I’ve had this quote from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs taped to the Magic Bus’ dashboard for almost a year:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
I gave my boss notice of my intent to depart my notjob by the end of this year, which is more than two months’ warning. I claim squatters’ rights on the moral high ground for allowing the company this much prep time. However, it took me nearly a week to actually quit after making my decision to do so. I’ve always had an ingrained and misplaced sense of responsibility to my employers. Never once have I inconvenienced any of them by walking off a job; I can’t say the same for them.
I reasoned I couldn’t quit on a Monday, that would be too cruel to start a week that way. This is also an awkward situation with only two of us in this office, and it could become considerably more strained and awkward with my declaration of independence. Tuesday I had Zumba in the evening which allowed little opportunity to announce my news to Mike. My list of excuses grew like Pinocchio’s nose. My chest tightened and I became inert for several days. I was disappointed and frustrated with myself at each day’s end. I began solidifying into inaction.
I happened upon this TED video about “power positions”. I chose my day and shot the rattlesnake in my brain. I rehearsed my short speech, eliminating all pauses, excuses, and extraneous words, and arranged my body into a position that backed up my message – standing, no hands in pockets, no crossed arms. I remembered my Zumba instructor’s words – “keep your chest up.” I walked into my boss’s office and told him I was leaving, in the same tone I would have told him I had a doctor’s appointment. I did not ask for approval, I did not leave the door open to a counter offer. I gave no reason, and when, after recovering from his initial shock, my boss told me that I had to be honest with him about the reason for my departure, I looked at him levelly, laughed, and said no, I didn’t have to be honest with him and that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to. No bridges were burned and no words were wasted justifying my decision.
I am now as a prison inmate whose release date is in sight. I should be happy, very happy that I am claiming my decision.
My stint here in solitary has given me, if nothing else, unlimited thinking time. As someone whose mind enters screensaver mode when deprived of a wide variety of stimulation and information, I’ve still managed to do quite a bit of deep thinking. I’ve watched TED talks, read blogs and blogs and books , and I’ve talked to friends, family, coworkers in other locations, former coworkers, and acquaintances. I probably talked to myself.
I’m nowhere near happy, and I’m quite far from very happy. Right now, I am borderline furious. During my time at this notjob I have thrashed embarrasingly through the muck of frustration, anger, depression, resistance, resignation. There are long periods of time about which I can remember almost nothing. The fax machines and Outlook 2000 of this place have put me years behind technologically. The people skills and compassion and humility and sense of helping others in some very tiny, but very meaningful and soul-affirming way earned while working at M.D. Anderson have been locked into an excruciatingly dear and painful memory that rests on the road kill skunk reality of embroidered Yves St. Laurent towels, private jets, and Cartier Christmas cards bearing a modestly clothed baby Jesus that this job has been.
I am angry because I am smart, funny, imaginative, strong, independent, and resourceful. Despite being all of those things, I have allowed myself to be tied down by Lilliputians, and I have been as much Lilliputian as Gulliver. I helped knot the ropes that have held me in various mindless jobs. I have been wailing and gnashing my teeth ad nauseum about the inanity of going day after day, year after year, to jobs that Winnie the Pooh, that bear of very little brain, could have dispatched with his little eyes closed. I have bitched and moaned and complained to anyone and everyone from friends to family to acquaintances to coworkers. And I’ve done nothing to help myself. Nothing.
I thought if I’d gone to college I could have learned to think critically; three years stuck to an office chair in virtual solitary confinement with nothing to do have given me plenty of time to think clearly and strip off my oh-woe-is-me-cloak. The only work challenge I’ve ever accepted was having my own quirky little wind chime business where I was responsible for everything from gathering raw materials (frequently by climbing into trash bins) to making the chimes to building my displays to selling my products. I loved the process but burned out on the selling and prostituted myself back into office jobs that paid far more than they should have. I’ve told more than one employer that they paid me too much money but that didn’t stop me from taking the cash. I heeded well-meaning advice from near and far, from intelligent people who have actual careers and letters after their names, to take the money and just be glad I had a job. I bought into the line of bullshit the local employment agency fed me on my arrival here about the dismal prospects for employment in a town dominated by a single educational behemoth. I took on Mike’s fear that we will run out of money before our golden years. I have squandered years of my life that I can never recover doing mainstream paper-pushing that has virtually destroyed my self-respect and pretty much eliminated any reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Fuck the Lilliputians. I’m done.
I’m at the middle of my life, I hope. My mother, my very best friend ever, dropped dead at age 68, so I might already be closing in on old age. I have a stupidphone and a hand-me-down computer. My clothes are second hand. I’ve never had or wanted a manicure or a massage. I have no kids or pets. If I’ve climbed into trash bins, obviously pride is not an issue. In other words, I am a very cheap date. What I’m going to do is to shed my inherited, unfounded fears of the future and my current boundaries of suffocating conformity. I am going to act on a primal need to become independent, responsible to and for myself. It’s way past time to set the bar at the level I choose. I am going to be at the right intersection with my thumb out when the party bus goes by, not watching from behind the safety of a steady paycheck. What I need, and what I will find, is “the courage to follow my heart and intuition.” I’ll let you know how that goes.