How My Therapist Gave Me My Best Career Advice Yet
I’ve been thinking a lot about Total Honesty Tuesday. I have yet to contribute something myself, but I enjoy the roundup and appreciate people who are willing to take a risk in order to share their stories with others. They’re doing a little bit of good for the world — or at least for Instagram.
Recently, I’ve been struggling with a very scary decision on my own to drop down to part time hours at my job. I previously wrote about how to survive office burnout, and the steps I was taking to relieve some of the pressures burnout can cause. If you are unfamiliar with depression, it’s kind of like getting trapped in a sinkhole. If you try to climb out and your foot slips just as the hole gets a little deeper, you fall further than you had before. With each slip, the sinkhole becomes deeper and you fall a little further. And it hurts.
Whenever someone is diagnosed with depression, your risk of relapse goes up. And with each relapse you have, the greater the chance of having another relapse that’s worse than the one before.
I was stuck in a sinkhole.
And then a part-time position opened up at work.
There have been part-time positions open at my work before, but I always ignored them. Even just a month ago I wouldn’t have thought that it would be possible to work part time and still live the relatively comfortable life that I have now. I would lose health insurance, my 401k contribution, a future house, a large wedding, etc etc etc. I was fretting over a future that I would ruin if I went part time.
I’ve been open about my experience in therapy and the importance of cognitive behavioral thinking. People tend to wrap themselves in their own negative thoughts, and as they do, the world becomes dark and dangerous. Your body can get stuck in perpetual fight or flight response, as there is no living to be done when everything is out to get you.
This was how I lived my life every day. Everything was a threat. Life was out to get me.
You’re letting your thoughts control your life,” my therapist said to me. “Get off the stage,”
I didn’t understand that at first. In everyone’s head, I thought (ha ha), they are the star of their own play, their own lives. Your thoughts are you. You can’t help but be on the stage. Your thoughts control you, not the other way around. I didn’t realize how wrong I was.
If you’re an actor on stage, you have pre-written lines, stage directions to follow, lighting to bake under, and other actors to respond to. These are your thoughts. Thousands of thoughts go through your head every day and most you are not in control of. If you let your negative thoughts run your life, you will live in a state of constant anxiety and fear. You will miss every important exit along the way, and continue on the path that is (often) making you incredibly unhappy, only because it is familiar.
So what do you do?
Get off the stage. Take control. Observe. You say to yourself “I am holding a script. I am on a stage. I am in a play.” If you start to have negative thoughts, observe them, acknowledge them, respect them, and let them go. Then get off the stage.
If it sounds hippy-dippy, you’re not wrong. But it works.
I am at a crossroads. If I continue down the same path, even though it offers a degree of financial security, 401k, work-sponsored health insurance, and other trappings of a comfortable adult life, I will keep letting fear control my life. Fear of events that have not happened yet and may never happen, but influence every thought to the point that I become too paralyzed to make a decision. If I continue to live this way, I will be in a constant stage of hesitation while managing my burnout — which, even though I have learned to do it, is no way to live.
But if I take a risk, a positive risk, the rewards could be great.
I’ll lose health insurance.” There’s the state exchange program. If part-time is essential to what you truly desire, you can find alternative programs outside your employer.
I’ll make less money.” You hardly made enough for the stress to be worth it anyway. Plus, you’re good at budgeting.
What if I get into trouble with rent?” You are on a month-to-month lease, your parents still love you and will let you move home if you can’t afford rent, and you are capable of admitting that if it should happen.
What if I fail?” You’re failing by default if you don’t try.
What do I want? I don’t know.” Yes, you do.
I want to write. I want to make a YouTube channel to help people who are suffering like I was. I want to pick the brains of people who created their own business out of something that they are incredibly passionate about. I want to live the life that I believe will bring me the most joy — to give myself the chance, while young and untethered, to live a less comfortable lifestyle, but one that allows me to explore my dreams and pursue totally new parts of my skill set. I’m ready to give up a little bit of security, get off the stage, and truly live. Life really is too short to be miserable every single day. I can’t do the things I want to do in my current situation.
My Total Honesty Tuesday confession: I’m getting off the stage. I am taking control.
(And happy anniversary to The Financial Diet!)