Anyone who has worked with me, even as close as a year ago, would tell you that I’m a natural worrier. They’d tell you that I lived in a constant state of anxiety, trying to prepare and plan for whatever possible thing that could go wrong. By doing so, I actually made a lot of money and progressed quickly because it fit so well into the corporate tech culture of overworking martyrdom. My mantra was: “Proper planning prevents piss-poor performance.” As if I could keep chaos at bay by pre-determining it on a spreadsheet or list.
I wore busyness with pride like somehow being unaware of whether I was coming or going was a crown of prestige. In conversations with friends, social currency came in the form of who got the least amount of sleep and most amount of emergency emails late at night or early morning to respond to. I was important, damnit. The dark circles under my eyes and five cups of coffee a day jitters proved it!
At one point, completely disconnected from how rude it was, I put my cell phone earbuds in my ears while holding my phone ready to answer at a moments notice while in a one-on-one meeting with a coworker that still had fifteen minutes remaining. My mind was preparing for my next meeting before I even finished the one I was currently in. My thoughts were always in the future of “what’s next, what’s coming, what should I be anticipating?”
My cellphone only left my body to shower or sleep, and even then, it sat less than a foot away from my face on my nightstand in case I heard a beep that would wake me to check it, no matter what time. I recall responding to an email from Scott Coker (former CEO of Strikeforce, current CEO of Bellator) at 1:30 AM because I heard it come through. He’s a night owl and didn’t expect his employees to work that late, and responded to my response with, “Go to sleep. You can deal with this in the morning.” I thought it made me a better employee to always be on, always be responding, always be there.
The reality? I was a stress-case. I stress-ate unhealthy food as a reward system for working hard. My lower back would regularly seize up or go out and was in a constant state of pain. I powered through it, refusing to rest.
One time at Intel, when I had just been assigned to manage the CIO and her IT organization’s internal communications, I threw out my back the night before I was to have my first meeting with her TA (Chief of Staff) and Deputy TA. Despite the spasms of pain that would permeate my body every time I moved my foot, I was determined to not show weakness or “excuses.” I feared that if I rescheduled because of my back, they would think I wasn’t fit to do the job.
Therefore, I clenched through showering, dressing and driving (which in hindsight was extremely dangerous) to the office. I gave myself an extra twenty minutes to slowly inch my way from the parking lot into headquarters. My pain was noticeable enough that a few other employees who I’d never met before offered to carry my laptop bag on my behalf. I finally made it to the conference room where I waited 10 minutes past the start time of the meeting before I sent an email to my new colleagues, who responded that they both decided to work from home and were on the bridge waiting for me to dial in. I almost started crying right then and there, but it would have been too painful to sob.
My level of stress stressed those out around me. Happy? Who had time for that?!
Fast-forward to taking a job as the head of marketing for Angels Baseball, where I thought I had really, truly “made it.” I had a fancy title, my own parking space nameplate, corner office with a view (despite the cliche) and a large team to lead at a recognizable sports team. I went in high-strung and ready to kill it. I was going to prove I was worthy of their faith in me by being the first one in and the last one out. I skipped lunch most days, and when I ate, it was a microwaved bowl of oatmeal at my desk. I put my sweat and tears into marketing even once I got home after my hour and a half commute. This was it, this was going to make my career.
Yet, I was miserable. I won’t get into the details as to why, but after a few months of working there, I spent most of my commute home crying. I was so frazzled that my emotions were always at the tip ready to spill out. Six months in, my husband finally said: “If you’re that unhappy, quit.”
“I can’t quit,” I said. “What will everyone think of me?”
In the end, I did. My husband, who had left his job of 15 years so that I could pursue my dream job in Southern California, hadn’t found his next job yet. We were both unemployed and I was panicked about money and how we’d survive.
Not only did we survive, but we THRIVED! With no idea when we’d land our next paycheck, we had the most amazing three months of my life.
We enjoyed waking up on our own with no alarm clock. We switched our phones’ notifications to silent for email. We walked our dog together out along the beach three times a day together while talking and enjoying our environment. We sat next to each other on the couch while job hunting the first half of the day, then we went and explored the second half of the day. We found the best happy hours for each day of the week to eat and drink on a budget that ended up costing less than it would for groceries to make it. We rode our bikes, ran, worked out on the beach, swam, attended free yoga on the beach classes, and went to various other free meet-up events to simply experience new things. We spent time reading books for FUN and not for business.
Our cost of living dropped immensely with no longer paying for dry cleaning, haircuts, and our propensity to constantly buy new shoes and work outfits. We didn’t feel the need to go to expensive dinners on the weekend as our reward for a week of hard work. Instead, we wore the same 7 sets of jeans and shirts week after week. Flip flops are the bomb, by the way. We cooked a lot at home because we enjoyed trying new recipes and cooking together. Our car-gas bill went down with no longer having long commutes.
We learned to live with so much less. And we appreciated so much more.
What other time in my life will I get the opportunity to spend every day with my best friend before retiring and not because we’re on vacation? This time was such a gift.
It was also a major reset on our perspectives and our stress levels. I had gotten so out of touch with my body and my mind that I didn’t even realize the toll that it was taking on my health and my own emotional well-being. I found myself again.
We also realized we don’t need as much income as we thought we did to live a happy and fulfilling lifestyle. It even shifted how we look at our retirement and the level of savings and investment we set. We would much rather have the time together than the ‘things’ it would buy later.
With this reset, I also morphed my philosophy on work and career. It is possible to life the life you crave. Now, I look forward to my work each and every day. I still have impact, I’m still productive, and I’m still making money. Yet I’m free of stress and my mind is present in my life.
I feel more stability now than I ever did in corporate because, as an entrepreneur, my time is mine and I can go as far as I want to reach. I’m only accountable to myself and I know that anything I put my mind to, I can achieve. My fate is in my hands…and it tastes delicious!
If you want to find the confidence to pursue the life you crave, or if you want to learn how to break down the walls of stress and live more freely, I’m accepting new coaching clients. The first call is free! Email me at inversioncoaching [at] gmail [dot] com.