What I hate to see: People who are unhappy, stuck, constantly talking about how desperately they need to change things, and then never, ever, actually doing anything about it. They instead just trudge on through life, year after year, feeling trapped, ashamed, and frustrated.
I have a friend who is mortified every time an old high school classmate walks into the grocery store where she works as a clerk, because she hates for them to know that she's still there. Doing the same thing. Never got a degree or learned how to drive or did any of the other normal 'adult' things that you do. It's been that way for years.
And yet there she is. And it doesn't ever change.
This isn't judgement time. People can be who they want to be, and if she was happy where she was then that would be fine. Your choice of career certainly doesn't have to (and probably shouldn't!) define you. Nor am I judging her for not doing more to change the situation despite her obvious desire to. It can be so, so hard. I know. I have been there.
I think the fact that I've been there is what makes it so maddening for me to watch other people struggle, people who haven't yet found the courage to make a change. That tiny step that will redefine the rest of their lives. It kills me because I know how close it is. How the only thing holding these people back is their own self doubt. And I wish I could help them see that it’s not as daunting as it seems, that once you shift and move towards your goals, it's suddenly so much easier, and you're so proud of yourself, and you realize you CAN be whoever you want to be. It's such a beautiful feeling. The best feeling in the world.
Ok enough with the ridiculous speeches.
I'm not trying to write some self-indulgent piece about how awesome, happy, and fulfilled I am. I am very normal. I am often lazy and unmotivated. I pick my nose all the time. I am awkward as hell in most social situations. But I don’t feel stuck or like I’m in a rut. There was a time when I did. The best decision I have ever made was to do something about it.
Six years ago, I was working for a big-box store. I'd barely graduated from high school, I dropped out of college, and then settled into the life of a corporate retail cog.
I didn't make a lot of money. I lived on my own, but barely. My life was nothing but working 9 hour shifts, then walking the hour home, rain or shine, and polishing off my day by sitting in my basement suite surfing the Internet and eating canned soup.
I wasn't totally miserable, but it wasn't exactly how I thought my early twenties were going to be either.
I eventually transitioned from a crappy boyfriend to a very awesome boyfriend, and the new, awesome boyfriend one day asked me what the heck my plan was.
"I guess I'll go back to school eventually."
"But when? Why not now?"
… Good question.
I'd always viewed my situation as some temporary state of being, that one day I'd discover my passion, go to school, and live happily ever after. I had all the time in the world before that had to happen, though. (Word to the wise: Despite popular opinion, you don't have all the time in the world. Life is short. Use it.)
But I'd been at my big-box-store job for 3 years, and there was absolutely no indication that anything was going to change. I was only sinking deeper.
There were so many obstacles that I used as excuses. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I couldn't afford to go to school and pay rent at the same time. It's too late. Everyone my age is graduating from university while I'm just starting.
But when would these issues ever improve? If anything, they were only going to get worse.
And I suddenly realized that I had to do something. I had to prove to myself that I was more than just some college drop-out working a minimum wage job.
So I went back to school. Since I didn't have any great passions, I picked Computer Science on a bit of a whim - I'd been a hobbiest web developer since I was a kid.
I’m not saying it was a walk in the park. It was expensive. Sacrifices were made. I struggled. There was doubt. Even from my own mother, who wondered out loud if I just wasn't the academic type (”Not that there's anything wrong with that!" she then quickly squeezed in) I was insulted, but her questioning only served to fuel the fire.
I worked harder than I'd ever worked in my life. I studied like crazy, I forced myself to network with everyone I met, I powered through driving lessons and got my first car.
In my first semester of math, a subject that I had never done better than a C+ in since elementary school, I finished top of my class, only one question wrong on the final exam. I was committed.
I felt, somehow, that this was my last chance. That if I screwed things up, I would have failed myself, and that I was not the valuable, smart, talented person who I had always thought I was deep down.
Luckily, I didn't screw it up.
I graduated with honours, won two awards for being at the top of my program academically, and had job offers before I'd even finished school. It felt so. good.
My therapist tells me that people who feel as though they have some control over lives, that they can actively work to make things better for themselves, are much happier overall. And man, do I ever believe that. I’ve experienced it first hand.
Now I am here. I finished school in 2011, and I'm currently employed at an awesome company doing work that I love. I go to the gym three times a week, I'm getting married next summer (to the awesome boyfriend, of course), I've upgraded from a basement suite to a (modest) apartment with beautiful waterfront views, and I'm surrounded by great people whom I both admire and respect. I'm not some big name in the technology community, I'm not a programming whiz or a high roller or anything special at all. I am very very average. But I'm also very very happy with my life and with myself, in a way that I never was before.
And I want that for everyone. Lots of people never experience anything like the painful life inertia that I did. They're motivated right from the get-go, and I totally admire that. But for those who are struggling, whether it means with a stagnant career, an inability to get into shape, or just an overwhelming urge to shake off the mundane and move to a different country… Every second you wait is just one more second you could have spent in a happier place. So do something. It's worth it.