From what I'm supposed to do to what I'm meant to
Five months ago, I left my corporate job and I’m not looking for a new one. Instead, I’m doing the most important job in the world. I’m getting to the core of who I am, breaking down walls I didn’t know existed, and having so much fun in the process. I’m exploring, learning, and growing.
Accepting and articulating my new introspective job hasn’t been easy, though.
I left my corporate job after concluding I could no longer tolerate the divergence between my internal and external states. I could feel the seed inside myself sprouting as I watered it with meditation and deep reflection, and as I grew toward the sun, I knew my 9-5 would keep me in the shadows.
I struggled, though, because I didn’t know how to express my evolving internal state. I felt paralyzed: by the potential contradiction of my present and future with the foundation of my past, by the sunk cost of my past and the puzzle pieces that didn’t quite seem to fit together, and by the guilt of letting those pieces go to waste if I didn’t figure out how to fit them together.
Whenever I looked for new jobs in the two years preceding my resignation, I found myself looking for ones that matched my past experience. Those were safe and familiar, but every time I read through the LinkedIn description, I recoiled. My body confronted the appeal of belonging, the comfort of fitting in and acceptance, with physical armor: a pit in my stomach, tightness in my chest, tension in my shoulders. I didn’t want my future to look like my past.
About two months before I decided to resign, on the heels of my final call with the wonderful intern I mentored last summer, I found the missing puzzle piece, the one that might connect my past and future. As my mentee’s kind, wonderful parting words of gratitude mingled with the joy I felt from supporting and getting to know her, I sat at the soul-filling, butterfly-inducing intersection of purpose and passion.
After four years of voluntarily building relationships with fourteen mentees, I finally allowed myself to wonder whether mentorship lay at the foundation of the bridge to my future. As my mind opened to the possibility, I realized potential parallels between mentorship and a career path I had researched and written off on numerous occasions: Health Coaching.
Until then, I made many assumptions about Health Coaching, none of which fit the corporate mold I identified with. Health Coaching was a “woo-woo” field for Instagram influencers who promoted perfect, unattainable lifestyles full of green juice, beach-side yoga, and matching athleisure sets; it was built on illegitimate feelings-based guidance not taught in academia. Most of the people preaching about it didn’t go to prestigious colleges; it was a fallback career for people who didn’t have the credentials to get the high-paying corporate job I already had. Blocked by my assumptions and ego, I neglected to see that the head-in-the-clouds concepts they were preaching - about meditation, mindfulness, movement, and positivity - were exactly the things that freed my internal state over the past couple years. Inside, I knew these concepts weren’t spineless. I’m proof they work.
Invigorated by the possibility of combining elements of my passions for both mentorship and health, I began to more seriously and open-mindedly explore a path to Health Coaching.
I found a course that straddled the line between socially acceptable and “woo-woo.” Because the course is administered by an esteemed university, I felt confident in my answer when somebody asked why I was quitting and what I was going to do. Still, I’d read faces when I told people, searching for signs of approval or confusion, hoping they’d reveal whether I was making the “right” decision.
Day one of the course was reassuring: I oozed with excitement and disbelief as I digested the reality that I could learn about a holistic, mindful approach to health in a formal academic setting. The course wasn’t enough to convince me that quitting was the “right” decision, though. A part-time course that meets once a week leaves a lot of white space. For the first time in my adult life, I was responsible for figuring out how to fill this blank canvas.
Freedom scared the shit out of me.
In what I thought would be several months of slowing down after leaving my job, I sped up. I frantically searched for ways to fill my time. I bought a planner on the first day of my unemployment. The planner became my bible. I became obsessed with checking off my daily tasks, slotting in exactly what I would do each day, leaving little room to feel the freedom my unemployment was intended to bring.
I became obsessed with running out of time. Running out of time to finish my to-do list. Running out of time to explore myself and the world.
What was limiting my time? A self-created timetable of how long I had before I needed to get a new job. A well-paying, highly-competitive, desk-bound corporate job. A job deemed socially acceptable by my culture, one that loves to ask “what do you do?” at a party, second only to asking your name.
I became obsessed with producing what others might be impressed by, so I could have something to show for my time. Obsession gave way to the anxiety of missing self-imposed deadlines and the disappointment of turning passion projects into to-do lists that kept me bound to the comfortable routine of a 9-5.
I challenged myself to survive outside the walls of the political productivity mill I experienced in corporate America, a challenge to pursue passion rather than praise, and was failing. Leaving corporate America physically doesn’t mean much if you can’t leave it mentally. I needed to stop being and doing what made me great at my job: “highly-motivated,” “detail-oriented,” and a “self-starter.”
In other words, I needed to come up for air, stop running from the opportunity of white space, and just be.
I closed the planner and now, almost four months later, I haven’t opened it since.
In turn, the most beautiful things have happened. They’re slow and invisible - not a fancy corporate job title I can throw out at a party, but so many things I can feel.
I’m finding comfort in spontaneity, using all I’ve learned about the science of habits and goal-setting in my Health Coach training to gently remold a habit of productivity into a habit of spontaneity. Where I had been chasing the satisfaction of checking off a to-do list, I’m now rewarding myself with the satisfaction of adding to a list of spontaneous “wins”: moments when I allow my instinct to guide me, even when logic invites me to do otherwise.
Decisions are coming easily. I used to be terrible at making decisions. It turns out decisions are a lot easier when I stop searching for the answers outside myself.
I’m growing comfortable with the white space before me. I’m even feeling optimistic about it.
I couldn’t be happier that I'm training to be a Health & Wellbeing coach. I love coaching. The practice is built on the exact premise I needed to hear: we all have the answers inside ourselves, but sometimes we need a little help discovering them.
Some days are better than others. Some days I feel confused and the doubting voice - the one that tells me I won’t be able to support myself without a corporate job - is deafening. Those days, however, are often the days I learn the most. With each encounter, uncertainty feels a little more familiar, a little more comfortable. Instead of searching for answers outside myself, I patiently explore what lies within.
I open the beginner’s piano book that’s been sitting on my bookshelf for two years. I venture to Fotografiska, the photography museum I’ve wanted to visit for months. I squeeze the red, yellow, and blue paints out of the tubes that've been dormant for a year. I pick up the pen and write until my hand hurts, exploring the stories I’ve neglected to tell.
The world around me has become so alive. I’m discovering what it’s like to inject life into everything I touch, instead of waiting for something to inject life into me.
I’m an artist. A creative, messy, inspired visionary. I don’t follow a schedule everyday and I don’t get praised for everything I create.
But I’m free.
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