I had a near panic attack today. I was driving along, happy as you please, and it occurred to me that…I was not earning money!!!!! Yes, it was a weekday. Yes, it was between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm. Yes, I was healthy and able to leave my bed.
But I was not in an office, at a computer, doing work proscribed to me by a so-called Higher Up in order to secure an agreed-upon amount of compensation (less taxes, insurance, etc.) in return.
This hit me like a slap in the face, and I actually felt myself begin to hyperventilate, right there behind the wheel.
Mind you, our money situation is okay. Our bills are paid. We have food, shelter, transportation, clothing, and extra for little niceties. We are in no danger of SUDDENLY RUNNING OUT OF MONEY AND BEING FORCED OUT OF OUR HOME AND OMERGERD WHAT ARE WE GONNA DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO????
But I felt that way. Because I was not earning a paltry salary at a job that was killing me with stress, like I’ve been brainwashed to do my entire life. For a brief moment, I felt like the entire universe was going to collapse in on me, and it was all my fault.
Then I took another breath, and it went away. I took another breath and asked myself, why are you so freaked out about earning money? Yes, within reason, having money is a good thing–a very good thing. It allows you the freedom to do what you like without being a financial burden on your loved ones. It comes in very handy at the grocers and the laundromat and when it’s time to pay for the utilities.
But beyond that, why are we so freaked out over the accumulation of money?
Because we’re afraid. Because we’re taught to be afraid from very early childhood. Because money is set up as the ultimate Wooby, that go-to paper superhero that solves all our problems, makes everything possible, and keeps the streets safe for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.
And because we’re afraid of just about everything, we reach out for anything that will comfort. We reach out for our Paper Wooby, because it’s easier than just being in that fear for the moment. Being in that fear takes effort and trust, something that isn’t all that easy to do when you’re exhausted from the constant grind of accumulating the MoneyWubby.
But give yourself a few days, maybe a couple of weeks to rest up, and it gets easier.
It gets easier being rational. It gets easier seeing the wholeness of things, how life fits together, and how we can relax even when we don’t have the answers. And that is pretty damned cool.
Good night, my friends. I hope you get a chance to relax and enjoy the uncertainty of it all.
The past few days have been pretty rough for me–I’ve caught whatever creeping crud has been going around. It’s amazing how low your expectations for life become when you’re cramping and running to the bathroom at all hours. I spent much of yesterday curled on the couch, listening to lectures by Alan Watts on YouTube.
It’s a strange thing, being sick while you’re in transition. I mean, if I were employed (like a responsible person ,says the evil inner critic), I’d still have insurance and wouldn’t be worried about if I have to go to the doctor and if she’ll want to run tests and how much that will cost. But if I were employed (like a good little do-bee, the wise inner counsel responds), I would be at work right now, adding stress to my already depleted body, because I have run out of paid time off and couldn’t risk missing the work. Instead of taking care of myself through quiet, rest, and self-care, I’d be making myself sicker with worry and stress and resentment.
So much of what we do as modern Western adults is done in the name of seeking security. If you study the concept of emotional branding, fear is the Number One motivator used to get people to everything from buy toothpaste to work a soul-killing job. Fear is a big money-maker for a lot of people, people who aren’t afraid of exploiting human nature for their own gains.
Kathryn and I recently had a conversation about the similarities between many jobs and abusive partnerships. Both use the same triggers, the same tired old threats and emotional manipulations to keep you in a situation that is ultimately bad for you.
- “You’ll never find another job/lover if you leave here/me.”
- “This job is/I am the best you’re ever going to get.”
- “You won’t survive outside this job/relationship.”
- “You owe the company/me; you were nothing before this job/me.”
- “Look at all the training you’ve received from this job/Look at everything I’ve done for you.”
There are other correlations between the two, like the enforced secrecy, the isolationist tactics, the periodic moments of generosity to distract from the more consistent abuses.
And we do this. We choose this. We dress up and fight for these jobs, these relationships, that treat us so badly and damage us so deeply.
We find ways to survive. We make friends. We form relationships with our coworkers and customers, because that’s who we are as humans. And we make the best of it. We tell ourselves we’re doing it for our future, for our security, in preparation for the Deep Dark What-If’s that lurk around every corner in this terrifying world of ours.
But why? What security is so strong, what safety so guaranteed, that we would trade our health, our dignity, our freedom and self-esteem for just a whiff of it?
Security is an illusion. Security assumes that something is wrong with us, that something is wrong with the world. Security also assumes, conversely, that there is something we can do to fix it.
Watts talks about cycles, and about the different viewpoints we have. He talks about perspective.
What I’m giving myself right now is perspective.
I’m pulling away from the fear and conflict and daily craziness to see the cycles, in hopes that I will gain a greater understanding of who I am and what my place in this cosmos really is. I’m physically uncomfortable right now. That is the immediate perspective. But in the greater perspective, I am free. I am whole. And I am joyful.
Peace to you, my friends.
It’s 10:25 on Sunday evening. For the first time in years, I’m not watching the clock. There is nowhere I need to be in the morning. I have clean clothes, and my shoes are near the door where I always keep them. My keys are hooked onto my purse, but I will not need them as the sun is rising on the beginning of the week.
I had a panic attack today just before dinner. My stomach clenched in on itself like a knot, my hands began to shake, and I could feel my pulse begin to race. I was in free fall.
The story I’ve told myself for the majority of my adult life is that I’m not good at structure. I need outside structure in order to keep me productive. I need a time clock to punch, a schedule to be adhered to, an agenda to follow, or I will be useless. I need someone outside myself to tell me who I am, where I should be, what I want. I need someone to tell me how to feel and how to live.
My “job” for the next several weeks, outside of packing up and moving, is to clear my head. I need to get myself clear of this Stockholm syndrome that has taken over my life. I know this to be true, and yet for all the learning and growing I’ve done over the past few decades, I am at a loss at where to start.
I have been given an amazing gift, a gift so many people would kill for. I have time.
I have stolen silence from my life for so many years, edging peaceful moments in the nooks and crannies of my crazy world. And now, I’ve hit the jackpot, time-wise.
And I’m scared to death. That free time seems to spread before me endlessly, and yet at the same time I’m afraid I’ll blink and miss it. I’m afraid of wasting the gift, so I’m tempted to cram it full of tasks and activities and goals and lessons. Anything to avoid the aching, empty silence where my authentic voice can find me.
“Listen to that inner voice,” people always say. “Listen to your higher self.”
I’ve heard from my Inner Wise Self (IWS) before. But I don’t think this is the voice I’m looking for. I think this is a much deeper, more primal voice, one that has been stuffed so deeply inside of me I’d forgotten she ever existed. And she’s got a lot to say.
The conversation, I fear, will go something like this. “Who are you?” she will ask. “When did you become this person? When did you digest all this BS about who you are and who you should be? When did the act of making money become your sole criterion of self-worth? And what the hell are you going to do about it?”
I’d like to think that my authentic voice will be kind and patient with me as I go through the process of deprogramming my psyche. But I’m afraid she will not I’m afraid of her anger, and the anger that I’ve been swallowing for so many years. I’m afraid she’ll realize that it’s not society or religion that’s silenced her, but my own fear.
What havoc will she wreak when she finally lets loose? And will I be strong enough to weather the storm?
I’m in free fall right now. I don’t know where I’ll land or who I’ll be when the dust settles. But it’s okay. This is a gift. My authentic self is still where she has always been–waiting, more or less patiently, for me to shut up and listen for a change.
So I don’t have to worry about going to sleep tonight. The alarm is not set. I can wake when I choose and, aside from a list of moving-related tasks to accomplish, I have nothing at all I need to do. Nothing at all.
Wish me luck,
Background Music: Adiemus by Karl Jenkins
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?”
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.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this blog lately. While a huge part of me is inclined to leave it as is—a chaotic, unfocused reflection of my own daily experiences, another part of me wants Ten Thousand Soapboxes to be more than a glorified personal journal. The blogosphere has afforded us an unprecedented forum, giving previously unheard voices a chance to speak their wisdom (and foolishness) into the darkness…and be heard.
The difference between a good blog and a great blog can be summarized in one word, “value.” What value is this blog offering to my readers? What value am I receiving from the production of these posts? In order to find value, one has to first discover need—what is missing, what is broken, that must be filled if our lives are going to get better?
The Missing Factor
I’ve taken a bit of time for recollection and soul-searching on this topic. There are so many topics I love, so many passions that drive me and make my world a brighter and more interesting place.
But there is one topic which affects every other aspect of my life, a topic so huge and overriding that it cuts to the core of my essence.
That topic is work.
When I say work, I am not merely referring to the 9-to-5 job most of us do Monday-Friday, although that is a huge part of it. Our Day Jobs™ affect so much of what we do, how we do it, how we see ourselves, and how we interact with others. Our Day Jobs™ influence our health, our attitudes, our relationships, our finances, even our perspective on politics, society, and religion.
But there is more to work than The Day Job™.
Every one of us—each of us with a pulse and a brain—has wondered why we are here, what is our purpose? The more existential among us have wondered if there is any purpose at all? Is there any meaning to our lives besides production and consumption?
Work, true work, can be defined as “what we are here to do.” Why were your mind and your soul and your talents and your passions joined together and placed in a carbon-based body with opposable thumbs and the ability to communicate? Were you just born to eat and sleep and waste time until you die?
Or were you born for greater things?
The History of Work
To figure out the future of work, we need to look at the past. Working for profit is a relatively new thing. For the bulk of human existence, work has been simply a by-product of the need for survival. Humans were inclined to survive, and to do that they needed food, shelter, community—the basics. Since these things didn’t just randomly offer themselves up, our ancestors learned to work. We hunted, we farmed, we built shelters, we sewed clothing for protection against the elements. Inventive as our ancestors were, they came up with “fixes” to improve their odds of survival.
- Weapons to improve hunting.
- Tools to improve farming.
- Buildings to improve shelter against danger—both from the elements and from enemies, human and animal.
And with these fixes, our human ancestors found themselves with more time to think, more opportunity to grow and explore, to make better weapons, stronger tools, more impressive buildings.
We also learned to make art. We learned to enjoy pleasures and anticipate rewards.
When basic survival needs were met, we found we enjoyed the benefits of working. We liked the perks—comfortable homes, abundant food, music, art, colorful clothes, and the opportunity for peaceful interaction with others like ourselves.
Where It Went Wrong
Most of us have held a job at one point or more in our adult life. The majority of us did it for financial reasons—as a means to an end. But there’s more to it than just financial security. Anthropologist Michael Maccoby offered this insight in his 2010 editorial for The Washington Post:
Work ties us to a real world that tells us whether our ideas make sense; it demands that we discipline our talents and master our impulses. To realize our potentialities, we must focus them in a way that relates to the human community. We need to feel needed. And to feel needed, we must be evaluated by others in whatever coinage, tangible or not, culture employs. Our sense of dignity and self-worth depends on being recognized by others through our work. Without work, we deteriorate. We need to work.
So many of us focus on the “coinage” part, though, that we downplay our need to make sense, to discipline our talents, and to relate to the human community. In a world where jobs and resources are plentiful and affordable, this doesn’t cause too much trouble.
But we do not live in a world where jobs and resources are plentiful and affordable. We live in a world where, to our horror, we are struggling to make ends meet—despite “doing everything right,” at least according to the current rules of the game.
We go to school. We learn a trade. We create a resume, get a job, do our work, and don’t make trouble. We create value for our employers. We trade services for wages.
And yet, our lives don’t get better.
Our hearts don’t get stronger, our relationships don’t get more meaningful, our bodies don’t get more energized.
We simply get worn out.
The Future of Work
With the future of traditional work getting dimmer and dimmer, a lot of us in the workforce are realizing a change needs to come. And that change is not going to come from our bosses or HR or the government. The change is going to have to come from us. We, as individuals and as a society, are going to have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and figure out why we’re working, how we’re working, and how we’re going to move towards the future (rather than dying out like the dinosaurs).
Net guru Seth Godin, in his Time article, “The Last Days of the Cubicle“, put it fairly succinctly.
The job of the future will have very little to do with processing words or numbers (the Internet can do that now). Nor will we need many people to act as placeholders, errand runners or receptionists. Instead, there’s going to be a huge focus on finding the essential people and outsourcing the rest.
My Moment of Essential
A while back, I wrote a series of blog posts called Joy in the Workplace, in which I explored ways to make the experience of doing your job more meaningful and joyful. Over the course of the next few months, I would like to dig deeper into that theme.
It’s not enough to get a job anymore. We must look inside, find our strengths, find our joys and passions, and find our value as human beings. Then we need to look without, and find areas where those strengths, joys, passions, and values are needed.
There are many areas to choose from.
- According to the Institute for Research on Poverty, “16.4 million children in the United States, 22.0 percent of all children, lived in poverty in 2010. More than six million of these children were under six years old. Of the 16.4 million poor children, nearly half, 7.4 million, lived in extreme poverty, which is defined as an annual income of less than half the official poverty line (i.e., $11,157 for a family of four).”
- A 2005 United Nations Report estimated there are approximately 100 million homeless people on the planet.
- Like to read? 14% (about 1 in 7) of U.S. adults don’t know how.
- In 2002, almost 11 million people died of infection diseases around the world.
- Approximately 57.7 million Americans—1 in 4—experience serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, while fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year.
- The Daily Green reports that “according to the National Academy of Sciences, on average there are 27 oil spills every day somewhere in the waters of the worlds, and the (Exxon) Valdez spill doesn’t even make the list of the top 30 all-time largest.”
And this list doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Where to Now?
So it’s obvious there is no lack of work to be done in the world. There’s so much work, in fact, that no one should be jobless.
And yet, we are jobless. 12.7 million of us are jobless in America alone.
We’re all looking to Washington, whether from the red side or the blue, asking “Where are the jobs?”
I ask you—where are the jobs? We’ve established there’s work to be done, so why are we waiting on the government to tell us what to do? When did we, as human beings, need permission from authority figures to do the work that needed to be done? When did we need permission to fix things, solve problems, make improvements?
No, we are born to fix things. It’s in our blood, our DNA, our brain structure. We’ve just forgotten how. More importantly, we’ve forgotten we’re supposed to know how.
What I would like to do over the course of the next few months is explore this idea more fully.
- How to assess our talents
- How to find areas of need
- How to fill those areas of need while earning a fair compensation
- How to bring the best of us to our work, creating value as well as personal satisfaction
I will not lie to you—I am struggling like the rest of you. I am looking in the mirror of my worklife and asking, “Am I a dinosaur?” That being said, I won’t go down without a fight. It may take a while, but I fully intend to figure this out.
I hope you will join me on this journey. If you have any suggestions for topics to be covered in this series, I would be happy to hear from you.