyed babysitting my godson, visited friends and family, went back to re-learning my Mandarin, did lots of yoga, lived near the beach, joined surfing meet-ups from Redondo Beach, to Newport, to Hermosa and Venice beach, and challenged myself into a liquid cleanse for nearly a month! I was in the ‘I can do whatever I want’ mode and it felt great. I took my time to recover and to prepare myself for the ‘freelance world’ that I knew I would have to hustle for. I promised myself I will not work on jobs, organisations, companies that I don’t fully share principles and values with. The 6 months of ‘recuperation’ became a year, then two years, and I am still there now. I’m still here. But I don’t call it ‘recuperation time’ anymore. I call it living life. Living life to the fullest. Living life with no regrets. (And I don’t think I’d want to be anywhere else).
So yes, I don’t have a million in my bank account (something I could have saved for if I wanted to). I don’t have a wallet (I have a small pouch with mostly travel, business, health insurance and a credit card and not a lot of cash!) ( I have a plastic pouch with like 10 different currencies I don’t actually know the value anymore) And I think I am actually towards the fine thread of my savings BUT I am HAPPY!!!
I am excited whenever I start firing up in my laptop because I am learning a lot from this research consultancy I am doing here in the Caribbean (which ends in a month’s time). And while it lasts, I get to interview wonderful social workers, government staff and peacebuilders, learn their stories and listen to their challenges about crime and violence in their countries. I get to put their insights together into a report I am writing- I´m like a messenger (how cool is that?) I get to sing to funky 80’s and highschool songs as I write this report. And I get to take short breaks to read, blend a smoothie, walk in the rain, and keep motivating myself by writing these blogs.
I am surrounded by wonderful, caring, cool and inspiring people that I know I attract with my positive energy. I learned to let go of negative energy (and people!) in my life and keep some space for new ones to come in (I just met wonderful new friends in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, and Cuba!) I live in a city I feel at home in and do not want to get away/escape from. I eat healthy. I get to joke and share my day/month with my family in our group chat (we are usually all over the place)! I get to enjoy some luxuries like a sailing adventure, a massage or good sushi, and I get to live my life the way I want to – full of beaches and white sand, catching too much sunshine, of music and dancing, of green tea (some Butterfinger and Doritos cheese, too). I get to do breathing exercises every morning, write in my journal, practice yoga, capoeira, go surfing, lay on the sand, and still make a difference in this world (mostly surrounded by nice flipcharts, or Human Development Reports and people who want to learn about conflict transformation). I am learning to let things be, to accept where I am today, and to just ‘go with the waves.’
I wake up happy and I go to bed happy. I am not afraid (and embarrassed) to sing anymore.
I am doing what I love. Back to being who I genuinely am.
It´s not about having the perfect or best job (does not really exist without our input). It´s how we see it and live the working experience day in and day out. I changed my attitude towards what was uncomfortable in my job, and it helped me to change my life completely to the beautiful way I am living right at this moment. You can, too.
It’s not perfect, but it´s a beautiful life. Everyday is fresh. And it works for me.
My heart is full……now that’s something no money, nor financial stability, nor a 5-digit high paying, comfortable (but meaningless) job can buy. Neither can it assure me of tomorrow.
*Please share to people who might need some kind of gentle push =)