I met my friend, Melody Abella, over ten years ago when we worked in the marketing department of a dot com near Washington, D.C. It was a good job. Great benefits. Couldn’t complain, except I could’ve cared less—about the company, my work or where my career was going. Don’t get me wrong. I performed my job duties, got a couple big promotions, bonuses and pay hikes. Parents were proud and relieved.
Every day I dragged myself into the office, I was playing the role of someone who cared. They could’ve tripled my salary and the sentiment would have been the same. Melody and I both had the benefits of education and lucrative employment, but our passions weren’t stoked by corporate power or ladder-climbing.
Sometimes I’d look around the office and wonder if everyone was as “into it” as they appeared. Even my boss, who is a fantastic writer, would talk about her book ideas that were going on paper once the kids graduated college (the boys were in grammar school). Melody began practicing yoga in college and the love affair continued into her corporate years.
The turbulence of the dot com implosion brought rounds of layoffs and finally, we were let go. Sweet relief. I had guilt about it. All around me people were in panic and tears. For some, their identities were stripped away and replaced by a severance package, sense of betrayal and a one-way street of uncertainty with families to feed.
Meanwhile, I’m popping open the bubbly. “Here’s my chance,” I thought. I salivated over the possibilities. All I knew was that I never wanted anyone to determine the value of my time, or dictate the parameters of how I spend the limited moments I have in my life. I began a holistic pet food company, wiped the thick dust off my Les Paul guitar, started a band, went surfing, and began doing the kind of writing that makes a few hours feel like minutes.
Melody began a path of intense Yoga education with the end goal of becoming an instructor and having her own practice. She found another corporate job while she studied at night but the daily dissatisfaction set in. After a lot of hand-wringing and budget balancing, her feet did the voting and she took the leap. That was four years ago and abellaYoga is still doing the downward facing dog. Moreover, she writes a yoga blog with a huge global following.
Don’t get me wrong. A lot of my nights go without sleep and it’s not because I know really good pick-up lines. And, ultimately, we all answer to someone; a customer, a client, an editor, the executor of our trust funds—I wish.
I asked a few friends what their lives would be like if they knew they wouldn’t fail and finances weren’t a concern. Here’s some responses:
- Jen M., Special Education Elementary School Teacher – I’d be on stage playing solo guitar and singing.
- Vivianne C., Real Estate Agent, Coldwell Banker – Professional soccer player.
- Monica G., Researcher at National Institute of Health (NIH) – I’d be a professional musician.
- Rob L., Running Account Executive at Nike – I feel I’m lucky and living my passion, but if I could have done anything in my life for a living, I’d say professional athlete or film maker.
- Scott L., Child Advocate at Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program – I’m kind of living the dream, but game show host would be a close second and I’m being serious.
- Ashley M, Sr. Manager, Internet Services, Big Non-Profit Health System – It’s the million dollar question. I’d be in Haiti sharing skills and helping to relieve the suffering.
- Marty J., Power Dispatcher/Trader, Energy Services Company – I’d love to be a tomato farmer if it weren’t for that pesky mortgage.
- Joanne D., Stay at Home Mom – I’d love to be an interior designer but the best gift of all is being a full-time mom.
- Todd B., Director of Marketing, Big Hospital System – Learning, doing, traveling, nesting.
- Nora P., Owner, St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub – Happily, I am doing what I love but am dreaming of taking off for a year and traveling.
- Will K., Director, Product Management, Mixx.com – I would own an organic microbrewery that is sustainable and gives back to my community.
So what do you want to be when you grow up?
Remember that Monster.com commercial from a couple years back? It had a bunch of little kids scampering about and each one exclaims something like:
“I want to be a yes man!”
“When I grow up, I want to be replaced on a whim!”
“When I grow up, I want to claw my way to middle management!”
The next time you’re contemplating your career in the cube and you don’t like the outlook, consider a couple things:
- Maybe you don’t feel like being a team player because you’re in the wrong sport.
- Maybe the hobby you can’t wait to get home to should make up the majority of your work day.
Or, maybe like my friend Melody of abellaYoga always reminds me, if you leap, the net will appear.
P.S. Want a shot of inspiration? Watch this short documentary, Lemonade, about how layoffs gave some people the extra push to pursue their dreams.
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