What’s the Meaning of This?

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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https://www.facebook.com/Michelle.Burleson.Writer It ain't pretty, but they are! *** I shot out of my mother's womb ready to write The Great American novel and then its screenplay adaptation. Beyond that, I'm all about seeing the world from the saltwater, one session at a time. I also like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens... and not because they taste like chicken.


  1. GafroNinja on the 28th January

    Freelance web developer, working on a beach somewhere warm and sunny.

  2. Chris on the 29th January

    Thank you, I needed this.

  3. Dave @ 30DaysAtATime on the 29th January

    I’d be an athletics coach. I just don’t know what sport.

  4. Josh Tuck on the 29th January


    I would travel to unusual places, eat amazing food, and then document it all on a blog in videos, photos and short articles.

    Thanks for this article!

    • Michelle Burleson on the 29th January

      Thanks, Josh. Sounds like a great idea! Go for it! I’m *kinda* doing something similar to that right now on my blog http://210daysofwaves.blogspot.com, it’s about surfing and searching and stuffing my face!

      I will look for you on the Travel Channel!

  5. Domenick on the 29th January

    Great read. I know for some, the possibility of taking that leap just doesn’t seem possible, and it ultimately might not be. But there are others who have the opportunity to jump and for whatever reason they don’t. Those are the ones who will have the biggest regrets. Life is short, if your even entertaining the possibility, and you can do so and still be ok financially, I say go for it.

    “A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are for.” ~John A. Shedd

    Best of luck to anyone thinking of taking that leap, you can do it.

    • Michelle Burleson on the 29th January

      @Domenick, great quote. Thank you for sharing!

  6. brandscaping on the 29th January

    Wow Michelle,

    I love a post that makes me think – and this certainly did.

    I was in a similar situation just over 2 years ago – great at a job that payed fantastic, excellent benefits, incredible people. The only problem was – I hated it, and could see no change in the future.

    So, after much deliberation (and a very supportive wife) I quit and went back to school.

    Not quite living the dream yet, but i am on my way there.

    Like Edison says, it’s not the 10,000 filaments that didnt work that’s remarkable – it’s finding the 1 that does.

    I am enjoying my search for my 1/10000 – i wish you good luck on yours!


    • Michelle Burleson on the 29th January

      @brandscaping, Thanks so much! I wish you the very best of fortune in your endeavors. Keep me posted!


  7. Miriam on the 29th January

    Wonderful essay- very meaningful.I would be a poet and singer, BTW

  8. Shane Kinkennon on the 29th January

    What a great post.

    Bike messenger during the week. Mountain man on the weekends.

  9. Mario M. on the 29th January

    I enjoyed reading this. Lately after working for my company for a year I have started to feel a longing for something more significant than making banners and web pages to sell toilets and faucets. I dream of one day being a Sign maker, one of my previous jobs. Sign makers interact directly with their local community, make people happy and proud of their business’s image, and get to work with their hands AND computers in a variety of ways everyday! I wish I had the courage and resources to start my own web-design/sign making business and locate it in a place like Maui, or Thailand where the sun is bright and the signs are eroding with the elements making for lots of sign-work to do. 🙂

  10. Katherine Roberts on the 29th January

    It is indeed great to know that you have achieved what you wanted in life. When you got the chance you left your job and indulged in your hobby/passion. Now you are a happy person and that is what matters . You had a high profile job but you were never that happy. Thanks for the inspiration . 🙂
    Your friend Melody is also living her dreams 🙂

  11. Jennifer on the 30th January

    I have had the dream of become a Feng Shui consultant for over 10 years. It started as an interest, then a hobby. Then last year I took a class to become certified and then had the opportunity to take a small business class too.
    All the while at my life-sucking day job thinking, “how can I do both?” or “how can I afford to leave?” and simply “I don’t want to be here.”
    The universe heard me and made the decision for me. The first week in January I lost my day job. Scary! Awesome!
    As I did one of my first paying consultations last week I had a moment of joy when I realized I was having fun at my new Feng Shui career. Why did it take me so long?

    • Michelle Burleson on the 2nd February

      @Jennifer, That is fantastic! I wish you the very best in your new directions. I also made need you to come and do a de-clutter of the surf shack!

  12. Avery on the 30th January

    When I went to college I took animation classes and decided that I wanted to be a conceptual artist. Although the idea still appeals to me I’ve grown to love being a retail ad man. The only thing in my career that seriously needs changing so I can actually enjoy what I do is that I wish management would rely more upon my 10 years of advertising experience instead of the thoughts of their secretaries or anyone else they decide to suddenly matters. The things they make me do makes no sense at all.

  13. devesh matharia on the 31st January

    Hey there Michelle,
    I have been following your posts for some time now… and it really gets me to take a second look at my surroundings, at my work, at my people…
    Similar to you, i am wrongly footed in a corporate where all i can write is what i never wanted to.
    Great article,,, it goes in-depth…

    • Michelle Burleson on the 2nd February

      @Devesh, Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment. There’s a great book I refer to when I find myself off balance between work and pursuing my interests. It’s called “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. It helps me stay disciplined and motivated.

  14. Jennifer on the 11th February

    Is it a bad when you pray that you get fired?

    /irony 🙂

  15. Desiree on the 3rd March

    @Jennifer, you are right…it is bad and I feel your pain. I thought I was the only one that envied the people who actually got laid-off recently.

  16. Batman on the 1st May

    I’de be a crime fighter, and wear a costume

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