This is the second article following The Irony of Quitting My Job to Take a Sabbatical, a series on what I learned and what I’d recommend from quitting my job to take a six-month sabbatical without another job in sight. Here, I talk about the years leading up to the tipping point, and the ways I hid from the change I needed to make in my life.
“Without change, something sleeps inside of us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”
– Frank Herbert
Change is one of the few certainties in life, and yet many of us choose to reject this certainty, preferring known evils to the vast unknowns. I know this all too well. It’s much easier, safer and more convenient to succumb to the status quo—even when it’s no longer beneficial.
Leaving college, I thought I was on a great career track. The first three years, I did all the things I was supposed to do: worked long hours, volunteered for extracurricular resume-builders, attended company networking events, and got promoted.
The next three years before I quit, the track started heading downhill. And even though I knew corporate finance wasn’t for me, I tried my best to make the wrong thing work.
This period included a whole lot of rationalizing, denying, enduring, distracting and other attempts in the name of sticking the course. We all do this to differing extents when we see a major change in the near distance threatening to overhaul everything we know.
The ways we hide from change are how many of us drift along in careers, life circumstances, or relationships we dislike. They are how years, even decades, of avoidance can pass by, never to return.
They are how we lead diminished lives lacking the vitality and energy we’d have if we only just awaken.
Looking back, I now see the following behaviors for what they truly were.
These are the 4 ways we hide from change in our lives.
1) We tell ourselves lies
I was masterful at telling myself lies, rotating between solace, fear, guilt, or responsibility—all to make myself feel better about the stagnant course I was on.
During a stressful year of working with the worst manager I’ve ever worked with:
It’s not really that bad. I just need to make it through this busy period of time. My hours are better than they used to be. It’ll get better in June.
When I wondered why I was putting myself through this misery.
I need to keep on earning money for our savings, for the down payment, for future retirement. It’s not meant to be all fun and games. It’s irresponsible to let go of a good job with good benefits.
And when things approached unbearable…
I can’t afford to quit. We need to save up for upcoming big purchases. My parents will be furious if I quit without a plan. Other people will think I’m an idiot for leaving. Maybe I’m asking for too much. Maybe this is just how all jobs are supposed to be.
The mind is unparalleled in its creativity when it comes to coming up with ways to avoid danger.
The lies are offered up as advice for self-preservation, deceptively poised as what will be the best for you. It may be difficult to distinguish the difference, but it’s key to recognize the lies you’re telling yourself.
2) We try to fix ourselves
When we start becoming wiser to the lies, we try another route by finding ways to “fix” ourselves.
I spent many months working with professionals, coming to them with the belief there was something wrong with me.
I saw a psychologist for a while to help me figure out why I was incapable of happiness. After a couple months, we highlighted the main culprits as a few unproductive thought patterns and my uninspiring and stressful job.
In typical Amy-fashion, I came up with a game plan to improve my thought patterns (more on that later) and find a better job. After viewing hundreds of job postings without any real interest or luck, I hired a career coach. My hope was he would help me find my perfect career and job.
Even with his assessments, cheerleading, encouragement and help, nothing continued to pique my interest. None of the listings were compelling enough for me to really want the job. And while I somehow knew anything in a traditional corporate setting wouldn’t do it for me, I continued to look around. With minimal energy left over when I got home from work, my job search attempts were half-hearted and eventually drew to an end.
There wasn’t anything wrong with me; I was simply (unsuccessfully) trying to make a wrong thing work.
Yet I continued in my belief that there was something wrong with me. I felt stuck, unable to do anything until I figured out the answer for myself.
3) We think we need to be certain
The illusion of clarity played a hand.
As Lao Tzu said, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
I change direction more easily now when I’m not feeling something, but the past me wasn’t having it. I knew my current track was wrong for me, but with the lack of clarity on which track to choose, I proceeded onwards—an internal war waging between my wistful intuition and ruthlessly practical mind.
I don’t know what else I’d do. I need more time. I’ll make a move when I figure it out. I need to know with certainty before I do anything. I don’t want to change for the wrong thing. I don’t want to make a mistake.
In the absence of knowing, don’t stay the same if you’re unhappy with where you currently are.
We all know what happened. I fooled myself into thinking I needed a clear and certain plan of action before making a change.
4) We distract ourselves from the frustration
Plentiful distractions made it easier to continue on my path of stagnancy.
I signed myself up for more “resume-building” extracurricular activities so I had less time to think about how miserable I was. I watched hours of TV, turning it on shortly after I got home from work and keeping it on the background—the fictitious issues a numbing distraction against my own. I indulged in retail therapy, walking in to the stores to browse, buying to experience the thrill of something new to compensate (briefly) for the new that I really wanted in my life.
Within the three-year span, my husband and I also got married and bought our first house. These two big milestones provided enough on my plate to conveniently and effectively distract me further, until they didn’t—six months after we bought and settled into our home.
When we become aware of these 4 ways we hide from change and cease to tolerate them, we realize what’s the true obstacle. What are the ways you hide from change in your life?
My realization led to an important part of the process, the point when I got real with myself—the tipping point.