Redefining success

The job hunt continues. But it’s starting to take a new turn. With each rejection (or ghost, which is really what’s happening), I become both more depressed and more liberated. It’s weird, but I think I feel ok about this. I actually feel more liberated than depressed because I think an important life lesson is finally kicking in. About time.

Contemplating your own death is a powerful tool. It’s why the Tibetans meditate on it daily. You think about your mortality and it makes most things seem really insignificant. But then there are those other things that pop out as suddenly really fucking important. Like how you live your life and how you spend your time and who you spend it with.

I like to listen to guided meditations on the Insight Timer (excellent app, I wrote about it here) when I feel restless or guilty about not meditating enough. When I am on my deathbed, will I look back and marvel most at my material accomplishments? Will my career success be the thing I’m most proud of? Is what I did for money going to be what I value? If not, I certainly spend a lot of time obsessing over it (or the current lack of).

If that were the case, I might end up something like my dad, who, on his deathbed, will surely look back and have plenty of that to marvel at. He’s filthy fucking rich and accomplished quite a lot for himself. But despite his success, I’ve always looked to him as the epitome of everything I don’t want to become.

My greatest fear in life is to turn out like my dad. Of the three of us kids, I am the most like him. It’s where I get my red hair, judgemental attitude, and entrepreneurial drive. The first time I dropped out of college, dad was proud. It terrifies me that I could be sliding down some slippery slope to his special kind of Hell. His social isolation and material wealth weigh on him to the point that he has never made time to prioritize relationships and foster meaningful connections. He has 3 kids, but we all despise him in our own way. He has a wife, but they’re meant for each other.

Money hungry, obsessed with work, and miserly, he chases wealth. I’ve been witness to his intense greed my entire life. It’s so sad how despite his genius entrepreneurial success, he is one of the most miserable, lonely people I know. But on paper, he’s a smashing success of a man. He “made it.” But at what cost? And without all his wealth, who is he? As his daughter, I don’t care much about what he could put on his resume. All that’s ever mattered to me was how much time he gave us. Unfortunately for all of us, it wasn’t much.

I have fully bought into the notion that who I am is defined by what I do and what I accomplish and what I look like on paper and how much money I have. That’s my worth. This is pretty impregnated in our society and I think most of us are brainwashed to think this way, at least to some extent. I wrote a little bit about that idea last year. For me, accomplishment equals value. It always has. I don’t philosophically agree with it and it sounds totally gross, but I’m conditioned to think this way and it’s hard to break free. It’s why it feels so shitty to be unemployed for so long.

But that logic is flawed because relying on externalities to determine intrinsic worth does not make for a very happy existence, and that’s not just because there is so much out of our control. It’s also just a super stressful way to live, forever dictated by the rollercoaster of life. This is where that feeling of liberation comes in: what if what I did for work literally didn’t matter? What if my job wasn’t tied to my worth in any way? How freeing that would be! What if, instead, how I lived my life and how I spent my time and who I spent it with mattered more? Easier said than done.

I worked in the finance department of a nonprofit for exactly 3 months last year. It was the very first 9 to 5 job I’ve ever had. I quit because the boss was a tyrant. By the time I left, every other office staff member had also quit for the same reason. It was also common knowledge that the boss herself had been fired once before by the board for fostering a hostile work environment. The place had high turnover.

Shortly after that, for about 8 months I got lost in health coaching, but it was never a real job. I got paid, briefly, but at the end of the day, I had more free time than working hours. So I’ve essentially been unemployed since March 2017. That’s where I’m going with this.

So since March of last year, I’ve been wrestling with my identity (actually, this is a lifelong battle), struggling to find my way and earn what I think I’m worth. But who are you when you’re unemployed? Who are you when you tie your identity to your job and your accomplishments, but neither of those things is working out so well? You’re nobody. I feel like a goddamn nobody.

And thank god for that.

If I looked as good on paper as I want to or feel like I should, I might not be going through this thought process. Maybe all of this is happening so that I can avoid a midlife crisis later. Maybe spending my 20s traveling, working tons of jobs, changing my major every semester, exploring tangents, and generally not setting myself up for “success” is the best possible thing I could have done for my personal development. This is my path. It’s time I goddamn own it.

Going through this kind of thing (and not for the first time) causes me to pause and reevaluate how I define myself and what success is. I’m not really anyone on paper, as all 3 of my friends who’ve looked at my resume have kindly confirmed, but maybe that’s not what counts. Maybe who I am on paper isn’t where I should focus my energy. I spend a lot of time obsessing over how to look better on paper and “improve” myself so that I can land an impressive sounding job. But that’s all starting to feel like a sad waste of time. Who I am is good enough and I’ve already had exactly what I’m looking for.

The saddest part about quitting that job last year was that I loved the work itself. It kind of fit because I never had to take work home with me, unlike much of my previous work, and it paid enough for our relative cost of living. The work was almost robotic. My job was to tick things off a list, complete black-and-white projects, and deliver predictable results. I sold my time by the hour, but my job didn’t consume me.

I wish I’d been able to tolerate the hostile working environment, but here we are, a year later, and now I get to reflect on the merits of having a job that in no way defined who I was or what I was “worth.” My title was so inconsequential and unimpressive that it never occurred to me to define myself by that role.

As a result, I identified with other things in my life and assumed that someday, a promotion and a new title would elevate my status. I still adhered to that old way of thinking, but for those 3 months, there was this gentle sense of liberation. I knew that I was more than a bookkeeper and HR assistant. If only I’d realized at the time that that was enough.

I need that job back but at another company. I think I’m ready to fully appreciate how much freedom it truly gave me.

The Reno Police Department scheduled a 2.5 hour computerized exam for me on January 31st at 9AM. I’m one step away from becoming a Communications Specialist for $63k per year plus benefits and no income tax and rotating swing shifts. If swing shift work isn’t a job to totally take over your life, what is?

The job security is tempting, but I have serious second thoughts about moving to Reno alone. Long-distance marriage doesn’t feel like what we need right now. Things are hard enough, living in a house with 6 students, spending all our money on rent and gas, and counting the days until we can feel like an actual married couple. Life feels weird right now. I can’t quite get a grip on it.

Living with people is already hard, but the lifestyle difference between a 24-year-old single student living off student loan checks and a 30-year-old married student building a future is vastly different. We have another 18 months of this shit. I’m not sure starting a separate life in another state and leaving Tyler alone in this house is really a good solution. So I wonder if I should cancel that exam and focus locally. If what I do for work doesn’t matter, as I seem to be concluding, then why do I need to look out of state?

If I moved to Reno for the job with the RPD, I’d be putting work above my husband. If I did that, what, exactly, would I be saying about my values and my idea of success? I don’t want to be that person.

My work history dictates that I have practically no chance of scoring a career-level job in this competitive-as-hell city, but I am starting to realize that this might be a blessing in disguise. I don’t need a high-stress career to define me; I need a job to pay the bills and occupy all this free time. As I learned at my previous job, it’s more about who you work with than what you do. And as I learned from my dad, it’s more about how you live than how much you make. I hope I’ve finally learned these things.

Maybe this is an opportunity to recondition myself to live for something other than work. Yes, employment will be nice once I secure it, but I can also use this time to prioritize other areas of my life.

Anyway, I think where I’m going with all of this is that the questions “what do you do?” and, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” don’t necessarily require a job title as an answer. Or, at very least, the answer to those questions isn’t analogous to answering “who are you?” I’m already cool with not following my passion, but I think now I’m also cool with not following any kind of job title. Fuck all of that. Who do I have to impress?

Moreover, my paycheck is not a reflection of my worth or an indication of my value as a person. I think that’s the hardest thing for me to learn because once upon a time, I did quite well in real estate. It’s really hard to go from doing really well to “settling” for maybe half that. But that’s just it; I am not my paycheck. There is no “settling” when who you are and how much you make are not linked. (This is assuming you make enough for basic survival)

My struggle with finding employment probably makes this mental transition much easier. It would probably be harder to reach a similar conclusion if I felt on top of the world. Unemployment has its benefits.

For as long as I can remember, I assumed that I’d have a career that would define exactly who I am and pay me exactly what I am worth. It never occurred to me that I could end up in some random office job and be perfectly happy, defined not by what I do for a living, but instead by how I live, how I spend my time, and who I spend it with.

Let’s see where this little attitude adjustment takes me.

8 thoughts on “Redefining success

  1. Just wanted to you know that this really resonated with me! I have been unemployed since August and it really has been hard to adjust to having a different identity. Who am I, if I’m not a journalist, an editor, a reporter? Yes, I’m a mom, yes, I’m a runner. But those things don’t create an income. I’m really struggling with valuing myself, when it doesn’t come with a dollar amount. Sad, but true!! ugh… thank you for all of your posts. I love getting them in my inbox and I read each and every one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for this comment! So glad this resonates with you and that we can connect. Are you also currently looking for work? Changing careers? Or being a stay at home mama!? ❤

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      • Well I launched a vegan blog and wrote and self published a vegan Thanksgiving cookbook after being laid off. But it is not bringing in a whole lot of income so I have started walking dogs through an app called Wag. I do spend way more time with my kids now though since I pick them up at 1:30 and 2:30 in the afternoon instead of after getting off of work hat 5:30 or 6.
        I want to find a career that allows me to work from home and set my own schedule and I think being a vegan health coach would be fun.

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        • Do you like the dog walking? I was actually just looking into that, as a way to get paid to exercise 🤣. What’s your blog and book? Love that, go you!! Are you looking into coaching programs right now? Curious about your vision- it would be great if it panned out! Plus, even though I’m a terrible vegan, we need more in this world!

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          • Lol yes, that’s all it is! Getting paid to exercise! You have to be pretty quick on your phone to claim a walk, or else another walker in your area will get it. It’s competitive. But I’ve made $86 so far this week only claiming walks between the hours of 8:30 and 1 because of my kids school schedule.

            My blog is spiritedvegan.com and the book is Spirited Vegan’s Thanksgiving Cookbook. Look for it on Amazon and Kindle 😉
            I was looking into the eCornell plant based course, which is how I came across your blog a while back. Now I’m looking at IIN.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks for sharing-I’ll check it out! Always love to check out new vegan blogs and cookbooks 🙂
            I don’t have personal experience with IIN, but I have heard mixed reviews (as with anything though, right?). My sister happens to be a life coach and went through an IPEC program that she said totally changed her life. It’s actually kind of amazing. She’s a completely different person, for the better. So many options, good luck navigating it all!

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