Time is a funny thing. We think of it as this linear equation, a continual sequence of back to back events that create and separate the past from the current moment. I find though, that it isn’t until I have some specific marker of time that the past begins to weave itself into the present.
Holidays always seem to be the most consistent way of marking time. I can’t tell you what I was doing on August 14th of last year, but I can absolutely tell you where I was on Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve, not just last year but several years back. During these specific times, I can remember who I was with and even my general state of mind.
Thanksgiving 2016 automatically forces my brain to rewind to Thanksgiving 2013, a moment in time that will always stick out like sore thumb in my collection of memories. Three years ago feels like ages ago, but it’s not hard for my mind and soul to quickly tap back into the misery of that time. I only feel comfortable speaking about it now as that rock bottom low point eventually became the catalyst towards making some pretty significant changes.
In my pre-fitness life, I was a graphic designer. In 2013, I was working for a very small start up, which meant that even though I was the entire graphic design and creative team, I also had to wear a variety of different hats. I worked long hours, and often times seven days a week. My social life went down the drain, and even though I was 24, I felt more like I was 84. My energy levels were at an all time low, and I found little joy in anything that I did. My mom now tells me that when she saw me during this time, it looked like all the life was drawn out of me. For all you fellow Harry Potter fans out there, I like to describe my job like a Dementor, sucking the the soul out of my body.
I remember brushing my hair one morning, about six months into the job, and noticing a small bald patch near the center of my head. I should have taken that warning sign a little more seriously, but being young and naïve, I dove deeper into the daily stress and mountains of work placed before me, not realizing there was any light at the end of the tunnel.
A year and a half in, Thanksgiving was right around the corner and there was a major deadline fast approaching. Most of us were working from home for the week in order to optimize every minute. Instead of spending time on commuting, we would wake up and instantly sit in front of our computers, working ferociously from morning into night.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I sat down at my desk at home around 6am to start working, still tired from getting little sleep the nights prior. The hands rolled around the clock that day. Twelve hours later, I was still sitting at my desk, clicking and typing away with no signs of stopping. With the deadline to launch our product less than a day away, I had no choice but continue onwards.
My boyfriend woke up the next morning and was stunned to see that, twenty-four hours later, I was still sitting there, conscious yet delirious. By the time I “finished” that afternoon, I had been working for thirty-two hours straight. My heart was beating irregularly and I was having difficulty breathing. I could barely speak. I couldn’t stop crying from how depleted I was, and frankly, looking back on this moment now, I believe that I should have been hospitalized for exhaustion.
This moment when everything crashed and burned was the sum of the year and a half leading up to it. I was overworked and under appreciated. It took a toll on me physically, mentally, emotionally, and it affected not just me, but my relationships with others.
When we have a job that we don’t- to put it in nice terms- love, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that we’re stuck. We wake up every morning with a feeling of dread, but we think we have no other choice. We live for Fridays and always feel the pit in our stomachs on Sunday evening. We don’t look for another job because we don’t think we deserve it. We have passions but don’t think it’s possible to pursue them.
It’s crazy to me that I didn’t flat out quit my job after that Thanksgiving disaster. It took me a little time to come to my senses, but two months later, I eventually got there. I woke up one morning in January, opened my eyes, and said, “I have to quit my job on Monday.” I gave my two weeks notice, and just like that, poof. I left. During my two weeks notice limbo, I managed to find a part time job at a photography studio and some part time freelance graphic design work, which eventually transitioned into full time freelance graphic design.
Over the past three years, I managed to jump from a graphic design job that made me miserable, to freelance graphic design which gave me more freedom and more happiness, but still wasn’t quite the right fit, which eventually led me down a crazy winding road all the way to fitness, which I now know is my passion. So on this Thanksgiving, three years later, I feel extremely grateful, to the point that it’s hard to even put into words, that I found something that I feel so passionately about, and that I love doing on a daily basis.
But so many of us are stuck in the daily grind of work we don’t love. So many of us have passions that we want to explore that for whatever reason, we feel like we can’t. Or worse, we don’t have any idea what our passion is. What are some ways to find more happiness in what you’re currently doing while starting to explore other avenues? Here are a few nuggets that I’ve learned along the way.
Dive in head first to your current job while maintaining a work life balance. Even if you don’t love your job, I think it’s important to give it your full attention and effort during work hours. Half-assing what you need to do will be of no benefit to you as the work you produce is a direct reflection of who you are, regardless of whether or not you like the environment that you created it in. The key to this though is establishing specific boundaries so that you can enjoy your life outside of office. You make it clear that you don’t work past 6pm, you don’t work on weekends, you don’t respond to emails past 8pm… whatever your rules are, stick to them.
Start to look for a new job. If you’re miserable where you are, why don’t you start getting the wheels in motion to leave and go somewhere you’ll be happier? I’m a firm believer that you need to put the right energy out there in order for things to change. It can be as simple as doing a small step each day: start updating your resume, reach out to friends/colleagues/people in your network to see what’s out there, and eventually start applying to jobs. I learned the hard way that if you’re miserable but not taking any action about it, nothing is going to change.
Consider taking the leap towards becoming your own boss. Some people are just not meant to work for someone else. Freelancing is absolutely terrifying considering that you no longer have a consistent paycheck that you can depend on, but working for yourself is extremely rewarding and freeing. I would recommend grabbing a coffee with someone you know who works for themselves, especially if it’s in the field you would want to work in, and pick their brains about how to transition into the freelance life.
Explore your passion while working full time. If you’ve always had the urge to do more of something you’re interested in, or try out a new hobby that has always lingered in the back of your mind, you need to make a firm promise to yourself to take action. The time that you’re not working you’re 9 to 5, you should be dedicating a significant amount of time to your passion project. This can be an abstract thought at first when you’re first starting out, but something that really helped me is what artist and entrepreneur Sean Wes calls The Overlap Technique. I recommend checking out his podcast about it here and here, and also his book.
If you’re unhappy at work and clueless about what your passion is, start exploring. So many people want to find what makes them happy and what they’re good at, but they draw a complete blank when someone asks “well what is it that you want to do?”. The only way to figure that out is to try, explore, and talk to people. Take an art class, start a daily journal for creative writing, take a new exercise class, bake some desserts, volunteer at a homeless shelter, go to some sort of meet up. You never know who you’ll meet or what interest might be sparked. I’ve done everything from graphic design, to dog fostering, to calligraphy, painting, photography… the only reason I feel into fitness was because of randomly following fitness accounts on instagram, which led me to begin working out myself. It just goes to show that you never know where one small action may lead you.
Take a moment this Thanksgiving to reflect on where you’ve come from over the last year, and take a moment to see where you are now. A year seems like a long time, but when you have a specific marker to look back on the last twelve months, it actually can feel like it all passed by so quickly. If you’re unhappy with what you’re doing, don’t let another year go by standing by complacently. Recognize that you have the power to change your own life, and that you are responsible for your own happiness.