“But what have I done wrong?” asks my boss, all innocence and bewilderment. I lean my five foot two inch frame towards her: “Do you really want to do this?” My colleagues leap up, ready to save me from myself. They think that I, a petite teacher in my late forties, am about to throw a punch.
All eyes are on me. But I’m not the one deciding my next move. It’s that thing uprooting from my gut and flying, adrenaline-fuelled, out of my mouth: a tirade born of years of perceived oppression: an answer to my boss’s question.
You’ll be relieved or disappointed to know, no actual violence took place. Still, if you need a clue that your work life isn’t working, blind rage is unambiguous.
I will not relay the complex set of events leading to that moment here, but it’s safe to say I wasn’t feeling my best self. I was not in flow. I was not getting up each day feeling valued, excited or empowered. I was exhausted and resentful. The reasons were no longer important. That’s not the person I wanted to be.
So I quit my job and started a million dollar empire, and this is how I did it. Ha! Actually, I’ve never been a money-chaser and the furious part of me (there she goes again) hates feeling held to ransom by things we’re supposed to want and need to feel like a valid member of society. I just wanted a life in which I could feel good about myself and pay my bills: Is that too radical?
I did quit my job but rent-requiring reality initially drove me to replace one source of stress with another. Then I found that too much too. I worried I was just worse than everyone else at doing what you need to do. But in fact, I was in a state of depression and misreading it as me being defective.
It was time to do things differently. I wanted to feel well; I wanted to sleep at night. I wanted to play to my strengths. I wanted to hold onto my idealism. What I really wanted was to write and work for myself. That’s not a unique ambition. But could I make it work? Wasn’t that just too much to ask for?
Entrepreneurial manuals tell you to start with a side project and do it in your spare time; keep your day job, save some money. They do not say make sure you wind up in middle age with no mortgage, few possessions and zero savings. Unless you are in danger of punching someone: your boss, say.
In the absence of money I used what I did have: time, ideas, experience and hope. For years, I’d devoured whatever filled my head with possibility and my heart with inspiration. Now, not being in a permanent state of frustration and fatigue, I found the energy to get specific about my intentions. I got advice and I formalised my sporadic freelancing into teaching and coaching businesses.
Edging right into the autonomy I’d craved, I found the freedom to pursue creative opportunities. I saw a competition for a screenplay that was close to my heart, I wrote a script: I sent it; it won. My short film got made. Wow! Feeling validated, I gave myself permission to start this blog.
It turns out that when you leave a dysfunctional relationship, whether with a boss, a partner, a parent, or yourself, you open up space for life to surprise you.
We have to ask what we, and our loved ones, can or can’t go without when we pursue what matters to us. But answer this question also: what am I stealing from myself and others by living a life that I am in permanent conflict with? Health, energy, time and wellbeing are resources too. Life is what we do each day; days make up weeks; weeks become years; years make up your life.
It is more than two years since that confrontation with my boss and I’m still mostly going it alone, dipping into employee-world when I need to: I’m not completely reckless. But insecurity and uncertainty feel less terrifying to me than knowing where I’ll be every day and being certain that it will make me feel bad.
What has kept me on this track, when bouts of self-doubt threaten to paralyse , is a feeling that has crept into my life; it arrived intermittently at first before insistently spreading itself across my days. So unfamiliar to me was this feeling that I could not name it at first, but I can tell you the time I first noticed it.
I had taken a train ride to a place that though only twenty minutes from my house I hadn’t known existed. I had climbed a hill and emerged onto a patch of green, green, grass (yes, I live in Wales) dotted with daises and deep yellow buttercups. I remember removing my heavy coat and turning round and…
…simply the shock of this raw stretch of coast laid out before me and the vast complex sky that overlooked it.
My throat ached and then I sort of burst. The half-state that I’d come to accept as normal was pierced right through. The feeling I was experiencing was joy.
We struggle for security whilst yearning for freedom. We make choices. I want to see what happens when I refuse to be powerless. The point of this blog is to share that with you. Wherever you are, whatever you dream of, I hope it helps.
Links for help, hope and inspiration.
On PURSUING WHAT YOU LOVE
Screw work, Let’s play by John Williams
How to be free by Tom Hodgkinson http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-To-Free-Tom-Hodgkinson/dp/0141022027
The gifts of imperfection by Brene Brown https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-gifts-of-imperfection/brene-brown/9781592858491
How to Set Better Boundaries at Work By Melody Wilding: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/09/02/how-to-set-better-boundaries-at-work/
Mental health: http://www.mind.org.uk/
9 Ways to Practice Self-Compassion When You Have Depression http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/06/10/9-ways-to-practice-self-compassion-when-you-have-depression/?hash=af6d5c6b-1651-489e-9d14-482aafb69825
On SOCIETY’S ROLE in THE CHOICES WE MAKE
The Good Woman of Setzuan- by Bertolt Brecht. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Woman-Setzuan-Penguin-Modern-Classics/dp/0141189177
See Shen Te’s speech beginning: “Your injunction To be good and yet to live Was a thunderbolt: It has torn me in two…”