I was unhappy for several years but no one knew the extent of my distress. My days started with dread and ended with neck pain, a twitching eye and occasional panic attacks, headaches and tears. My symptoms weren’t related to any sort of medical diagnosis, though; they were linked to a job. I was burned out and ten years deep into a career I felt I could never escape.
I thought it would be a boss move to create this niche role because then I’d be in high demand and always have a job. I didn’t have to like it. The problem was I had actually limited my opportunities and made it more difficult to transfer into something more mainstream. And tolerable. Not to mention many didn’t fully understand what I did.
“What’s a commission analyst?” recruiters would ask. I finally changed my title to financial analyst but my resume reflected atypical duties. And when I was later promoted to revenue manager, my responsibilities shifted more to the accounting side of the finance spectrum. I hated accounting. So I still felt stuck.
When I talked to family and friends, they didn’t get it. Some only saw money and prestige. “Hang in there” was their advice. Many attributed my bad mood to ordinary work gripes: overworked, underpaid, lazy coworkers. “It’s like that at every job,” they’d say. But this was on a whole other level. I had a permanent scowl. My forehead was creased. My lips were tight. What professional job causes physical pain and involuntary eye movements?
I doubted any of them mixed a glass of Henny and ginger ale on a work night to relax. The only thing that stopped me from making that a habit was the fact that dark liquor encouraged weird dreams.
So I tried taking mental health days – one every two weeks. But I returned to work exhausted and grumpy. A close colleague and confidant recommended I just work from home on those days instead and save my leave for a real vacation. In other words, bring the madness into my home. I was offended by the suggestion.
It wasn’t until after I returned to work after an eight-week recovery period post-surgery – a break I actually enjoyed – that I acknowledged I needed to make a decision about my faltering career. I found myself in the emergency room the very next morning with a hard, rapid heartbeat and elevated blood pressure. My primary care physician advised me to reduce stress. I secretly wanted to go back on short-term disability but wasn’t sure if stress was a valid reason. Clearly my doctor didn’t think so because he didn’t prescribe a second “paid vacation.”
I seriously needed change but part of me had reached the point where the next logical step on the proverbial career ladder was director and beyond, which was quite common for women where I worked, not entry-level staff member or intern. Besides I had grown accustomed to certain pleasures such as trips, pampering appointments, purses and shoes. Bottom rung pay wasn’t going to afford such luxuries.
But the other part of me spent work days envisioning dramatic I-quits and drafting countless letters of resignation.
Months later, I did the unfathomable. At least to mostly everyone else. I sacrificed my livelihood and submitted a month’s notice with no job or prospects lined up but a modest quit-my-job fund. I was finally done.
And free. I had spent over a decade trying to force a career that wasn’t a good fit.
I obtained a finance degree for all the wrong reasons. Yeah I was good with numbers and could manipulate the hell out of a spreadsheet but I chose the subject only for salary potential. I didn’t want to look at thousands of Excel rows daily and I was sick of balancing figures. And to have to repeat the process monthly? Um no. I prefer one-time “projects” that I never have to revisit again.
I also spent over a decade experiencing what I didn’t want: an employer-employee relationship. I wanted to explore and perpetually create new opportunities. Yet a few attempted to steer me right back to my former position or a similar one. And I almost gave in, after all that was all I knew and I wasn’t quite sure of where I was going or what I was trying to find.
It took another year of trial-and-error to realize the common denominator in my pursuit was writing. It was something I did for fun and was never encouraged as a viable career. Writing was a hobby like painting, drawing and jewelry-making. I had often heard the follow-your-passion chit chatter but dismissed it as being corny because, like many, I believed passion wasn’t going to pay my bills.
But I also believe joy should be a major element in an activity that consumes at least eight hours of our days. And at the risk of sounding cliché, life is too short to remain stuck in a sea of unhappiness. I may not be able to splurge on impromptu shopping trips or daily dinner and drinks right now but the tradeoff is so much more appealing.
I get to regain and maintain my sanity.
Washington, DC transplant Teronda Seymore is a writer and an undercover Twitter addict whose work has also appeared online at xoJane. Follow her @skinnydcwriter.