May 6, 2016
The day was finally here. I was graduating from Indiana University – a goal I had worked my whole life towards achieving. My young life of constant school was over and I felt ready to go into the working world.
For the past 16 years, my focus was learning with little real-world application other than summer internships. I was eager to apply my skills towards something I could have a positive impact on. Something bigger than myself. Something I could learn from to help me grow. To help prepare me for future challenges.
And so a month after graduation, I began my first true job selling digital marketing technology for a big software corporation. The classic 8-5 weekday.
The start of anything is always exciting. It’s fresh, a bit scary, you’re constantly meeting new people, making friends and learning. Everyone wants to do well and friendly competition is everywhere. If you do your job right, you make sales and receive a bonus check for more money than you’ve had in a while – possibly ever.
But after the freshness and “honeymoon” phase passes, for better or worse, you get used to what you’re required to do day in and day out. Show up at 8. Make 40 dials. Send 25+ emails. Prospect for more people to call. Go home at 5. Do something until bed. Repeat.
“What makes this world so hard to see clearly is not its strangeness, but its usualness. Familiarity can blind you too.”
– Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Some people liked this routine and familiarity. For others, like myself, it felt like torture.
Routine is usually necessary and creates positive habits, but not when your routine progresses you towards a goal you don’t genuinely care about. The goal of this daily routine was not something I cared about.
Each day became less enjoyable. I was a replaceable machine in a system I did not want any part of. I felt my creativity and growth potential stifling, while my positivity and mood declined. This not only affected my work, but every aspect of my life. I had less energy to exercise, practice healthy habits, work on side-projects, be a good friend, and socialize with others.
I flirted with the idea of quitting after six months but decided against it. I told myself I just needed to give the role more time. Work towards the next job or promotion and stick it out because this is life and we all start our career somewhere. I was basically repeating to myself what people told me throughout my entire life without questioning it.
Time kept ticking and I became less excited about facing each day. I knew I was in a bad place when nearly every day, my first thought upon waking was, “Fuck. Am I seriously doing this again?”
My sense of purpose became incredibly unclear and I was spending my days on work I did not draw meaning from. I came incredibly close to quitting a few times, but I had a lease and other bills to pay to continue my comfortable life. Fears of my financial situation and uncertainty controlled me.
I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Many coworkers who started at the same time had similar thoughts. A few people already quit, but many of us were willing to stick it out to receive our one-year bonus check. Our conversations followed a similar track: “This sucks. Why are we here? I wish we could go home. I can’t wait for the weekend.” Getting let out of work 15 minutes early was like a gift from god.
We felt terrible because we wanted to do worthwhile and fulfilling work, but were spending our time and energy on something we didn’t truly enjoy.
A scary moment for me was when I had trouble answering the question, “What excites me?”
I thought, “Has my daily life really become this boring? Is this actually what “real life” is like the next 30 years? How can I be sad when I’m making over $50,000 a year? My life is incredibly comfortable. I can stay on this path, get a promotion every 2-5 years with a 18% raise, and continue without much worry. This is not a bad life, and many people would love being in my position. I shouldn’t be sad.”
I didn’t feel like I was living. Each day felt like a slow march to death. A vicious cycle of wasting energy, making enough money to pay the bills and buy random items, and getting myself stuck in situations I didn’t enjoy. Minor bullshit in the grand scheme of how I desire to live.
I knew I needed a change, but I wasn’t sure what or how. Once again, the fear of uncertainty and frequent suffering in imagination paralyzed me.
Reading Was Therapy
All throughout this, the only thing that kept me sane was reading.
I read biographies, stories and interviews of people who went through life differently. People who constantly questioned the norm. Who found an alternate path to their success. People who took risks in their lives. Who followed a purpose that spoke to them at a level they couldn’t explain. People who didn’t follow the majority because they didn’t want to waste their time slowly dying, only to retire 35 years later to actually do what they enjoy in a time guaranteed to no one.
My feelings and problems were not unique. Many people before me hated their jobs, and many people after me will hate their jobs. Someone else in history has likely faced similar problems to yours and found a way to overcome them. Reading gave me this perspective and helped me see alternatives.
I then came across a quote that struck me deeply:
“Everyone faces challenges and setbacks in life. The difference between successful people and others is how long they spend time feeling sorry for themselves.”
I was feeling sorry for myself for entirely too long. It was time to own my decisions, take action and start working towards building my idea of an exciting life.
By reading and learning about other’s lives I began to realize many alternative paths exist, and living a fulfilling life isn’t only achieved by a lucky few. Finding something great to do and following what excited me seemed much more possible.
Before any change was going to happen I had to take an honest look inwards.
I asked myself, “What do I want to do with my life and the how do I want to live each day? Not what other people do or what they’ve told me I should do, but what makes me feel alive? What do I value? What am I willing to sacrifice in my life? Are my dreams simply dreams, or real goals? If they are dreams I plan to achieve, how am I working towards them each and every day?”
This reflection is not easy for anyone to do, but it’s necessary to set your course in the proper direction.
I realized I don’t want to work two years for a $5,000 raise. I want a $5,000,000 raise because I fully dedicated my time, energy, money and life into creating positive, tangible value. No more 40 hour weeks in a job where I have no purpose. I want to work 80 hour weeks on something that doesn’t feel like work. Where I can make real decisions to determine whether I’m successful. And not success strictly in terms of money. Success in having a clear vision of why I do what I do and achieving goals I intentionally set. How I positively impact other people’s lives.
The work I’m proud to do is work I get lost in. Where time seems to disappear and three hours go by without looking at the clock once. Work that on a Friday and Saturday night, I’d rather stay in and progress instead of going out to drink. Essentially, work that gives me purpose.
While I plan to make large sums of money in my life, money is not my main motivator. Money is a result of success.
I want to take risks and live life to my fullest potential. If I ever feel like each day is a slow march to death, I know a change is necessary.
One of my favorite rappers, Jay-Z, said it best:
“I’d rather die enormous than live dormant.”
A Necessary Life Change
After a year and two months, I quit my job and created a 9-month window to travel around Asia. Ever since I studied abroad for a semester in Singapore during 2015, embarking on an extensive travel trip intrigued me. Having no timeline with an incredibly flexible schedule. Truly being able to get to know a place, its people, and a culture of my choosing.
Along with this, I’m seeking/creating meaningful work that allows a location-independent lifestyle. As long as I have a notebook, laptop and occasional WiFi, I can work. My travel goals pretty much extend to seeing the whole world, which requires a source of income. I’m working on being able to do both simultaneously.
Finding or creating my dream work is not likely to happen quickly and wont be easy. It will require many sacrifices. Setbacks and larger challenges will arise. But, I own my life and no one owes me anything. And this is what excites me.
Along the way I am meeting, joining, and learning from people who do things differently. Who live how they want to, and who take absolute control over what they can to decide their future. People who challenge the status-quo. Who challenge what they’ve always been told and proper ways to live their life. People who aren’t afraid of failing because they have the utmost confidence in themselves prospering. People who others call “crazy” because they aren’t doing what everyone else is doing.
To me, crazy is consistently doing something you do not genuinely enjoy. Many people do this their entire careers, only to feel deep regret because they didn’t try to go after what they wanted. Doing what we know we want to do is scary.
This “untraditional” path is not for everyone, and it is neither good or bad. It just is. I do not mean to speak negatively about anyones chosen life. Everyone has different values and goals – many of which are different from ours.
What I do ask is you at least question your current lifestyle and examine if it’s truly the one you want to live. I can respect any lifestyle (as long as you’re not harming others), and I hope you can respect ones different from yours.
I believe travel teaches you this perspective. Everyone lives their own unique story, lifestyle and journey. None is necessarily better than any other. They are different.
I want my lifestyle to allow me to spend each day feeling alive, because tomorrow is not guaranteed.
Today & Beyond
Edge of Comfort and traveling is something that when I’m working on, everything else seems less important. I’m completely in the moment. I’ve had days where I forget to eat. Days where I start working then I look up at the clock to realize it’s 3am. Weekends where I don’t want to leave my room because of ideas and possibilities to follow. I know this sort of work is a step in the right direction.
My story is only beginning and I have an endless amount to learn and explore. I do not know where my path will go, but I can confidently say I’m excited about uncertainty.
I’m honored you care to join me and be a part of Edge of Comfort. Please do not hesitate reaching out, sharing this with someone else who might need it, or taking a chance on a crazy idea.
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