Progress Behind Patience
“I sit in silence resting tenuously in the clearing
Fatigued, conserving energy til enemies appearing…
Silence interrupted by the ringing in my ears
Set a goal of conquering my fears…” - Library of Babel from Bonsai
Exactly nine months ago I left a company that employed me for twelve years.
Six months before that, I voluntarily resigned from that company.
Before that, the only gap in my work history was the nine weeks in 2007 between filing bankruptcy for Big Ray’s House of Ribs and taking a temp job in order to get back on my feet. That temp job would lead into a challenging career hosting executive training cohorts at a world-class conference center.
And it would bring everything crashing down around me.
I started working when I was fourteen years old. It wasn’t even a question: if I wanted cash for anything it was my duty to hustle for it. Don’t get me wrong, my parents put food on the table, clothes on my back, and provided for whatever creature comforts they could afford. But I grew up in an affluent suburb in a time where video games and consumer electronics were being rapidly deployed to said affluent suburbs.
It was an arms race for stuff, and I was notably under-equipped.
I scored a work permit which allowed me to work the summer of 1995 in the kitchen of a small bakery. I almost immediately learned the price I would need to pay for any comforts in life: Work. Sometimes exhaustingly hard work. And lots of it. Thanks to President Clinton, the summer I started working the federal minimum wage was being raised from $4.25 to $4.75/hr (fun math tangent! In today’s dollars a $4.75/hr wage would be equal to ~$8.50, lower than the national $7.25/hr wage currently in place). I worked pretty much continuously from that summer in the bakery until now. Through high school I maintained part time work. In college I subsidized my income with work-study jobs. I began working full-time immediately after graduating. I looked for ways to scrape up extra cash as a kid. Raking leaves, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, crushing and returning aluminum cans to the recycling center. No joke, I used to sell (ice cold) sodas and candy out of my backpack in high school (I’d sit by the janky vending machine in the student center and offer a colder/cheaper product and different variety than the school offered.... They used to wonder what charity I was fundraising for when selling Blow Pops lol)
And it worked. I was able to buy the Nintendo’s and the Discmen, and rarely burdened my parents for frivolous purchases.
Sure I begged plenty, I was a kid. (sorry mom) And I knew early I wouldn’t be able to get every shiny toy or “thing” that elevated my status symbol in life. (something something building character/becoming an interesting person yadda yadda)
But I knew the better effort was in working towards what I wanted.
And in practicing patience.
OK so I’m going to write a lot more about this in other places, and I still have to fully unpack it so I can best articulate my journey, but I did leave you all hanging on the “crashing down around me” line earlier.
Suffice it to say I was being a bit dramatic. But at the time, and even in hindsight, the drama is valid.
The short version is I became stuck at my job. I was an excellent program manager and delivered memorable professional development and hospitality experiences that had people coming back for more (literally). But the work wasn’t fulfilling to me.
I became obsessed with the small mistakes vs. celebrating the major accomplishments. I began discounting the praise altogether and only focusing on the small, careless mistakes. Then I began making bigger, equally careless mistakes. Then I began judging myself negatively for those careless mistakes. Then beating myself up. Then the imposter syndrome like I didn’t even belong in the role.
You can see where the spiral is going and again I’ve already touched on the darker depths of this spiral in my creative works.
Therapy really, really, really helps. But it isn’t always enough. I am incredibly blessed that I had a close and trusting relationship with my manager who recognized my ennui and angst and very tactfully “pushed me out of the nest”.
In any other context (and VERY briefly at the onset, like for three hours in January 2020) it would be valid to feel like I was ‘forced out’, but really I was forced to confront my options and to realize that my worst option was doing nothing. I left on my own, and I accept all the consequences positive and not-so-positive.
Patience has been a truly hard skill for me to master.
Knowing I could afford the big ticket item if I saved never eliminated the persistent daily temptations to spend. We live in a culture of conspicuous consumption after all.
And I was able to save for those things, but it wasn't easy.
We’re faced with temptations all the time. Sales and Marketing teams are paid handsomely to make sure you are constantly purchasing their frivolous widgets. We are assaulted with sales pitches on a near constant basis. As I type this and casually glance around my room I see over ten distinct corporate logos, all waiting to be used and congratulating me for my purchases.
I have come to a point in my life where my impatience is also being rewarded.
It sounds like bragging but it’s exercising gratitude. Over the summer of 2020 my wife and I were both unemployed (her involuntarily). In no small part due to the global pandemic unfolding around us and the resulting (albeit infuriatingly underwhelming) government aid, we are still kicking.
In fact we're thriving, we've cinched our belts here and there but more or less have not experienced the crippling financial woes of millions of others during the past year.
Because I left my job voluntarily I was not able to apply for state unemployment benefits. I am insanely lucky that the pandemic unemployment program is in place to cover people that fell through the cracks, even though I only tuned into it a few weeks ago.
Panicked? yes. Anxious? Check. Adrift? Roger that.
I have spent a lot of time in the past nine months conflicted. Back in January 2020 Kelly and I both agreed the best path forward for me was discovery, and that would take time.
And despite the requisite global catastrophe, I am exactly on that path.
I felt guilty at first, like I was wasting time.
But then came the revelation: I was wasting time at work, at a job where I wasn't growing. And that wasn’t my time, technically. Now, every moment I spend awake is mine.
The lack of structure around that is terrifying… And early feelings of a lack of productivity were anxiety-inducing.
But anyone who knows me knows that I have no trouble diving headlong into challenges that scare me.
And I do not regret leaving my previous job. Not even a little. I loved the job but it ran its course, and what I've gained in the past nine months has been worth the loss in income.
And it opened up a wellspring of creative energy. THREE full-length projects in 2020, one of which I fully engineered and produced 75% of. A new band launched in the beginning of 2021 (second single dropping any day now!). New updates to the website. The ability to sit and write weekly.
The blessings have been abundant, if not always evident. Reflection too takes patience.
I have made a solid amount of personal progress in the past nine months, even though my resume will only list the time as “unemployed”.
It disrupts the narrative I built that I was unproductive or lazy, or perhaps unable to function in a professional capacity. I was just in the wrong job, I believe that now instead of just knowing it logically.
And now I have the time (if I can be patient) to find the career I am meant to pursue.
I’m primed and ready to re-discover my professional path and apply my energies to an organization doing unique and challenging things. But the labor market is still a bit soft, the economy still thawing from a long winter and a rolling global and domestic economic catastrophe. Now that I am no longer feeling acute financial angst, I can afford to seek a job that I want vs. any job that I can do. I can interview without reeking of raw desperation. Financial problems can paralyze your creativity, rob you of energy, and alter your personality, I know from experience.
(Plus, employers can smell it on you).
I am committing to discovery.
I am committing to sitting still.
Letting the panicked waters settle.
Feeling my heart rate slow and my breath settle.
Listening for my true calling. My vocation (this is one of my favorite words).
Recognizing the progress I’ve made.
Thank you for reading! Doc Wattson
Native Stranger Productions