On happiness

Posted: November 15, 2016 in Travel
Last month, I quit my job.

It was simple, really. I wasn’t happy. Convincing myself of the opposite was becoming a charade. Facing reality had become inevitable. I needed a change. So I made it.

Let me back up for a second. The truth of the matter here, I think, was that I wasn’t happy at this place from Day One. I had encountered serious adversity from the moment I settled into my desk. Normally, adversity is something I’d welcome, so long as the adversity was coming from a healthy place and in relatively controlled bursts. Having a background in journalism prepares you for this sort of thing. But this was more like an adversity tsunami. It just kept coming, and soon enough I realized I was drowning.

And the feeling of drowning is really a load of shit. Nobody should feel that way for 40 hours a week, much less have that feeling follow you around when you go home every night. I’m always shocked to see people (Americans, mostly) be perfectly content to wallow in a tsunami of misery from 8-5 every day and casually shrug it off as “just part of the job” while their personal lives implode and their sanity isn’t far behind.

It took me too long to figure this out, but more people should probably take note. If you don’t like the situation you’re in, then fucking change it.

Being happy at a job, I’ve found, depends on just a few things. Moreover, it depends on how you answer these questions:

Am I passionate about what I’m doing? I love writing, but if I’m not passionate about what I’m doing, it’ll eventually sound forced. My ability to bullshit my way through something is solid, but only for so long. And as I soon discovered at this job, I was definitely not passionate about the industry I was in. Comparing how Verzion did in Area A against how T-Mobile performed there on any given day was something I found to be not only uninteresting, but ultimately pointless.

Do I feel appreciated? I sure as hell didn’t. Nothing was ever good enough. Something was always wrong, in some fashion or another, and this became typical. If this comes directly from your own manager on a regular basis without any offer of help or support (other than “do this better”) then you’re not going to want to do any better. You’re just going to resent the very thought of waking up in the morning and dragging ass into that office every day.

Can I see the value of the work I’m contributing? To be fair, I did — but only to a point. Every time I looked at something that was published with my byline on it, I would be quicker to think about the agonizing process of having 12 people thoroughly scrutinize it and argue with me over unimportant details instead of feeling especially proud of it. (I literally had two people trying to get me to tell our very overworked designer that we need to display the “.0” in a chart because it’s “the company style.”)

Will I be able to get away with gut-punching my manager as we walk by each other in the hallway? If yes, then don’t worry about the other questions. Just fucking do it. Eye contact optional.

Oh, the restraint I had to exercise.

Anyway. Forgive me if three of the four above sound a little too close to teetering on the edge of a motivational speaker, but my time at this place really forced me into some weird territory. I didn’t sound like myself on a daily basis. I would constantly come home and repeat the same cycle — put my stuff down, sit on the couch, light up a joint, drink some whiskey, or play PS4 until I cleared my brain of all the bullshit to a satisfactory level. It wasn’t good. Not for me, my relationship, or my career.

This wasn’t happiness. I came to that brutal realization somewhere around June, after only having been with the company for six months. Looking back, it felt like a lot longer. But before I could leave, I needed a safety net. My escape plan needed to be devised first, I thought. No way would I just rage-quit this place without something else waiting in the wings for me to transition into. That’s just crazy talk, I remember thinking.

But then I stopped myself. I often say the definition of insanity is doing the same damn thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Had anything really changed with this situation in six months? No. Not at all, actually. And in some respects, it was even getting worse. I saw no way out other than to do what I had never done in my career before — just resign. No safety net. No offers on the table. Just a few leads, my savings account, and a desire to be free of an absolutely pointless daily grind that was taking its toll.

I likened the situation to jumping out of a burning airplane and only being half-certain your parachute wasn’t going to malfunction on the way down.

But when I walked into the HR manager’s office to talk things over, I began the conversation trying to convince myself to stay. Sure, I thought, things were difficult in almost every way imaginable here. I received very little support for my writing. I had made zero friends, which was very odd for me in any environment. I had no corner to hide in. No group of people to grab lunch with and collectively bitch about management. I’d just go to lunch alone, which was in several ways a giant relief, regardless of the added expenses of going out every day. One hour out of that office was my solace.

When I began this obvious charade in front of her, the HR manager politely interrupted me and asked, “Do you want to resign?”

I stopped in mid-sentence. After a momentary pause, I replied, “Yes.”

She smiled and said, “You know…..you’re going to feel so much better when this is over.”

At that moment, I knew she was right. What, honestly, was the point of continuing to be miserable when I could just make the choice not to be?

She followed that up with “I’m very impressed you made it this long with this group.” I was not the only one who had felt this way about working here, from what I then discovered. While validation isn’t something I require when it comes to making decisions, the extra bit of external confirmation in the vein of “it’s not you, it’s us” was surprisingly comforting.

I walked out of the office that day with a smile on my face for the first time in months.

The coming days were liberating. I took my foot off the gas pedal when it came to finishing the rest of my work. I knew the pressure was subsiding. It felt good to finally sit back and relax and have time to collect my thoughts again, instead of being constantly paranoid that something else I did was wrong. My fears and anxiety began to evaporate. It wasn’t even my last day, and this decision had already paid off.

Happiness isn’t a switch you can just turn on when you want to. Anyone who’s reading this would most likely agree. But you can feel dramatically and instantly better about yourself by making the right decisions in your life. I had to convince myself that I would be happier taking an unpaid vacation than I would be if I stayed in a job that was making me feel absolutely worthless. And my only regret is that it took me this long to figure that out.
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