26 Aug Changing My Self, Not my Job
During the past several months I have been struggling to figure many things out. One of those is an ongoing pattern in my life of work dissatisfaction. I usually last about 3 years in a job before I hit some sort of wall and want out immediately. This happened again in my current position of managing mental health and substance use services. Everything about the job became empty, meaningless, I didn’t care about the problems I had been trying to fix, but I had nowhere else I wanted to go, no other piece of work I wanted to move to. This is usually how it works for me – it becomes more about getting out of something than moving toward something better.
I was doing a lot of writing and soul searching. At one point I thought this was finally the moment when I was going to break free and find my true calling. I wasn’t sure if that was writing or not, but it felt like it was something more creative, something where I could truly have a voice that others could respond to, find value in, and appreciate. To find validation in our gifts is powerful and sometimes it feels I can’t seem to find that.
I wrote a very impassioned blog piece about an Avett Brothers song that was speaking to me about deciding what to be and going to do that. “Decide what to be and go be it,” became a line that haunted me, as well as another line of a song that sings “I have to find that melody alone.” I felt like I was going to break through into a big aha moment. I wanted it so badly.
But something else happened.
Before I get into that, I want to explain how the desire to break free into some true calling I wasn’t previously unaware of also had a very insecure element to it. Not just because it was unknown, but I think because I wanted it so badly. It didn’t even exist yet. I wanted it so badly that it could have become dangerous for me psychologically. I don’t know how else to really articulate this piece so I’ll leave it there for now.
I had been on vacation for a week when I had done some of my writing about deciding what to be and being it. I returned to work for a week and just couldn’t get out from under hating my job and feeling stressed by every single thing I had to do. I had seen a nutritionist and she had me start taking some supplements to help rebuild my adrenals since they were pretty shot. I was trying what I could to get better. My colleague at work was about to go on vacation the following week and I was dreading it. We both manage the mental health and substance use services in our community and do a lot of things together while having separate portfolios we are responsible for. It is a very busy time right now with a lot of change and pressure occurring. My colleague is better with some of the more detailed aspects of our work and I just wasn’t feeling confident about her leaving for 2 weeks. I just thought I would have to push through it like I do everything – until I crash in some way. Crashing would have to wait 2 weeks at the least.
That weekend before my colleague was going to be away two things helped me dramatically. My wife thought that our constant thinking and talking about moving wasn’t helping me to just do my job. She was right. It created unstable ground for me. The franticness of my searching for a better place was not helping me be grounded enough to face stress and work. So because we had been thinking and talking about this for a couple months with no great resolution or signs or leads, we decided that for now we are going to stay where we are. If something comes along in the future and leads us elsewhere then we will follow if it is right but no more forcing it and not knowing what we are going towards. This helped me just feel a bit more settled and at home, situated, grounded, whatever.
The other thing that helped, probably helped even more, was I sat down to journal exactly why I felt so stressed and opposed to my current job. I had liked it for the first 2.5 years and thought I had finally found my vocation. There was a lot I liked about it but now, all of a sudden I couldn’t stand any of it. Everything felt wrong about it. Everything about it felt the opposite of me. This confused me. So I asked myself one simple question in my journal and started to explore it.
“What is it that I’m feeling when I think of the building?” We just moved into a new building and just thinking of going there made me more than anxious – I just didn’t want to go there or be a part of it at all. Having done Focusing work and spending quite a bit of years reflecting on my feelings I can get in touch with the felt sense of something. Interestingly I stopped this sort of work several years ago because I was tired of my own self and psychology and over analyzing everything. I realized later that it had been a long time since I truly sat with and listened to my emotions. I had gotten away from myself.
So I sat there in front of my computer screen as I journaled on Evernote and closed my eyes to reflect on the felt sense of where I work and what it brought up for me.
Don’t know what I’m doing.
Yes, they don’t seem super surprising. They were to me. I thought this was more about goodness of fit and was just no longer the work I wanted to be doing. I had been trying to figure things out with my brain for weeks. Just sitting there and feeling these feelings was eye opening to say the least. I was surprised with how much fear was actually there. Fear to truly be myself, fear to fail, fear of getting in trouble, and ultimately fear that staff don’t like me. I know some staff don’t like me and have been okay with that – intellectually. I was able to get in touch with the overall sense of threat my job posed to my ego/self structure. I work hard and constantly think about work which stresses me out. I do like problem solving but I also fear dropping the ball on something and screwing up and this drives me. Fear drives me. Fear runs my life. So I look fairly together and confident to most people at work but inside I’m working my ass off to protect myself from everyone else’s judgment. And when I do experience their judgment I just feel anger towards them. So my fear will often turn into anger. This is all basic basic stuff that I”ve worked with countless clients on. But these are all just words. It was actually taking the time to truly sit with the EXPERIENCE of this in my body. To just LISTEN to myself in this way, which I had not been doing.
So did I go forth and become all fearless and open and vulnerable on Monday? Nope. But I did feel different. I even felt some energy. I started to think about being more vulnerable, open, reliant on others. I am still working on this. My default at work as I observe it is very engrained. I started to think about how I need to connect more with the people at work, especially my staff who I fear rejection from the most. I started to get a bit more excited about leadership again, but actually becoming more intimate with them, something that scares me. I was more in touch with the strength of my false self or ego that desired perfection and being amazing at my job. I’m not amazing at my job. I do many things well but there’s lots I have to learn as well and wanting to be amazing but not actually coming through on that leaves the false self depressed. I could not get to the ideal of doing every aspect of my job amazingly so I had a lot of my own self judgment that was depressing me. So I really tried to see how I could let go of that protective amor. Allow myself to be more open and willing to be imperfect, make mistakes, not know what I’m doing and be okay with it. Rely on others. Not have to be right or have my idea be validated or even stay my idea and get credit. How can this all just be less about me??? Letting go of this false self and its crazy desires will actually allow me to be more myself and feel less alone, disconnected, and inadequate.
It all sounds so cliche. What was profound for me though was that all that was in there being felt and I just wasn’t paying attention. And then I thought about so many people at work who are working from that same fearful place. I don’t know if I see many people able to operate at such a spiritually grounded place in such a busy environment. So that’s my goal now. To try and do that and encourage my colleagues to find that place as well. It’s the only way we will be able to sustain the work.
This experience led me back in Buddhism for the time being because of the realization of such a powerful self structure working so hard to protect itself. I also felt that I really needed a way to be in the moment and separate myself from my work. What really started to help me was how my felt sense changed slightly as I felt through and processed all of this, allowing me to focus instead on this more profound spiritual grounding that I required in my life instead of the search for the perfect job situation. I am not my job. That’s been hard for me to stay connected to. I think it’s easier for other people but because work is a place I want intellectual and creative and personal validation it is very hard for me. My false self senses so much threat in a work environment with so many other people involved that once I am in that environment I go into self preservation mode and I become my work. I become my success or lack thereof. I am not just a person doing this work who also does other things. This is it. So the way my focus turned back to my body, my emotions, my spiritual sense of being in this world, and the attempt to be more present the more able I was to separate myself. THAT was now my goal, my ideal. To be more grounded wherever I was. Wherever you go there you are. I started to hate that idea because I wanted a reason to keep running. I still don’t think this is the town I want to live in but I am more okay with that when I focus instead on detachment from craving.
In one of those previous blog posts about chasing my dream I got all impassioned and said that I refused to believe I was just trying to find greener grass. I said that my father and others would say “Jason, you won’t find happiness in your job.” In some ways I am eating some humble pie. Half of it anyway. There are still elements to my journey that I still believe in when it comes to finding my voice better in my vocation but I guess what shocked me was that there still might be ways of me doing that in my current job.
Because of that shift I have been able to do my job again and felt strong doing in these past two weeks my colleague was away. I’m still overwhelmed but that has more to do with the job and when I can take moments to step back and acknowledge that, bring awareness to that, I can breathe again. I’m still struggling with energy and sometimes I still feel unsure if this work environment is healthy but then other moments I feel valued and that my contributions to the system are important and meaningful.
But I am going to keep focusing on changing my self not my job.