Next week my 11 month contract is ending, it has me feeling very ponderous on if it was a waste of my time or what. I didn’t want another contract job when I took it, the work was quite different from what I thought, and I felt trapped, useless, and unhappy. I started the whole job with a visit to my friends in Oakland that had me thinking two things: life is all about children and sunshine. Of course the reality is; no kids in the tech industry and zero sunshine in a Seattle winter.
As winter pressed on my mind exploded into itself with dissatisfaction. Earlier that year I’d done a freelance job that I could not succeed at without learning to be a good programmer. Although I picked up a lot of code then, the ‘becoming a programmer’ thing didn’t happen (nor will it). So I was already in a state of “I’m sub-par at jobbery” when I started this gig, an attitude that fed my anger and misanthropy because I knew from previous jobs that I’m an I-can-do-almost-anything genius. Just not anymore. Being a contractor in a full-time-employee-centric environment threw steaming piles of inadequacy on top of my broken self esteem.
But when I look back on this year, now that it’s finally over, I feel like a winner. This is because of my nonstop dedication to a better life. I looked hard for a better job and when that wasn’t panning out, I faced the unpleasant truth:
There would be no meaning until I made some meaning for myself. I had no choice but to find meaning in the little things. To feel useful on my own terms.
An old friend worked nearby my first few months, a huge boon of this job. He became my sufi. He saw my angst and threw his all into helping me find the light. He supplied me with Guy Finley, Ekhart Tolle, encouraged me to use the Seattle Public Library, encouraged me to read and watch movies, encouraged me to mediate and try new meditations and exercises, and encouraged me to love myself, love others, and find peace. I knew it was working for him, based on the eternally-blissed-out look on his heretofore scowling face, and I wanted a piece of that bliss too.
I looked for a new home that was mold-free. My eczema was all over my body and having a stressful job situation made it explode. I labelled myself a pariah and was ashamed to show people my face, but I still came into work every day. At least I had a steady income, so I threw my all into finding a new apartment, threw away about 80% of my belongings, and started fresh. My eczema, which had been plaguing me for years, went away and is yet to come back.
I started volunteering. Determined to be a little bit useful to society, I found a gig on Craigslist that was right next door to my office. I conversation coach senior citizens who immigrated here from other countries and can’t speak much English. It’s been a real challenge but I’m getting damn good at drawing even the shyest people out.
I discovered Magic: The Gathering via some coworkers, and my love affair with it is legendary. I also discovered I could still be really fun in group situations, and have lots of fun in group situations. I thought that went away forever when I quit drinking 3 years ago, but being forced into a group situation proved me wrong, much to my glee.
I bought my own health insurance. I’ve been on terrible contractors insurance and/or COBRA for years, I owed tons of money for eczema treatments, and I was going out of my mind that I couldn’t find a job with health insurance. So I did exhaustive research, quizzed all my fellow contractors, and wound up at group health. It costs $400 a month but I can finally see the doctor without fear.
I was determined to be able to keep my behavior in check. During the most stressful work times, a couple emotional outbursts (tears in a meeting, dressing-down a coworker) were enough to mortify me and drive my self esteem even further down. So with my new health insurance, I went to the doctor for help. He sent me to the shrink. The shrink told me I had to stop drinking caffeine to keep my anxiety down.
So I quit coffee and soda. Then the shrink told me to get more exercise, so I started running. Lo, my outbursts are nowhere to be found.
I started posting my ‘things that make me happy’ list on facebook every day, determined not to be so miserable, to not just sit around despondently wondering why everyone was enjoying a full life but me. Suddenly I started to realize I have SO MUCH. Even things I thought were lame turned out to be blessings. No kids = able to relax for hours on end. Boyfriend in nearby city = every time I see him is a thrill.
I read, and read, and read. In just six months or so, my library membership has become one of the greatest and most used things in my life. A facebook comment on my happy list brought me to the book “The Happiness Project” which provided a flurry of inspiration on how to discover happiness, including, wait for it: STARTING A BLOG! My happiness has been increasing ever since I read this book and started applying some of its ideas.
I already had a steady ‘art night’ that I never missed, its been my oasis of creativity in a storm of paralysis. But in the past year I’ve discovered whole new artistic sides of myself. Thanks to a gift from my boyfriend I started drawing on a computer tablet, and coloring my drawings in that way. Encouragement and commissions from a friend got the ball rolling on my doing family portraits, now it’s my specialty.
The sun, ultimately, came back out and I reemerged into the joys of sunhood. I have about a 90% higher morale rate on sunny days. Now I make every minute count, I remember to take my breaks and sit in the sun, to eat lunch outside, to sit and read in the sun for a while, or go running in it, the minute work is over.
In my unhappiness I’ve made myself happier than I’ve ever been. And ultimately, as so many have pointed out to me, the job was a perfectly good one as far as jobs go, the problem was in my expectations. But I did not LOWER my expectations one bit. I raised my own capability to be happy despite, or perhaps because of, obstacles.