Today, I have lived as many days on this planet as my mother ever did.
[That is, assuming Excel’s date math handles leap years properly. Yes, I made a spreadsheet.]
There are many things I could write about my mother’s life, and our family’s life together, but I don’t feel comfortable writing about people I love without their knowledge and permission. The only thing I will say about that is that I don’t think she spent very much of her life doing what she wanted to do.
I’ve spent a lot of my life being angry. Reactive, hurt, feeling powerless and wild inside.
Last spring I realized that my next birthday would make me the same age as my mother was when she died and I began to really think about death – MY death. How it was a certainty. How I didn’t know when it will happen. Not just for me, but for everyone. And a while after that, I actually started to understand it. Not just rationally (of course we’re all going to die, everyone knows that) but emotionally.
Last spring, I was working in an office at a company I didn’t respect very much and becoming increasingly miserable (and this for a person with a pretty damn high baseline miserableness). I saw friends withdrawing from my constant perspective of disgust and complaint. I heard that someone I used to work with said he wouldn’t want to work with me again because I complained too much (at that time, he wasn’t wrong). The feeling I had at all times is “EVERYTHING IS WRONG, PLEASE MAKE IT STOP BEING WRONG.” I changed roles at the company I didn’t respect very much – hoping that maybe it was just the aspects of the job I was doing that were the problem.
It wasn’t. And when I realized that, I knew I was never going to be happy there. So last spring, I quit my job.
Let me just step out of this story for a minute to note a few things – I know that not everyone has that option. I’m well educated and have a marketable set of skills, I have a very supportive partner. I don’t have children that I need to support. I am financially secure. Not everyone could do what I did and I am grateful for the things that gave me that option, although I wasn’t particularly grateful for them at the time. I didn’t really understand that I was doing much better than a LOT of people are because I was so wrapped up in pain and anger and self-hatred. I only began to recognize how lucky I am to have those supports when I relaxed and let myself use them.
That’s part of why I quit: I felt like I was trapped, like I HAD to stay in the career that I was in. That’s the rule, right? If you’re what other people would describe as successful, even if you don’t feel it yourself, then it would be ungrateful to not value and cling onto those things that ‘they’ all want. [A contrasting perspective is that means you’re ‘taking up’ a job that someone else might actually want & be happy with, so as a conservation of resources dimension, quitting is a net happiness gain]. Although I had made some choices in my life that had led me to where I was, there were a lot more situations where I just went along with whatever the next easiest step was. I certainly wouldn’t say I was where I was because I planned to be there.
Three realizations are what got me moving. Like I said above, I really understood that I am going to die. Not (necessarily) imminently, but at a time most likely not of my knowing or choosing. Secondly, I realized didn’t need to be making as much money as I was. That based on my own situation, I have a lot of freedom to explore new alternatives and still be ok. And finally, I realized that I didn’t want the company I was working for to be successful. That I had enough concerns about its values and business practices, and the impact it was having on society, humanity, and the planet that I wasn’t rooting for it.
[The day you realize that you don’t want the company paying you to be successful is the day you think to yourself “If I keep accepting money from them, how is that different from stealing?” Or it was for me, anyway.]
So I quit.
I’ve spent the last 9 months working on changing my perspective and attitude towards this short life of mine. I have been trying new things, learning, discarding, keeping, adapting. Often I meditate. Sometimes I exercise. I meet new people. I reconnect with people I’ve lost touch with. I’m gradually learning what is good for me and what I need to avoid. Sometimes I make mistakes and do the things that make me feel angry or hopeless, but increasingly I’m recognizing when that happens and more importantly, I’m starting to react with a sense of humour and compassion towards myself when that happens. It’s not just an immediate descent into self-loathing and shame anymore. That change in myself is more than enough to pay for this past year of not working.
So today I am going to a meet-up to learn how to come up with a talk to give at conferences. I’m going to a friend’s place for a birthday dinner. I’m going to meditate and, weather co-operating, I’m going to go for two 45 minute walks. I’m also going to think about the last day my mom was alive and remember that I’m going to die and know that that’s ok. I have a lot of choice in how I live in the meantime.