Career vs. Life (written in 2015)

Photo: Mavenly + Co.

Photo: Mavenly + Co.

For the past 4.5 years I have worked in a very demanding industry that’s allowed me minimal to zero work/life balance. I spent my days and nights (and weekends) glued to my computer or cell phone responding to email after email and answering the occasional text message. I was lucky if I found the time to see a friend or go out to eat once a week. When I did see friends, I found myself complaining about work, consumed by my cell phone, or completely irritable. Most nights I would come home and pass out right after work (with my phone in hand). My weekends were consumed with more work, laundry, cleaning, and catching up on TV, which I couldn’t even enjoy because I was so busy analyzing every choice made by actors, filmmakers, and producers. My job became my entire life.

For a while I went numb and just went through the motions. When I finally allowed my brain to process what I was doing, I was exhausted. I felt like a hamster on a wheel not knowing where I was trying to go or where I’d end up. And worse, I was incredibly unhappy and don’t know how I got there and why I allowed it to go on for so long. Additionally, I had nothing to show for all this hard work- I lived paycheck to paycheck, I didn’t have savings, I stopped exercising, developed horrible eating habits or forgot to eat all together, I got incredibly ill constantly (I was baffling to doctors), I neglected my social life, I never took vacation in 4.5 years, I worked on holidays, I went home once a year, and I wasn’t impressing my parents, which was my biggest goal of all, because they were worried. I was/am completely burnt out as a result.

As my dad told me two years ago (I can still remember exactly where I was in my car), if I keep working grueling 15-16 hour days, I will not live to see 30. He was probably right. If I didn’t quit my job two months ago, I could very well be living the last few years of my life (miserably), which doctors had been gently telling me for the past two years when seeing spikes in blood pressure, worrisome blood tests, and other irregularities unusual for someone in their 20s. So I quit, leaving behind the only industry I have ever known, a boss that felt like family, without another job lined up or hopes of getting one any time soon, and no idea what I wanted to do other than sleep. It has been the scariest thing I have ever done (other than writing this) and the only time I have chosen myself over anyone else in my entire life (keep reading).

Like many millennials, I have felt the extreme pressure (and still do years later) of leaving home and finding my place in a world that is growing more complicated by the day. We’re criticized for being arrogant, lazy, and entitled. I disagree. I think we want to live in a world where we believe our dreams can come true, because we grew up hearing the words “you can do anything,” but we’re quickly finding out we don’t always and that’s a hard pill to swallow. We’re scared of falling short and failing. We were raised to be dreamers not realists. At age 27, I thought I would have it all figured out and would be in a very different place. I thought I might even be married, have a kid, and an amazing career, because we’re taught to believe anything is possible right? I’m still waiting for a genie to pop out of a bottle or to have a dream that will change my life.

I always believed that in order to be happy I needed to have a career worth talking about. I have memories as a child hearing things like “she has a big job,” “she’s set for life,” “he went to ___ business school,” “he’s incredibly successful (which meant well off),” “what does her dad do?”, and the list goes on and on. Most kids would brush those things off and wouldn’t pay them any mind (my little sister has the ability to completely block things out and I envy her for it). Instead I took them all to heart (thinking I needed to be like that too) and have always been deeply influenced by what has been said or done around me from a very young age. It’s not anyone’s fault- no one is perfect and can live their life monitoring their every move to minimize damage to another- but it greatly affected me (yes I know I’m sensitive). By celebrating certain types of people, the people around me inadvertently taught me I should be like those people, but I could never be like those people no matter how hard I tried, and I’ve been trying since 8th grade

I will never be a math wizard, financial analyst, accountant, investment banker, lawyer, or on the cover of TIME Magazine. God didn’t make me that way and I loathed him for it, and I’m only just starting to forgive him. I wasn’t born with those gifts like others in my family, and I have spent my entire life wishing that wasn’t the case. I always wanted to be like them, because I thought if I was like them I wouldn’t feel so different and out of place. I thought I would be able to contribute something to the dinner conversation or understand what they were talking about- I never got there and I have walked out on more dinners than I can count. Instead I’ve spent much of my life fighting who I am and wanting to be someone else so life would be a little easier for me, but it has only made it harder (sup Bruce Jenner). When I see what I have done to myself and all the time I’ve wasted, it makes me really sad and a bit angry. Why couldn’t anyone get through to me, because I know they tried?

I wish I had learned at a younger age you can be successful in so many other ways unrelated to a career. A career isn’t everything and maybe it’s not possible to have it all, and that’s ok. I’m just starting to figure this out which makes me feel silly at times. You can be a good friend, loyal, giving, funny, insightful, humble, a wife, a mother, and so many other things that can’t be measured by monetary value or titles, and you don’t have to be all of them at once!

I wish I had fought for myself earlier and was strong enough to be me, but I wasn’t. I’m still learning how to be and what that even means. I have no idea what I want to do with my life, how I’m going to put a roof over my head, what my dreams are and if they’ll even come true, and if I’ll find my happiness. But I’m closer than I was yesterday. Quitting my job has at least given me that (though it scares the shit out of me daily).

I hope there’s someone out there reading this who I can help realize sooner than I did that it’s OK to be different and that you’re good enough. We all are and we should build each other up and not tear each other down.

Meg Coogan