I quit my job. Now I can be me.
I had been working at the same institution for over five years. I held three positions in that time period and they were all decently paying and mostly interesting jobs. It was the longest time I’ve ever spent as an employee of any one place. I was climbing the ladder. I was on the path. Almost none of it was terrible. On paper, I belonged there — doing exactly what I was doing.
I set that paper on fire…
…and I’ve probably picked up the match a hundred times in the last five years. Pretty sure I struck it six or seven times before blowing it out and heading back into the darkness. It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of the dark.
So I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. The work I was doing was genuinely worth doing. I care about education, so working in an education focused environment was satiable. I’m good at picking up new technology and applying it to solve problems. This is what I did in pretty much every role that I took on. I was successful. I was qualified. I was competent. But I was empty.
Realistically, I’m a weirdo (hopefully in the best ways). I’m a black, smart, nerdy, queer, stylish, friendly, introverted, emotional, and affectionate man. So at work — a big, old, white, established, slow-changing, public institution — I was a fish out of water. More appropriately, I was a platypus in a waddle of penguins. Sure, I could swim and lay an egg, but we were not the same at all. Whenever I found myself talking about things I really cared about, the feedback was unremarkable. That response over the years made me a recluse. Most non-work related conversations were battered in awkwardness, deep-fried in obligation, and sprinkled with disinterest before anyone could take a bite. I lost my appetite for anything social in the workplace.
So, I went into hiding.
I physically put up barriers between myself and others for protection. I mentally walled off the topics I most frequently thought about in favor of those that were easy and acceptable. I distanced myself from my emotions while in this space, since they were mostly related to things I was no longer willing to talk about. I doubt these responses are uncommon and that’s awful. Offices, especially at larger institutions, feel like personality vacuums. Which feels bearable for 10–20 hours a week, but personally felt unhealthy and insurmountable for 40–50 hours a week.
It’s amazing I lasted for as long as I did, but for more than 3 of those years, I had a comrade. A weirdo of the same genus. I can’t understate the value of having that for all those years. I could spin my chair around and be utterly ridiculous with very little chance of being looked at with confusion or disapproval. More often than not, my antics were accepted and embraced. Even better, they would always provide a dark and absurd twist to anything that was too bland or boring. In one of my all-time favorite episodes we invented a character that will live forever in my aching tech professional heart: Project Management Cowboy — an untamed PM who could wrangle projects with the best of em’. A force to be reckoned with. Someone who didn’t care for your rules or your structure, but always managed to deliver on time and with an enthusiastic yee haw. Moments like these kept me alive when I didn’t know I was dying, except I wasn’t dying, I was depressed.
Comfort is such a interesting idea. It’s a beloved word that gives us hope. It’s a concept that is desired and sought. For me, it was shallow and painful, yet another tool I used to keep my depression warm and cozy at night. It was comfort laced with guilt like a bottomless tub of unmelting ice cream (because I despise when it refreezes). Subconsciously, I always knew what was being sacrificed — my creativity. A mountain piled high with my creative energy was being napped on by a giant in a ice cream induced sugar coma. As the number of instances where I had a creative idea but didn’t have the capacity to execute increased, my dissatisfaction for the job did as well.
On the other end of the spectrum, all the bills were getting paid, I could buy a reasonable number of unnecessary things without much thought, and I could spend money on traveling and delicious food on a pretty regular basis. I had the thing that some people work towards and don’t ever reach. I’m one of the lucky ones. I had a choice to make and I decided to give that up. I’m choosing discomfort in pursuit of something else. I’m choosing identity over prosperity. I’m choosing courage over contentment. I’m choosing challenge and growth.
I’m choosing sanity.
I’m afraid of what comes next, but I’m still looking forward to it. I have a successfully funded board game to manufacture and deliver. I have more board game ideas that I think the industry and our companies followers would be interested in. I have a love and desire to help others find their personal style and create looks that build confidence and feel empowering. I have stories to tell, poetry to write, and songs to record. I have more of myself to share than I was ever able to before and for the first time in my entire life it feels like I have to time and energy to do it.