The beauty in the question, “What’s your freedom?” is that only you get to decide what has meaning in your answer, and what doesn’t. And that right there, is a healthy dose freedom.
If this simple concept doesn’t resonate with you I highly encourage you to take nine minutes and listen to this video. It was originally a college commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace. This version is the same speech but more visually stimulating.
The real message happens at 3:30 but it’s useless without watching it from the start.
The first time I watched it, it appeared as if it was just about dealing with the rat race of life and how to overcome it, which I already did many years ago. But as the video goes on it’s not about the rat race at all. It’s about how we choose to deal with it, and then I started to feel stupid that through my fifteen years of corporate life I was so programmed that I absolutely could not reroute my thoughts and attitude to a more positive angle.
I was in a endless rut, so I quit.
I’m still very good friends with a woman from my old corporate life. Our cubicles were beside each other for half of my career and she still works there to this day, only she took over my old cubicle because it faces in a direction that makes mindless web surfing on the job much easier to hide.
Every once in a while she and I get together for drinks and she fills me in on all the office gossip that I don’t know about anymore. Sometimes when stupid things happen to her at work she’ll send me a text describing what happened followed by a “Just kill me now!”, and I smile because I can hear her tone in the text, as I’ve heard it in real life so many times.
She doesn’t know it but I secretly envy how she seems able to stick it out at that job. I just couldn’t do it.
Are some people really okay with the daily grind? Or can they just tolerate it better? Do they have aspirations and dreams that they’re too afraid to pursue, or are they satisfied with four weeks paid vacation and a comfy future pension at the end of the road?
I truly want to know the answers to those questions. I want to hear the answers from people who work generic corporate jobs, to find out if they’re more tolerant workers than I was.
Are they the people David Foster Wallace talks about after 4:45 in the video? And why couldn’t I just be one of them?
While I don’t suppose I’ll get the answers to any of those questions, I just know what my answer was and I had to go.
Since I quit corporate life there have absolutely been major pitfalls to living a non-secure-paycheck kind of lifestyle, but I suppose it’s still my version of freedom because I’m happy.
Once or twice in the last eight years I’ve thought about sending a resume back into the old corporate world to take on a position for a year or so and enjoy the stable income again.
But the one thing that has kept me from acting on it is envisioning me….at 6:40am….in the winter, trudging through a snow storm to the train stop, with a messenger bag around my shoulder containing several plastic containers of lunch food and munchies for the day. A go-mug full of coffee in my gloved hand, only to realize the train has yet again broken down and there will be delays while I stand out in the cold. And the result of the situation will inevitably be that my pay gets docked because it’s not the company’s fault that transit doesn’t work properly, or that this city is a living hell in winter. Eight months of winter.
At that job I was short tempered and mean to the people I worked with. My coworkers hung a picture of an angry bluebird at my desk with a caption that read “Do I look like the bluebird of happiness?” I shit you not. They actually hung it there.
I stopped caring. To the actual point where I even stopped dressing to impress at work. Thank God for the invention of yoga pants. They’re practically sweatpants but if you buy them in black no one really knows what you’re wearing. I’d be damned if someone was going to tell me I had to look good to feel miserable.
As the video demonstrates, it IS hard and it takes actual effort to be mentally sound while under the influence of a job you hate, and for reasons unknown, I just…couldn’t…do it.
A defining moment in my life of commuting happened one morning, four months before I quit my job. I was standing on the packed train riding to work and reading random tweets on Twitter. One of them mentioned something about commuting related to stress and depression. (No shit, Sherlock). I couldn’t resist so I clicked the link and read a lengthy article, all the while relishing the irony that I was reading this article WHILE commuting.
I think someone planted that link there for me as a final kick in the ass to DO SOMETHING about my situation, instead of lamenting about it every day.
So, after fifteen years of monotonous corporate hell, I chose my freedom and I walked out. I chose all the unsecured pitfalls that came along with my version of freedom. I’d choose most anything over ever having to relive the alternative scenario again.
I knew there had to be options and I felt compelled to figure out what those options were, even at the risk of financial instability. And trust me, the world has been a better place since I chose those options.
Quitting my job didn’t magically make my life all unicorns and rainbows. Far from it. But it did give me the space I needed to be able to breathe and see life outside of MY life.
And there it was, in all its glory!