Employed people from time to time tell me something like this: “My job sucks. I have to work all the time. No one appreciates me. Maybe I should start my own business. Oh, but I don’t know. My job pays pretty well. And I have benefits. Maybe I should just be happy with it.”
If this is where you are, my guess is you may not leave your job for at least another 5-10 years. Because you just aren’t uncomfortable enough to do something about it. But you might be after doing it 10 more years.
Or maybe you’ll have a heart attack from the stress and that will wake you up. Or maybe someone close to you will die and that event will give you the perspective that life is damn short and if you’re not challenging yourself to live at your own edge and creating a life you truly enjoy, that challenges you to become more than who you think you are, if you’re not letting your potential live within you every day, if you’re not pushing yourself to make your life the wondrous and beautiful experience you know in your heart it could be, then you’re losing something precious and fleeting that you will never get back.
Maybe something like that happens that wakes you up. But until then, I bet you stay where you are. I bet you keep looking out the window, not quite really happy, but not quite really willing to risk the comfort that you have either.
Unless you decide to change on your own.
You don’t have to quit your job tomorrow, and you don’t have to wait until your arteries cave in. This is what you do: you decide that your true happiness is more important to you than your comfort or inertia. That’s what it takes. It’s an internal decision. It’s a contract you make with the Universe. That will start you on a path to awaken to your true purpose, the thing that makes your heart sing. The Universe will lead you there, as long as you are willing to give up what you already have, and trust that there is something more out there for you.
That path may lead you to quit your job, or it may lead somewhere else. You may discover that your job is not the point. You may discover the point is that you were asleep. Do you know who you truly are? What you are capable of? What truly makes your heart sing? And are you going in that direction every day?
Deep happiness is founded on self-knowledge and nothing else. Look inside, unflinchingly, and ask yourself if you’re truly happy. Ask yourself if it’s worth it to you, to find out what your heart truly wants and what you need to do to create a life that supports that.
If your answer is “Eh. My life is OK. That all sounds like work.” — then you know you’re not ready yet. And that’s OK.
But if you know you can’t wait 10 more years, then it’s time to start learning. There are a billion books and courses and people who can help you on your journey. You’re not alone. Millions walk before you. The world is full of people who are walking their own personal path to self-awareness, and there are as many paths as people.
Here’s a book to start with, which might shake up what you think the workforce is about: We’re All Self-Employed.
And if you are really considering taking the leap, the blog (and book) Escape from Cubicle Nation is the place to start.
I have read books, attended classes, introspected, am part of a spiritual community, done some writing, got coaching but I still do not know who I truly am, what I am capable of or what I am called to do. I have glimpses of this, but what brings me joy seems to be nonstatic– it seems to change over time.
What seems to stick is trying out different activities and seeing what they feel like– do they push me and do I feel joy in doing them at the same time? I often do not know until I try something out for awhile. The advice I get is to get clear on what I want and who I am. But for me that seems to stick more as an experiential process rather than sitting down and thinking about it.
Well it sounds like you have some clarity there: who you are is someone who likes trying things and growing. What you want is to be able to explore what calls to you in the moment. Right?
I’m wondering if you have an picture of what “knowing who you are” that you are comparing yourself to? Where does that picture come from?
Emma……you have described my situation perfectly and it makes me want to cry. I took this job as a banker knowing that I would be sacrificing my time to make more money. My liberal arts degree was getting me nowhere. I was gung ho about it from the beginning…..over the last 6 months or so, I have been constantly disecting the dichotomy of ‘working to live vs living to work.’ My family comes from very little in regards to household income and so they (meaning my parents) hold my position is such high regards that I feel that I would be highly disappointing them if I decided to leave my job and find something more heart-friendly and time-friendly. I’ve used my position to fix my credit, establish a small nest egg, and buy a new car so I feel like I would leave with a small sense of accomplishment, but I fear not finding anything even close to the monies I make now and finding out the grass wasn’t greener…..I’ve been here for 4 years now and it’s the only time in my life I haven’t lived paycheck to paycheck……am I foolish for thinking it’s wrong to work 60 hrs/wk?
Congratulations, it sounds like you are in a place where you get to make a decision–your destiny rests in your hands. Do you stay safe, comfortable, and unhappy/unfulfilled, or do you take the risk to discover what else is out there for you and start to create a life you truly enjoy?
Your parents probably think that financial security will provide you happiness, but perhaps if you explain the cost that it has to your personal well-being, and that it isn’t actually leading to happiness, they might gain some understanding. Ultimately they want for you to be happy (I’m guessing), so if they get that you are truly making a conscious decision to go for that, instead of a reckless decision, they may be able to understand it. However, at the end of the day you have to live your own life as well and sometimes other people don’t understand what we do until much later, but we have to do what we are called to do anyway.
Fear can be mitigated by knowledge–start researching what you might want to do next. The more you understand the territory you are walking into, the more secure you will feel and the easier it will be to go forward. The real thing to fear is inertia or stagnation, where you are frozen by the fear. Let the fear motivate you to find out what you really need to do to create the income you want doing something you enjoy.
I initially read this because my husband is in a job that he is unhappy in. We have 2 small children and live on one income. It pays really well and has benefits for something in his field. It would be really hard to replace that if he left. He is really unhappy. Things are really tight financially and I am always looking for ways I could contribute without just working to pay for daycare, besides, I have worked since I was 16 and I feel confident when I can provide.
I have so many interests and so many passions. They have mostly been dormant all these years. I lived my life the way I was “supposed” to and not staying true to myself. I have just made the decision to start a business (bought a domain name). It is scary though because I do not know if it is what I really want to do. I am really excited about it. How do I know if this is it?
I think you just try it and see. There’s no way to know ahead of time if something’s perfect for you – life is an unfolding journey. Plan to make adjustments as you go and start going!
John R says
I am hanging out in a job I despise because I have eight more months until I am vested. I *have to* find the courage to leave after that, though. The vesting will give me a decent nest egg so that I can take of for up to a year if necessary.
However, I am always “Mr. Reliable”, i.e. the guy who doesn’t take a lot of chances but really wants to.
To this day, I wish I had followed my dream after college but, when I tried, my parents got me so scared I would fail that I took a “safe” path. Now that I’m a bit older, I realize there is no “safe” path–just paths that delay the dangers awhile longer than others.
I am a certified bodyworker/massage therapist. I love my vocation. However, I don’t like working for someone else. It’s hasn’t become uncomfortable enough yet for me to leave otherwise I would be gone already.
Inside of my head, my mini-me (my critical voice) says i should stay and save up money until I can have my own biz. However, I know this is a lie. All my mini-me really wants to do is make it’s horde fund (a nest egg that is supposed to be for a rainy day, but never gets spent; just counted with glee) bigger. I can’t live for tomorrow, or the promise of a horde fund. I know that I won’t spend any money to create a biz for myself; mini-me will convince me to stay by putting a goal like a carrot on a stick in front of my nose; when I get 5,000 dollars I will start my own biz. When I get that money, it changes the goal to 10,000 dollars and so on.
I feel like I am a hamster on a treadmill. I feel angry and trapped. The only way that things change is when the Universe forces me to move.
The discomfort is mounting. I have decided to leave before December of 2010.
My challenge: my mini-me believes that another job will make me happy; it’s already planning the new job I will go to that will guarantee happiness.
I understand the frustration people are feeling. I understand that job security is laughable. Yet I am still attached to the conditioned belief that says jobs are more stable and secure. However, if someone can stop my income by saying, “You’re fired!” how secure is my job.
I guess I hope to find the safe path to my dreams. Lol. I don’t think there is one.
@seanstargazer Actually, there might be. I would start by not fighting with your safety-voice and start listening. Think of it as a different person, a team member you need to work with. Be compassionate and try to understand where it is coming from. Then work out together a number you can both live with, and come up with some interim steps you can take to move in the direction you want to go in the meantime, while you are saving up the money.
When we stop and listen to the parts of ourselves that seem critical, they can turn out to have wisdom and valuable contributions. Then you can get your whole person on board, and stop fighting yourself. By aligning all the parts of yourself around a common vision they all agree on, you’ll have the power and focus to actually create it.
Right now you are stuck between a bunch of different voices pulling you in different directions. But you can get them all to pull in the same direction by creating a dialog within yourself where each part gets to be heard, and you reach a consensus decision where each part is valued. Then you won’t be spinning your wheels, and you’ll start going somewhere.
Thank you for your input.
I have spoken to the voice for years. I understand that it equates money with safety. It wants to be safe at all costs; which, of course, means that it would prefer that I make choices that it can understand. Work, home, sleep, repeat.
However, this pattern has been going on for years. Inevitably, the pattern comes to its conclusion when the Universe gives me swift kick to the bum, and I’m forcibly ousted from whatever situation/relationship I couldn’t extract myself from.
How I deal with this voice is to not coddle it. I coddled it and it waffled back and forth with this idea or that. Once I made a decision and said, ‘We are doing this. Let’s do it.’ Things get done; actions taken.
It’s okay to feel fear and move forward. Fear doesn’t always have to mean that you shouldn’t go forward. Sometimes fear means you need more information, or that you are about to make a huge breakthrough personally.
I have made many breakthroughs this way. But going through the process does not feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t always have to.
So right now, the discomfort is rising inside me, allowing me to move towards what I want and away from what I no longer need/want.
As of this time, I have two voices in conflict. The voice of my mini-me (ego) and the voice of my spirit (which says it is now time to move on). I know my spirit is the voice to follow because every time I have listened and done what it suggests I have always landed on my feet. My mini-me doesn’t trust this, and probably never will; it’s job is keep me safe and protected from danger (whether real or imagined). My spirit’s job is help me grow, explore, and expand into greater and greater aspects of myself that have been left in the shadows for so long due to childhood and adolescent emotional wounds.
This isn’t easy at all for me. I only wish it were. But I know what to expect.
Thank you so much for your blog. I have found it so incredibly inspiring. I was reading John’s comments which completely ring home with me. I am also a banker and have been for three years now. I earn a great salary and have complete financial security. However I work at times 80+ hrs a week and I’m not even sure if I like banking! It all doesn’t feel right. However I’ve been locked in by own success at what I do and the silly bonuses they pay us. I feel there must be more to my life than this, but I feel scared to make the jump. I also come from a poor background and I feel the need to provide financial support for my parents and give back to them what they sacrificed for my education. However, I keep on thinking about starting my own business, I have a passion for food and I dearly want to get into this industry. It’s a risk and I’m not naturally a risk taker and yet I feel dead inside at the moment and stuck in a rut. Do I just go for it?! Has anyone else been in this situation?
Hey, for everyone who is wondering whether they should leave their job or how to start a business, a great site (and book) is Escape From Cubicle Nation. In fact, I think I’ll add it to the bottom of the post.
Jonathan Smithton says
I am living paycheck to paycheck (like 10 cents in savings) all bills a month behind. Like literally one paycheck from homelessness and have for the last 14 years. I make a livable (bearly) wage. My wife is in school. Recently my work has become a daily quest for survival. Like I no longer care about anything but doing what I have to to live through the day. I am beat down for any ideas so I have forgotten how to have initiative. Initiative is pain.
The problem is most jobs that I could get pay slightly less and I desperately need more money.
I dont even have the energy to look for another job. I sometimes pray for something to happen (like a layoff or a car accident) so I could take a couple weeks off.
That’s a tough place to be.
My suggestion would be to listen to your heart, however faint that voice is amongst the other considerations. There is no easy answer, but there may be a path to take that you can begin to find inside yourself.
I’ve been in a relatively high paying job in Washington DC for almost 3 years now. The last year has become increasingly challenging and unbearable. My relationship with my boss (and CEO) has deteriorated to the point where we don’t even want to be in the same room with one another let alone work closely together. My situation is that I love my career and what I do, career but I do not like the environment or people that I’m working with at this firm. I even have started my own techno-political firm on the side (which I had been working on developing for over 2 years) and have a paying client but I still can’t get to the point of leaving the steady paycheck and security to trying to build my business independently. A lot of my caution comes from my wife who fears me starting my own business will fail and we will be financially ruined.
How do I overcome both my internal and external obstacles?
Dear Emma, I just found your blog today. It’s an intriguing place and I’m reading several posts. I don’t think I ever had a job I liked. Well, sometimes I like them for a while and then they “go south” (or my attitude does). Two years ago I lost my “good job” with all the benefits, the best pay I’ve ever had, etc. I now have no income (and our household relied on me for all the income), no job…and I still haven’t started the business I dreamed of while sitting at my desk. I would sit there resentfully thinking, “If I didn’t have to be in this sh*thole, I could be drawing/painting/etc. — what I was REALLY meant to be doing on this planet.” yadda yadda yadda I am wondering what comes next. I’m frantically trying to find a full time job, while fighting the resistance I have to starting my own business. Some of my resistance is because of the social media that’s supposedly necessary in order to be successful these days. I just read your post on social media, actually, and it was helpful. Also, I am not sure I have the mental/physical energy to devote to TWO jobs, which I will certainly have once I go back to work. I’m so confused…lost…
I should stop here or I’ll be bending your ear for hours. In short, though, if you’ve got any advice for me, I am wide open. Meanwhile, I am adding your blog to my Google Reader. Thanks for listening.
The first thing that pops out at me is you mention resistance. Resistance can be a great place to start. It represents a semi-unconscious tangle of feelings and needs. If you can spend some time with it (draw it, ask it questions, journal), you will get a better idea of what it’s about. You can spin your wheels forever fighting it, but by listening to it and understanding what it’s about, you can move through it and move powerfully forward into the next phase of your life. For me, resistance is always a gold mine. Fighting with yourself blocks up the flow of both creativity and momentum. Going toward the resistance, being curious about it – this helps you understand it and get somewhere new. It could start with just getting in a quiet place with yourself and asking, “OK, I fantasized about having my own business, and now I’m here and I feel this resistance. What is this about?”
Emma–Thank you very much for replying. I will give that a try.
I think the resistance is just fear in a different cloak.
All of my life I have done what was expected of me. I went to college and studied something that seemed fun and paid well,then I graduated last year and was unemployed for an extremely long time. About 6 months ago, I finally found a job (and it actually pays well). However, I feel so unfulfilled at my job. Everyone around is me telling me to be happy that I at least have a job (especially with the college graduate unemployment rate now) but I just feel like there has to be more to life then this. I feel like I’m wasting my life away on the safe road working a unfulfilled job. I don’t want to live my life miserable or conforming to mediocrity because it “safe”. However, I also feel like I’m not being realistic and I’m not being grateful of the job I finally did get (and a job that others would die to have)
I want to listen to my heart Emma but i feel like my brain is interfering.
Sorry I didn’t reply earlier, someone just pointed out that I missed this comment. Hopefully my reply is still somewhat relevant.
You can be grateful for what you have, and also be working on developing something better. I would suggest something like:
1. Take a good look at how you are showing up in your current job. Is it unfulfilling, or are you not taking any initiative to make it something you want? Run an inventory–what parts do you like the most? Can you talk to someone about doing more of that? What leeway do you have in your current job to better meet your needs? Are there other opportunities with that company that you could work toward? Who there would be someone who could be an ally in the future even if you change jobs? Can you deepen that relationship?
2. Wherever you are, you can always start figuring out what you want and start making a plan to get it. If you job is unfulfilling, why is that? What would fulfill you? Start to identify that, and in your off hours, develop the skills and connections you need to pursue that thing. And look at your current job–what skills can you develop in this job that will help you in pursuing what you truly want?
It doesn’t sound like you really know what your heart wants. Without knowing that, you’re better off at least meeting your economic needs while you figure that out. Once you know, then you can put your head to work developing a plan to get it.
Now that’s all the external stuff. Now for the internal. You say you have always done what was expected of you. If you want to feel like you are in the driver’s seat of your life, that’s an internal shift that you will need to make. Start by asking yourself questions, like “What do I expect of myself? What do I want for myself?” – and then with mindfulness, watch what you do with the answers. Do you listen to them and start moving toward them? Or do you discount them or forget about them? You may need to learn to feel legitimate in your needs and wants without external validation, and to actively support yourself to move in the direction you want. “Actively support yourself” means that if you feel like you might want to paint, you go buy yourself a paint set and try it. You don’t say to your friends, “I think I might want to paint…but I don’t know…”. You just go get the supplies and figure it out for yourself.