A Quiet Life
It was a cool summer's day six years ago. I was on my now familiar walk of the neighbourhood, Welcome to Night Vale playing through my headphones (original theme tune is the best theme tune), and had found my way to me favourite spot. A bench perched on top of a slope leading down to a bendy path by a lake. The way the sunlight would glitter off the lake, and the breeze felt up there. Most of all though, it was the peace of it all.
About five minutes walk behind me was a busy road, cars hurtling down to get to the nearby hopping centre, but it was nicely tucked behind overpriced houses and tall hedges, and you could barely hear it over how beautiful the view was. And it was empty, save for the birds pecking away.
Headphones off, phone on silent and at the other end of the bench while I sat back and relaxed, taking it all in. This was what i wanted out of life, I had decided. This feeling of deep relaxation, right down to the core. The way the stillness felt on my skin. The utter bliss of the peace and quiet.
How to get there, then.
The first and perhaps most obvious thought that came to mind was money. Acquire enough money to be able to escape the treadmill of working life and be free of any obligations that I do not want. Quit the nine to five and sit on my bench whenever I please.
How to get there, then? No clue. But it was definitely a thing, right? I mean people went up in the world all the time? Couldn't be that difficult to figure out.
At this point I was still living in my delusion of perfection, coupled with my working life being in a bubble. I knew there were jobs outside of the company I was working for, I just reasoned it would be easier and safer to be hired internally than to go through probation and earn the employment rights all over again at another place. Plus, I was still studying for my degree and figured I'd get a software developer job afterwards. Not sure how that was going to work at a major insurance company, but there we go.
Problem was I hadn't quite learned the value of patience yet, so while I'm trying to study and trying to keep my long term vision in mind, I would get more and more frustrated and frankly bored of the day job. The shifts didn't help; an ever changing shift pattern, that at one point went from doing 8am to 4pm one week (meaning a 6am start to make sure I'm up and ready) to a 12pm to 8pm the next (meaning I wouldn't get back until gone 9pm).
My daily frustration levels rose, and it was getting harder and harder to keep my eye on the prize, but it was definitely coming. I'd make sure of it.
And then a lifeline appeared. How would I like a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, work from home job that also improved my salary and career prospects?
I think I'd like that a lot.
Enter my last job, where I met my old team I talked about in Good Times with Old Friends. That role didn't particularly improve my peace prospects either for the short or medium term. As it turns out, learning a new role while trying to finish your degree and keep your relationship stable after moving in together for the first time is incredibly difficult. Breakdowns, panic attacks, fight or flight situations, burn out, the lot.
But it was a foot on the next rung of my peace ladder. After I settled in the first year, I could see it the path out ahead of me. If I nailed this role, I could potentially move up a level for more money. Even better, I could shift companies, no longer particularly afraid of leaving the bubble. My team and the guys I'd spoken to had helped with that, with their long careers moving around. Leaving the bubble meant more money elsewhere, which meant more money I could save for an earlier retirement, which meant those days of sitting on the bench every day where in sight.
I'd even started using my new found confidence in my role to start networking, all the way up to the CTO, who promised to cover any course I wanted to further my role based qualifications. I was happy. I was excited. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I actually had a goal in sight.
Then they made me redundant.
Well, they made us redundant, to be less self-centred, but that was when I saw all my goals fall in front of me. I could find another job doing the same thing elsewhere, but I no longer had the luxury of time. The settlement was enough to cover some debts and our wedding, but it didn't allow for a length job search without further sacrifices, and we were already sacrificing everything to the bone so we could get out of our mold infested and tiny one bed place and buy our first proper home. I needed a job, one with comparable pay, and I needed it now.
Within a month, I had it. I'd applied for five roles: two rejected me, one ghosted me, one interviewed me then strung me along (this was doing the job I was already doing, for another company, and I'd already gotten some bad vibes from them so weren't overly bothered), and then I got my current one. A job I had no practical experience for, no qualifications for, other than a 'technical mindset' and a 'persistence to learn and do the job to the best of my ability.' At one point the interviewer asked me to talk about a time I'd met a challenge in the job.
'Well, in my current role, I was hired with little practical knowledge, zero experience, and just theoretical knowledge gained from university studies. In my first three months, I solo led several projects from requirements through to testing, and launched six applications through a business area in a single week.'
I got the job. But peace still eluded me.
First it was making sure I actually passed probation, which wasn't too difficult. The early stages of the job is mostly completing web forms to set up a customer and their site. A few months of that (and actually asking my leader rather than getting any kind of notification; my friend who referred me actually found out before I did when he got his referral bonus) and I'd passed my way into secure employment. The downside was a drop in pay, but that would be overcome at some point. The key for now was stable employment.
Then it got difficult. Then there was the wedding (story for another post). Then there was another breakdown. Then there was the hardcore therapy. Then there was the realisation that the drop in pay also included no bonus, which meant I was down more money than I thought. Then there was the house buy.
As a result, I've started ramping up the 'better job, better money, more peace' train again and have started relearning old materials for my last job. Scrum master textbooks, business analysis notes, looking at other job postings for hints and tips and firing up the old CV again.
But what if there's a better way? What if there's a, day I say it again, middle ground?
I've already started to cultivate some regular peace with our free Sunday's, where me and the wife do next to nothing all day but drink good wine, indulge in good food, walk and play with the dog, and relax in peace, quiet, and books. And occasionally Disney, capping the day off with tons of Modern Family. But the overall theme is peace, and it's a much welcome and needed addition to our week, something that we both look forward to.
My Morning Routine also has an element of peace built into it with the prayer meditation, and yoga. Historically, this has helped to balance me out in the morning and give me a good base to build the rest of my day on. I can top this up as needed with further meditation, but there's one other major question that could help me long term.
What if I cared less about my work? Or more specifically, what if I stopped letting it get to me?
A lot of my burnout is driven by other people. Their petty arguments I get sucked into, their attempts to circumnavigate process for 'quick wins' (I would ban that phrase in a heartbeat if I ever could), their lack of technical knowledge about the products that they're selling and explaining to customers. Then there's the stuff outside of my control: systems issues, VPN connection problems both in and out of the office, having to go to the office once a week to do the same job I did at home only with lots more distracting conversation and a lot more exhaustion.
Just typing that all out is giving the kind of headache that feels like I have a clamp around my temples.
Ordinarily, this is the kind of thing that would make me go mad with planning. I'd google strategies for avoiding burnout. Look up Reddit threads of others talking about giving less of a crap about their jobs. Maybe come up with a few coping strategies after an hour spent with my notebooks and try and figure out how i could intersperse them through the day.
But carrying on with my emerging theme this week, what if I just did it? Just focused on being paid either way, and doing my job as written. If they want to kick off, let them; I get paid either way. If they want to try and break the rules, fine; as long as I don't my backside is covered. If the systems are taking an hour to load, sounds like a great opportunity to get some reading or upskilling done.
Can't get around the office day though, but keeping it on a Friday and making it the absolutely last thing i have to check off for my work week to be Done is working currently. Can keep that going.
How much of my time, energy, and mental health would be spared if I just kept up an attitude of 'not my problem, here for the pay cheque'? How much further could I go if I allowed myself to free up time and energy to pursue further career goals? How much happier will I be as a result?
Let's find out.
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