In May 2013, I started working at a mid-sized ($13 Billion) Oil & Gas Company. I had a Quarter-Life Crisis working there, and one year later, I quit and traveled to Australia. Full story below.
I graduated from University with Distinction in May 2013 and started working in a full-time 8 to 5 (plus commute) office job right away. I worked there for 13 months and quit the following year after having a self-diagnosed “Quarter-Life Crisis”.I was your typical, type-A, intense, feminist, go-getter. My personal heroes were Leslie Knope (fictional, yes, though still a total bad ass worthy of my admiration), Sheryl Sandberg, and my mom (conveniently also in Oil & Gas). I wanted everyone I encountered to know that I was a serious achiever. I had big plans for this world, and everyone better WATCH OUT, ‘cause here I come! And I expected the journey to the top of the corporate ladder to be almost the same as the journey to the top of university life: challenging, hard work, but totally worth it and exciting.
I was your typical, type-A, intense, feminist, go-getter. My personal heroes were Leslie Knope (fictional, yes, though still a total bad ass worthy of my admiration), Sheryl Sandberg, and my mom (conveniently also in Oil & Gas). I wanted everyone I encountered to know that I was a serious achiever. I had big plans for this world, and everyone better WATCH OUT, ‘cause here I come! And I expected the journey to the top of the corporate ladder to be almost the same as the journey to the top of university life: challenging, hard work, but totally worth it and exciting.
This was not the case. Starting out in the corporate world is a lot of work – a lot of boring work.
So naturally, things started to feel dull after, like three months. Weeks would pass and I didn’t really feel like I was learning, growing, or being challenged in the way I expected to be. In the way I felt capable of being challenged nor in the way I felt myself grow and be challenged in University.
At six months, work felt like a prison, the uncertainty of who I was and what I wanted was snowballing. I knew I definitely didn’t want to be doing all this. I saw my superiors and the work they did, I knew it wasn’t for me. I was itching for some change. I was unknowingly hoping my schedule to change, as it always did in University. I craved for a life where there was no routine and every day was different.
But with work, my schedule was always the same. I would wake up at 6 am go to work in the dark, spend my entire day at a desk, and at the end of the day, I would go home, relieved that I made it through, and anxious to go back the very next morning with the same goal of just making it through. Most days the highlight would be to go for lunch or coffee with other new grads and get the chance to vent.
Routine was wearing thin on me. The thought of going to work from Monday to Friday – 7:30am to 5pm for the next 40 years was dreadful. It was a huge amount of time to spend doing something I know right now – doesn’t make me happy.
Graduation created a vacuum. I achieved THE GOAL for the last 17 years of education. I was plucked out of an orderly world. Classes, tests, homework, group projects all with the goal of passing, graduating and getting the best job possible. Then heaved into the sea and forced to swim toward a new “goal” with the fervour worthy of my intensity. Yet, I didn’t know which way to go, and where was land. As in the Bell Jar, I was sitting in front of a fig tree, watching each fig ripen and rot without doing anything.
Many millennials in my circle of friends could relate to my ‘swimming in the ocean’ analogy, but none of them really shared a perspective I could sincerely identify with. Most of them could agree that they felt overwhelmed by the amount of choices and simultaneously discouraged that they could only choose one. Somehow, most found a way to continue trudging along in their lives. Part of me wished that I could have found that same way as well. I never did, though. I coined this whole experience a “Quarter-Life Crisis”.
I’d rather have a messy life that’s full, and complicated, and exhilarating than simply be able to “leave work at work”. Work never leaves me anyway. So it might as well be to my advantage and allow me to go to a Tuesday 10:30am Cross Fit class, guilt free.
The transition from university life full of meetings, studying, classes where we discussed ideas for a better world, workouts, and hanging out with friends every day to a life so clearly demarked – “work” and “not-work” – was, a depressing adjustment. And one I resisted.
I was disappointed that I got a business degree just so that I could go to my little box (known as my office) inside a much larger box (known as an office building), which was a part of a conglomerate of other boxes (known as downtown).
I bought into the idea that once I had graduated and landed a fancy and complicated job title, I would be set, for life. I would have reached the proverbial mountain peak of affluence and wouldn’t have to climb down, like ever, again. I would never have to be humbled by experience. I would never have to ask questions. I would be the one giving all the answers.
I, had made it.
None of that was true for me, though. And I couldn’t bear it any longer. I knew the longer I stayed in a life that didn’t fill me, the easier I could convince myself to stay. I knew that it would never be easier for me to leave than right now. This very moment. And I had to choose to leave. I had to say that I changed my mind, and now I want something different. I didn’t know exactly what this was. I just knew that offices, downtowns, pencil skirts and Starbucks’ coffee breaks were not for me anymore.
I wasn’t going to leave for nothing. So, I thought of all the rebuttals of my leaving that my fear would make up., and I rationalised my way out to the point where it couldn’t keep me from moving forward.
And then I left.
I left because I couldn’t figure out who I was or what I wanted. And I thought that maybe an entire ocean’s worth of space might help me figure it out.
I left because my life didn’t really feel like MY life.
I left because I didn’t want to learn the politics of the corporate world. I hated that my voice in the meeting room was proportionately smaller because of my age.
I left because I felt the expectation of a certain vocabulary. And that there were things that were ok to say, and not ok to say. With times that were appropriate to say them. I wanted, needed even, to say so many ‘not ok’ things.
I left because I felt like a prisoner in my office, and in my life.
I left because, I got everything I worked for, and realised I really didn’t want it anymore, or event at all (to begin with). And I was willing to start trying to forgive myself.
I left because I was, really, only doing things for my ego or to impress others.
I left because I knew it was only going to get harder the longer I delayed it.
My corporate lifestyle did make me happy once but it quickly dwindled when I saw how empty I was after spending the day catering to my idea of what will impress others and pleasing my insatiable ego.
Staying on the path could never fulfill me the way I desired. I was living for others.
I left because I wanted to live for myself. I wanted to be irrevocably and undeniably selfish for no other reason than because I could be. I had no debt, no partner, no children, no mortgage. No one was waiting for me to come home. No one needed me. No one was asking me to stay.
I left because there were wounds in me pleading for peace.
I left because I wanted sun-kissed skin, a bicycle and feathers in my hair.
My leaving was amicable; I was working full-time on a software replacement project that launched in June 2013. My boss wanted to move me to another role in the department. Instead, I explained why I couldn’t accept the move. I told her that I couldn’t sign off on a condo because I wasn’t totally sure this was what I wanted.
I told her about the voice that said that I had to “just go”. That I lost faith in the path that I was adamantly pursuing a year ago.
Leaving my life behind wasn’t easy. I did try to weasel my way out of leaving several times, but In the end, I knew that this was a calling much bigger than any office job. To refuse the call would be to indulge my fear with disastrous consequences, to buy into something I knew wasn’t true.
I would tell myself that I might find the truth I had been looking for that would convert me into staying. This “truth” would have a prophetic impact on me and I would be compelled to stay. This truth didn’t come after a year of me searching for it so I figured the truth that would keep me in this corporate lifestyle doesn’t exist.
I didn’t want to look back on my life, and say that I stayed in the corporate job that didn’t make me happy like I thought it would. I left so that I could say that I acted. I did something. I made my own way, even if I didn’t have all the answers. I climbed down from the mountain peak in search of rivers, fields, and oceans. Maybe my place isn’t on a mountain peak. Maybe it’s just by the sea.
I also knew if everything went horribly wrong; and going off to travel was the worst possible thing to do. I could borrow some money for a plane ticket and come home. I could start over. I could work a job I’m overqualified for. Knowing that I tried. I could start over, happy.
Finding peace in that too.