“It’s so nice to finally be paid for doing what I went to school for,” I told a family member at a gathering soon after starting my first full-time, salaried job. They smiled and nodded in agreement, patting me on the back with support. Pride brimmed from ear to ear as I shared my newfound success with anyone who listened.
Yes, I had made it. I had something to celebrate. After eight years of college, two degrees, and thousands of hours of unpaid work as an intern, I was finally being monetarily recognized. And that is a big frickin’ deal!
I was pumped about this job that seemed to have dropped out of the sky and into my lap. The hours were flexible, the pay was good enough, and my coworkers were super friendly. I saw myself moving up in the company over the next five to ten years, and making a name for myself as a seasoned art therapist.
I didn't know how I got so lucky as to have landed this “dream job” within a year of graduating from grad school.
Perhaps because of my perceived luck, my rose-colored glasses were a little more rosy than others’ might have been. When things started to happen that should have alerted me to the job’s wrong fit, I justified them. Hard.
“I’m still learning. Of course it feels terrible to go to work every day. It will get better.”
“Everyone probably feels this much anxiety.”
“I’ll just have to make sacrifices. I can’t complain too much… I have a stable job.”
Over time, and through many traumatic experiences, the disregard of my feelings and intuition turned into physical problems. I started to get cluster migraines. I started to gain weight. I crept into depression.
But I held on to my justifications. I held on to the dream. In the name of stability, in the name of fear, and in the name of not wanting to cause problems for others by quitting… I stayed.
It wasn’t until, after relentless physical pain, I sat down and actually considered how I want to feel every day. Ideally. I actually pictured my dream life… What I’d be talking about every day. How I’d feel when walking into work. How I’d feel at the end of the day.
And let me tell you, just opening myself up to imagine this ideal life took a lot of courage, because deep down, I knew. I knew that this job didn’t fit into my dream, but I really really wanted it to. I so badly wanted to just make it work.
But the reality was, my ideal life looked absolutely nothing like my current life at the time.
So I had to do one of the most courageous things we humans ever do: let go.
I had to let go of the story of my future that I had already written. I had to let go of my hope that this job would give me what I needed. I had to let go of my pride.
I had to let go of my fear of others’ judgments about me. I had to let go of my idea of stability. I had to let go of my tendency to look out for others’ needs before my own.
And ultimately… I had to let go of the job.
Because, once I got clear on what I actually wanted my life to look like, I couldn’t unsee it. I couldn’t unfeel it.
It’s like walking around in cheap shoes that don’t really fit you well, but you know, they’re good enough. Then you walk past a fancy shoe store and think, “Oh, what the heck! I’ll try on some shoes.” And then… BAM! You try on a pair that makes your feet feel like they’re cradled in clouds and angels are gingerly supporting your aching arches in all the right places, and you’re like, “Holy crap! That’s what I could be walking around in?”
How would you put your old shoes back on?
Sure, you might hang on to the old ones for a bit while you save up for the cloud shoes, but you’re getting those freaking shoes!
If you’re currently living in the illusion of a dream you created in the past, and you’ve outgrown your job situation, go look at shoes. Envision your ideal life.
Try this five minute exercise:
Grab a journal, or scrap piece of paper. Close your eyes, and picture your ideal work day. Money, time, and real-life obligations/jobs are non-issues here. Let your imagination run wild. When do you wake up? How do you feel when you wake up? What do you eat for breakfast? For lunch? How do you spend your time? What are you getting paid to do? How do you feel when you’re doing your work.
Write stream of consciousness style, meaning, whatever comes to your head, write it down. Doesn’t matter if it’s complete nonsense or an incomplete sentence. Write as if you’re narrating your ideal work day.
With this information, you’ll be able to identify what kind of shoes (let's continue this metaphor, shall we?) you need. And yes, it might be scary as hell to imagine getting new shoes (or making adjustments to your existing ones) right now and all sorts of limiting thoughts might come up, but always remember:
Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s acting while being afraid. Don’t let fear dictate your happiness and wellbeing.
Because your feet deserve to be comfortable and supported.
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