By most metrics, I have a good job. I am compensated competitively, I have an uncommon amount of autonomy and schedule flexibility, and I have very few people I report to and have to interact with. I work at a small business that is technically a start-up, which increases my value and importance to the organization. I have insurance. Vacation days are plentiful.
I want so much to be different professionally.
I have done everything you’re supposed to do – did well in school, went to college, got a job at a good firm straightaway. Everything felt good in the moment as little victories – more to-do’s completed on the existential checklist. But it always felt wrong. I always felt I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing. That I was wrong.
After working and doing well at a mid-market company in my industry, a colleague wanted to do similar work on a smaller scale so he started his own company. I eventually joined there as well. That move checked even more boxes – in on the ground floor of a start-up, was supposed to exclusively execute the most interesting work from the previous job, and I would have a more meaningful role in the company. Even through years of transformation and getting to a place of peak schedule flexibility in my career – something still just didn’t feel right. It’s only looking back that I can fully appreciate I had never been writing the tasks on my checklist. I hadn’t even been reviewing them.
It cannot be understated how far I am from being either the first or most qualified to tell you any of this. But I can certainly attest that it’s my reality as well. And it’s really frustrating getting to a place of realization, appreciation, and willingness to act on all this. It’s taken me my entire life to do so. And even in doing that, I know this is what the rest of my life will be spent doing – working toward change, growth, and architecting the life I want.
I sought advice everywhere. But my asks were poorly veiled cries for help and answers to a life I didn’t want to live. People said to stop being so negative, to switch jobs, to switch careers, to meditate, to work out more – all perfectly fair advice, but I was still looking for all my answers externally. I was stuck in a comparison game. I was stuck blindly searching for my patch of grass.
Suffering through that comparison game without any focus or direction is really humbling. You feel utterly powerless to do anything. I was conditioned to compare my current state to opportunities, to potential opportunities, to possibilities – and then determine what was right for me. But I wasn’t able to think for myself. Not really. I was stuck comparing the value and meaning of things I had never done. Opportunities I had never had. Even after I switched from my larger corporate job to the same-industry start-up, that need to seek answers elsewhere was only held off momentarily. I knew my standing was far better, I had made an improvement – I had taken a risk to try and improve my life and even in that I was happy – but it wasn’t enough. I was taught to be thankful for what I have (the grass is always greener) but then told to never stop looking for the next big opportunity and if you’re unhappy, go find a different job – a better job. And if that doesn’t work, do it again. And again. Until it works. I was stuck comparing different plots of grass.
“The grass isn’t greener, it’s just different grass”
Even when transitioning to the start-up, that was me comparing two plots of grass and determining which one would be greener. And I’m not saying that was foolish, comparison of opportunity is a fundamental reality of life. But I was expecting this to fix something I thought was broken. All the issues that were at the old job would be fixed by this new job. And it being so small, I would be able to fix anything that was wrong because I was so integral to the company. However, my friend who mentioned this quote to me was right – it was just different grass. Some things were better, and some things were worse. And my internal struggle actually got worse. As I mentioned, on paper I have a good job. And by most metrics, my job is better than the last one. In my reality of the day to day, it’s not greener grass, it’s just different grass. There are plenty of issues that are the same as a bigger firm, and some that are unique to being smaller. It’s just different. It’s not me.
I obsessed for years over all of this. I made myself sick. I was consumed by anger and disbelief. I was sure that I had been bamboozled and I was sitting in an unchangeable situation that my passive mindset had walked me into. I was terrified that I would have to live having my life dictated to me. That nothing would ever change unless an invisible hand willed it so.
There is nothing wrong with switching jobs or careers. That is a tangible, practical approach to changing frustrations you have with a job. There is nothing wrong with staying in a job that “isn’t you” to do good work and collect a paycheck. Try both. Switch careers entirely. I have no solutions for this, only thoughts on it. The only one who can decide what is “right” for you, is you. And that opinion of what is right will probably change with time.
The point I am trying to convey, is to try to avoid the mistake I have made for years – don’t let the frustration and disdain for your position professionally consume you. The obsession over what is wrong consumes so much energy and focus, that you end up in a feedback loop of negativity. Don’t misunderstand me – I will be the first to say that there are real, crushing situations as a working professional that requires change and warrants frustration. I am a believer that critical piece that needs changing is your perspective, but not so that you can show excessive gratitude for your current standing and become complacent with it. So that you can acknowledge, grounded in reality, and so that you can see the current situation as unacceptable but you are going to work to change it and make progress, without compromising your character and mental health.
This isn’t a love piece on quitting your job and finding your way. It’s a reminder that no patch of grass will ever be right unless it’s the patch you planted, fostered, and grew yourself. It’s a reminder to sit down and reflect on how you feel, your opinion on work, the root of both of those things, and what you can do to begin a momentum swing in the direction of your choosing. It’s simply a suggestion to audit your checklist and see if someone else is holding the pen.
See you tomorrow.
Inspirations: Mortality, Choices, Living in reality
Quote: Close Personal Friend