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In a flagrant disregard for local traffic laws, the first thing I did from my car as I drove home from my last day at the office was call my girlfriend. Not to vent, not be emotional, but to set up a routine of taking her son to school every morning. At that moment, I had to build a routine for myself; my impulse defense against sinking into quicksand.
Up to this point, I believe that simple and immediate action was the best possible response I could've had to the situation, and I'm glad it's the first thing that occurred to me. That one daily function has become a single point of reference that's kept me on task with the rest of my duties. My point of reference could've been anything else--the rapid countdown of my meager savings being spent on survival, the approaching end of health benefits, the impending rapture (rimshot!)--but somehow my brain settled in on something constructive in the face of fears. For me, that's a major triumph, because I've spent most of my life as a slave to fear.
As a high schooler, I was too afraid to do much of anything. For all four years, I was too afraid to get in trouble or suffer consequences to have any fun at all. In college, I had some glorious moments of disobedience, but honestly just repeated high school by consistently taking the path of least resistance, avoiding risk, and accomplishing very little. That fear followed me through most of my professional life. Every job I've had as an adult has been 100% more about paying the bills than any kind of satisfaction from the work. That's not to say I haven't enjoyed my jobs--I have. But I've never yet done a job that fully engaged me, that was really a good fit, because I've always had this perverse fixation on the practical.
Despite several examples amongst my friends and family of people who manage to synthesize their passions into a profession, the model in my head of practicality dictated that it's not possible. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the notion that you can be anything you choose to be, provided it fits into the corporate mold. If you want to be a writer, go into public relations or marketing, for example. Following a dream purely for the sake of the dream is vanity and folly. It's so much easier, so much less risky, to mold yourself to an existing job.
Getting fired is the kind of thing that throws that perspective into harsh relief, as that reality warps around the event horizon of a career black hole. Suddenly, the flaws in this line of thinking become quite obvious. Chasing down a paycheck, forcing my square peg into a round hole, is exposed as fraud. Eventually, doing the wrong job, suppressing career desires and goals, and ignoring what's important on a visceral level catches up. Instead of waking up and saying, "Another day of this shit," it becomes, "Another thirty years of this shit," and soon enough that's no longer an option. Maybe you get fired, maybe you have a nervous breakdown. Whatever the case, your momentum is impeded.
At that point, it's time to evaluate things. That's what I've spent a lot of energy on. Why am I here now? Is it because the economy sucks, employers treat people poorly, and shit happens? Or is it because I was in the wrong job, doing the wrong work for the wrong people, with the wrong perspective on how to have a career? By completely disregarding my dreams and passions, did I set a timer on my career self-destruct mechanism? One thing is certain: I'm not being steered by fear at the moment. Once the bottom falls out, you can't afford to be afraid, risks and consequences be damned.
One of my friends, Mary Tyler Mom, (read her blog, it's outstanding, touching, human, tragic and triumphant) has a mantra that I've been using. It might seem simple or mawkish, but it makes a difference. It keeps me positive, and steers me toward productivity: Choose Hope. It's a simple reminder that my mindset is up to me. I can decide to see the harsh realities of the world I live in, or I can decide to see the potential to move forward and improve that world.
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