This was hard for me to write.
As a self-described overachieving perfectionist, I cared too much about pleasing people all throughout my childhood and adolescence. I tackled numerous projects, tasks, and standardised tests in order to prove myself worthy of respect and admiration from my family, friends, and even casual acquaintances.
I socialised with people I did not like in order to appear benevolent; I performed jobs that were beneath me in order to appear helpful; I ate things that disgusted me in order to appear gracious.
In short, I let people take advantage of me. I hold my hand to that.
And if you’re anything like me, doing these things leaves you feeling overstretched and overburdened by life. Pissed off, worried, maybe even overwhelmed about your commitments.
So this post is for all of us who work too much, play too little, and never have enough time to devote to the people and things that truly make us happy.
Because the life I described above makes no sense and is counterproductive to living our best lives.
I was almost twenty-five years old when I began to realise it was possible to live a simple life, despite society implying otherwise, but it took nearly two years before I figured out how to breathe this out loud. And I am still not fully there.
In the summer of 2015, I quit my job at a major bank, a career that had been twenty-one years in the making, to start my own business as a freelance writer, editor and project manager. The day I walked out of my high-rise office building – sliding down that corporate ladder faster than a stripper down the last pole of the night – I eliminated a whole category of stress and importance I had previously given to managers, colleagues, my commute, my ‘work’ wardrobe, my alarm clock and more.
I stopped caring about huddles, about ‘away days’. I stopped giving a damn about “business-casual” and “project working groups”. I stopped keeping track of my annual leave like a prisoner tallying her sentence in hash marks on the cell-block wall. Instead, I took time off as I pleased because I knew that this wasn’t it for me.
Once I was released from the yoke and shackles of corporate ennui, I naturally had a bit of time on my hands and the freedom to spend it as I wished. I slept until I was damn well ready to get up, ate lunch with whomever I chose, without having to feel the need to engage in idle chit chat, worked on a freelance gig or two (actually three but who’s counting, after all, I got to choose) and avoided the underground during rush hour!
But when I was wrestling with the idea of quitting my corporate job to go freelance, I was extremely anxious about all aspects of my decision – chief among them, abandoning my “career-track” and dropping a bomb on my bank account. I was also consumed with worry about what other people (friends, family, boss, colleagues) would think about my decision. Is she lazy? Capricious? Suddenly too rich to work? Now I am comfortable in my choices, I can unpack those feelings.
In hindsight, these were relatively minor worries.
Instead, I’ve started caring about things like “where my next freelance job is coming from” and “keeping my website up to date”. But I don’t mind caring about those things because the freelance life brings me more sleep and more time with my husband. And my commute is now about thirty feet, from my bed to my couch.
I no longer have feelings of guilt, obligation, or anxiety that once caused me to behave in a manner that, while least objectable to other people, was often detrimental to my own levels of annoy vs joy.
So, as this is a new month and technically a new beginning (even though for me I think every day is a new chance to start again) instead of saying yes right away to please others, take a moment to question not only whether you care about the matter in hand but whether it deserves your time, energy, or money. It’s only after honestly answering these questions that we can allocate our cares to the people and things, tasks and events, ideas and pursuits that annoy us least and, in turn, offer up the greatest capacity for happiness.
I am not asking you to be selfish, I am simply asking you to be truer.
Knowing what you care about, and knowing what you shouldn’t care about, are brilliant things to know. When you really know those things, you get to concentrate less on what you’re supposed to be doing and more on how you’re going to create a life that makes you smile.
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