On Friday, you leave the office with a sense of pure release. Uninhibited excitement. The feeling of endless possibilities. The unconscious belief that everything will be different when you sludge back in Monday morning with a humongous coffee and an outfit that you probably put on while you were still half asleep.
Friday means potential. Friday means change. Friday means that you could leave the office and a million things could happen in the meantime. Friday gives you a break from your monotonous routine – a painfully short break at that, but long enough to make you feel like you’ll have time to finally get control of your life. It’s time for action and movement and plans.
You leave on Friday feeling free and energetic and alive, but still with the feeling in the back of your mind that another week has passed by, to add to the pile of uneventful, uninspired weeks where nothing changed and you can’t distinguish one from the other. The feeling that life is passing you by, with other people chasing after their dreams and doing exciting things and carving out their intended paths, while you sit at your desk, typing mindlessly and watching the clock and spending the whole day counting – counting to lunch and counting to that mid-afternoon break and counting to the minute you get to leave this place and temporarily you forget that you work here, until it’s 11 o’clock and night and you’re dreading going to bed because you know it means you’re that much closer to waking up and having to do it all over again.
So every day you manage to get by, until you make it to Friday and you tell yourself that this weekend will not just be a weekend of fun and games. It will also be a weekend of reflection, thinking, research, planning, advice-seeking, pondering, applying. You feel hopeful. You just spent another week not feeling excited about where you are and what you’re doing, so you tell yourself that this will be the weekend that will change everything.
And then it’s Sunday night and you’re sitting in front of the t.v. eating take out with your laptop and your phone in front of you. Not really doing anything, not really watching anything, sometimes barely even tasting the pad thai you’re putting in your mouth. You haven’t used these two days to figure out your next steps. Everything is the same as it was on Friday when you left work, and now you can feel that Sunday night anxiety slowly creeping into your system, filling you with self-doubt and regret about the immobility of your life and convincing you that nothing is ever going to change.
This was my life when I first graduated college. I had a job that I did not enjoy and a sense of being one hundred percent stuck. It was not hell on earth. It wasn’t the worst place in the world to work. It wasn’t the place where dreams go to die, although I sometimes painted it that way.
The adjustment of going from a life of fun and excitement and little responsibility in college to a life of spending nine hours a day in an office was hard, but I got used to it. I understood that I had to earn a living. I understood that it was time to grow up and be an adult and take charge of my own life. Acknowledging that I now lived in the real world wasn’t the problem. I knew that even in a job you love, there are hard days and days where you don’t want to get out of bed and days where you don’t want to do anything. But the other days usually make it all worth it. Days where you feel excited and passionate and curious and intrigued. Days where you feel a desire to keep showing up and keeping trying, because you love how much you’re learning and how much you’re growing, even when it gets hard.
I didn’t feel any of that. My job wasn’t something I loved. It was just a salary to me, just a place I had to show up on Monday through Friday and do enough mindless work that guaranteed I could get paid for another day, another week, another month.
Mondays were the worst. I left every Friday feeling free and loose and light, telling myself that I’d burn off some steam with friends and then I’d spend all weekend in front of my computer, applying to jobs and doing my research and figuring out my next steps. I’d walk in Monday morning and everything would be fixed. I would have a new job and a new path. But this never happened. I was in an endless circle that never went anywhere. Fridays were for dreaming. Mondays were for reality checks.
I was stuck because I was paralyzed with fear. I would avoid the fact that I was feeling lost and listless all weekend. Always telling myself I would figure it out tomorrow. A hundred tomorrows came and I never did anything, because I was afraid to make a choice. I was afraid of what people would say. I was afraid to get off a certain path and try out another. I was convinced that the only way to fix my life was to make one bold, giant, earth-shattering move that would change everything.
I thought I had to fix everything in a night, in a weekend. I thought that in order to change my life, and in order to get out of my monotonous rut, I would have to have all the answers straightaway before I could do anything. I had to have a plan for the next thirty years.
This was not the case, because that’s not how you change your life. You do not change it in one single, dramatic montage, the way they portray it in movies. There’s no music playing in the background while you pour over textbooks and walk into interviews and organize your house. Instead, it happens little by little. With one tiny little choice after another.
I eventually did change the direction in which I was going. But not because I marched into my office one day, announced that I had found my dream job and that I QUIT THIS PLACE, and then stormed out.
Instead, I just started giving myself permission. Permission to dream, permission to think, permission to dwell on the things I had always wanted to do, but that I had tucked away into a corner of my mind and my heart out of fear. Fear of being judged. Fear of being impractical. Fear of looking stupid.
For a while, I allowed myself to simply ponder what it was that I wanted to do. I didn’t come up with one single, solid answer, like I want to be a writer on a t.v. show or I want to work behind the scenes on a movie or I want to be Kristen Wiig. I just knew that my true passions always went back to comedy and writing and performance. I didn’t know where that was going to lead, or what kind of job could, or would, come out of it. I just knew that that was the direction I wanted to head in.
So I took baby steps, enough to make a dent, but not big enough to make me shit myself with terror. I found a free stand-up comedy workshop in Cincinnati, where I lived at the time. I went to it. Eventually, I wrote enough material to manage to perform on stage for a little over four minutes without passing out. I tried a few more things. One day, I stopped into a retail store that said they were hiring and I applied, just for fun. I got an interview. I got the job. I left my full-time office job and started working at Talbots, to give myself time to think about my life path while I helped women try on sweaters with bunnies on them. I joined an improv team. I took a sketch writing class. I decided to move to Chicago.
Eventually I got here. I fell further in love with improv and comedy. I started freelancing for Thought Catalog and fell even more in love.
This wasn’t some inspiring, dramatic, over-the-top life-changing film montage. It took a long time to get here. It was not glamorous. In-between doing these things, I was having meltdowns and wasting some days watching five hours of Parks and Recreation and stress-eating a pizza when I didn’t know what else to do. Sometimes I still do that stuff.
My life is still not figured out. There’s an end goal in mind, though it’s not very specific. All I know right now is that I have a job that I love. It’s hard. It’s stressful. It’s overwhelming. But I love it. I’m writing, finally, every day, constantly. I’m learning, growing. Having days where I think I suck but still feeling a fiery sense of determination to get better, a strong desire to work harder and try harder and learn more and educate myself more, instead of a desire to let myself burn out or run away or give into the temptation of becoming a zombie. And I think the only reason I feel that way is because I’m finally doing something I really care about.
None of this happened overnight. There was never some incredible life-changing moment. It was just a series of little things that just kept happening. Things that I kept doing and things that I kept trying and emails that I kept sending and articles that I kept writing. I’ve still got a long way to go. I’m still scared a lot of the time. And then I remind myself that everybody is scared. Even the role models you have, whomever they are, have been scared at some point and are still scared every day. That’s just part of the journey and you’re never going to get over being afraid. You just learn to work in spite of it.
My dreams used to die on Monday mornings because I was afraid. I was afraid to demand something better of myself. Afraid to acknowledge the fact that the only way my life was going to get better was if I did something. No one was going to tell me where to go or what to do or how to do it. That was terrifying to me, the fact that it was all up to me.
My life is still nowhere near perfect. This is not meant to be a story of Look, I did X and now my life is fixed! My life is still full of uncertainties. I still have a lot of work to do. The fact that my path is up to me still terrifies me. I feel insecure and doubtful all the time. Mondays are still Mondays. I’m still tired and I don’t feel like getting up most of the time and it’s still sad to see the weekend go.
But there’s a passion and an excitement there that wasn’t there before. I hate getting up, but I know I’m getting up to do something I love, something that I want to get better at, even if it’s challenging and scary and intimidating. The place that I’m trying to go is on a long path. But finally, at least, I’m on that path. I’m on the one that’s leading to where I want to go.
I’m not suggesting that you march into your office job tomorrow and quit and then go work at Talbots selling corduroy pants to cranky elder women. I’m just saying – don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t psych yourself out. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Just remind yourself that if you’re unhappy, you can change your life. All it takes is a million little baby steps. And when you look at it that way, instead of looking at it as a huge mountain you have to climb all in one day, it seems a lot more doable.