Freedom, and Other Hazards of Modern Life

Today, I finished up my two weeks’ notice at the job I’ve held for almost nine years.  I’ve always wondered about people who do and don’t work out their notice at jobs.  I’ve known people who just said flip it and left after one day.  Others didn’t give notice at all.

I worked my last day like any other Friday–actually, I was a bit more diligent than usual.  I made sure all my email was tidied up.  I followed up on issues I had been working on and made sure my replacements had all the reference documents they would need for a smooth transition.  I said my goodbyes dutifully to both coworkers and customers, getting personal emails and cell numbers where appropriate.  i cleaned out my desk and made sure to place all personal items in the canvas grocery bag I’d brought. I turned in my badge to the supervisor on duty.

When 5 o’clock arrived, however, I was struck with a sort of Stockholm syndrome.  My feet dragged as i walked toward the reception area.  I was actually afraid to walk out the front door.  That feeling of euphoria I expected never materialized.

I drove home in silence, a mood of intense quiet filling every corner of the car until the windows practically rattled with it.  i felt my hands shaking and, almost instinctively, my mind turned to safer ground.  I began to review the slights of the day–the supervisor who never bothered to tell me she’d be on vacation my last day, thus denying me closure of an actual goodbye. The teammate who groused at me for sending “too many emails” to help her cope with my unruly account when I was gone.

It felt better.  It felt safer.  I understood bitching about work.  I understood frustration and resentment.  No matter how uncomfortable these things can be, they are a lot more familiar than this all-encompassing sense of now what? that was settling upon me in my nascent post-employment haze.

I got my first “real” job in college, and I’ve been working ever since.  Despite all my efforts to fight it, I have been unable to avoid identifying with my job, defining myself by the work I do, basing my self-worth on how much I earn and what prestige I can garner from the status of my position.  Every bit of introspection, every spiritual book read, every billable hour of therapy I’ve endured could not keep me from falling into this oldest of traps.

I am my job.

And for the next few weeks, at least, I am effectively unemployed.

This begs the question, of course, “Who the fuck am I now?”

Who am I without a job to go to?  Who am I without a job to bitch about?  Who am I without the bars around me?

For all my posturing about wisdom and spirituality, I have willingly put myself in a cage for the majority of my adult life.  Bitching and moaning all the way, I embedded myself into the very jobs that were killing me.  I became the jobs that raised my blood pressure to potentially stroke-inducing levels.  I became the jobs that increased my stress levels and pummeled my self-esteem and shattered my ability to trust my own instincts.  I became the jobs that, for all intents and purposes, were the work equivalent of an abusive spouse.

And now I look into the blinding glare of freedom, and I’m paralyzed by it.  There is a lot to do.  We have to pack up eight years of life in the next four weeks to prepare for our move cross country to Phoenix.  I have to sign up for Obamacare and make sure I have enough medication to get me through the transition time.

But those things won’t take eight hours a day, plus two fifteen minute breaks and a one hour lunch.  Those things won’t clock my time in and out, sending me nasty little reminders when I’m five minutes late in the morning or three minutes early coming back from lunch.

For the next five or six weeks, I am essentially a free agent.  Unemployed.  A ghost.

I have to resist the urge to start shoving things into the empty space. I am drawn to clutter, comforted by it, addicted to it.  All this empty time and space is too frightening, too open and vulnerable to attack from self-doubt and backward thinking.

When I told people I was leaving my company, almost every single one of them asked me the same question, “What are you going to to?”

What, indeed?

I asked Kathryn that same question, and do you know what she told me?

“You are going to putter.  You are going to be. You are going to break free of the brainwashing that tells you your only value comes from the job you hold and the work you do.  Because if you don’t, it won’t matter what kind of job you get when you get to Arizona.  And if you do, it won’t matter what kind of job you get when you get to Arizona.”

So, dear souls, tonight I greet you as a caged bird no longer behind bars, held so long in captivity she’s almost forgotten that she can fly.  But soon enough, I’m going to remember what those wings are for, and it’s gonna be an amazing flight.

Wish me luck–

Good night, dear souls.

Deb

Background Music: Beethoven: Sonata for Violin and Piano No.2 in A major – Shoji Sayaka, Gianluca Cascioli

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