My last day in a traditional 9 to 5 office job was July 31, 2018. I am now pursuing a career as a freelance writer and full-time lover of life. Nowadays, I feel the full range of emotions in a given hour– fear, joy, excitement, terror, anxiety, confusion and exhaustion. This is the first time since kindergarten that I decide how each day goes and I have never been more exasperated and elated.
How did I get here? To tell the whole truth, I didn’t have the greatest example of how to work, work. My mother is a college professor and totally immerses herself in her job–eats, sleeps and breathes it. You could say it’s her passion. My father is the exact opposite. When he was able to work, he did his best and went to collect a paycheck. When 5 p.m. rolled around he was done until 7 a.m. the next morning. They taught me that I was going to have to work twice as hard, that my co-workers were not to be my friends, to never invite them over my house and to not tell them too much because white people can’t handle knowing that black people aren’t suffering. They learned this from their parents who were domestic workers and farmers.
Those family members that did manage to make it to big time office jobs spent most of their time code switching as to not be seen as a threat. Most people have a “work self” and “self self,” but it is different for people of color whose fundamental being is seen as a threat to the status quo. They learned how to keep their heads down with the understanding that their most powerful weapon, their voices, would always be turned back on them. There is some part of me that has always known that the way work works was not going to work for me. I remember saying to my parents in high school that going to the same place and doing the same thing for eight hours everyday sounded like a terrible way to die.
Part of that is because by the time I was 16, it had already been ingrained in me that writing was more vacation than vocation. So, journalism sounded like the perfect way to fund my dreams of being a fiction writer. However, I graduated from high school right before the recession and one of the hardest hit industries was media. All the theatre critic, lifestyle reporter, feature writing and arts editor positions evaporated, never to return again. The next best thing became PR and marketing, so I pursued that. It never occurred to me to just pursue my dream anyway. Work was the penance paid for a comfortable life and so after four years of college and one year of graduate school, I was prepared to become a card carrying member of the day jobbers club.
Armed with this armor, I went to work with the intention of doing a good job, getting promoted and becoming vested in somebody’s retirement fund so that I could start my life by the time I was in my mid-fifties. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my older millennial supervisors, draped in their disguises of acceptance, teamwork and flexibility, would create social and economic consequences for not going to lunch with them. It happened every time they called me into meetings and said that they didn’t like my facial expressions or tone of voice, or when they made underhanded jokes about the likelihood of me saying no to coming to their family’s Christmas party.
To the people who play the game well, God bless, but I just could not. There are some people who were made to resist and others were made to give in. It takes both types to move the world forward, and I was stagnant trying to be concave when I was born to be convex. And I would spend too much time questioning whether it was real or imagined, whether there was something about my energy that yielded the worst of theirs and whether I deserved this mistreatment for not being true to myself. Almost instantly, work became punishment.
I gave up so much of my power to get a consistent paycheck that it was hard for me to be grateful for the peace of mind that the check provided. I flew to Chicago two days late for my uncle’s funeral, missed friends’ weddings, and put off doctor’s appointments and car repairs because I was afraid of being fired for asking for what I needed. At the end of most days, I was so exhausted from staying an hour or so late that I stopped going to happy hour with my actual friends, stopped going on vacation and my mind was so jumbled that the poetry that once poured from me dried up.
After having five full-time jobs and one part-time job in six years, I resented the always starting over, hellish commutes, lack of fulfillment and placating other people’s emotions. I should add the caveat that I really liked jobs number one and four, and that I met great people everywhere I went, many of whom I still keep in touch with today. I should also add that I don’t place blame anywhere. My choices were my own and like everyone else, I was doing the best I could with what I knew. However, not using my time to do something that brought me joy felt like such a waste of me. Not a waste of time, but a waste of what could be if I wasn’t afraid of failure. It was not enough for me to do my job well and receive accolades for doing so, I needed to face fear without disguise. I needed to surrender.
I set a plan into motion and half-heartedly decided to explore what it would look like to pursue writing full-time. I went to therapy, scheduled informational interviews with freelance writers and designers I knew and let my apartment go and moved in with my parents so that I could save as much money as possible. I worked with a career coach, prayed, meditated, went for long walks and probably emotionally exhausted my friends with my lamentations (God bless them). What I discovered, is that the more I became what I feared– almost 30, single, living at home with my parents, uncertain and “jobless,” the more enthusiasm I felt about my life.
The day after I started pursuing writing full-time, I received an invitation to be on a panel at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, WI. I have picked up quite a few magazine writing assignments, co-moderated a discussion between critics and directors, worked on a project with the American Theatre Critics Association, written a one-act play and made plans to visit a few new theatres. I have also gone to happy hour friends, reconnected with friends from college, spent the day with my brother, attended a Wikipedia editing workshop and took a road trip to Asheville for a bachelorette party.
You could argue that I could have done all of those things and kept my full-time, full benefits eligible job, but I could not. I didn’t know how, but I am learning now. I also recognize the privilege of being able to move back home with my parents– though, I would like the record to reflect that I pay rent. What is starting to happen is what Paulo Coelho said in his book The Alchemist, the universe rose to meet me. Or, perhaps I rose to meet the universe. I’m not sure what’s next, but I do know that it’s never a mistake to take a chance on yourself.
I’m not saying that everyone should walk away from health insurance, retirement benefits, accumulating vacation days and a stable paycheck like I did, but I will say that boundaries are important. If the time ever comes for me to go back to a more traditional full-time job, I will do it differently. The only thing I’ll be armed with is self-trust and the knowledge of just how big my faith can get. Nothing is worth more than the present, and I intend to live in it.