I’m at a point in my life right now where I am unapologetically happy. I sent a text to my fiancé yesterday, just saying “I am so happy right now” – because I was, and I wanted him to know. Because happiness isn’t something we should take for granted, it’s something that needs announcing and celebrating.
I see a lot of my friends right now, going through what I can only describe as a ‘quarter-life crisis’ and I can only identify it so easily in them, because I went through it all myself a few years ago too.
It started for me here…
After returning from travelling, and doing a few contract roles, I found myself in a managerial role at a huge media agency, one of the largest in the world.
The interview had been great and I started the job with the most positive outlook possible, I was excited to work with them and couldn’t wait to get started. They were voted an incredible company, they had great perks, international travel opportunities, cheap food onsite, lots of holidays, free coke and snacks… Sounds like a pretty damn good place to work right?
It took a couple of months but soon I noticed my confidence crashing, my moods failing and my happiness dwindling. It took me a long time to admit it, but I hated the job.
I didn’t hate it because it was ‘a job’ – I’ve had jobs since I was 13 years old, and I worked damn hard in every one of them. I hated it because it was awful, unfriendly, pressured and unfair.
I sat in a team of 8 people, who never spoke to me and never acknowledged me unless it was to delegate a task. As someone who tries endlessly to be positive and happy, I tried time and time again to win them over but it never worked and I was never made to feel welcome or valued.
During my time there, I went on holiday for 2 weeks, and not one person welcomed me home when I arrived back to my desk. Instead I received an email from the person next to me, who hadn’t even looked or spoken to me since I sat down 2 feet away from her, saying (and this is literally what it said):
“You’re behind on these tasks. Please complete by today”
Day to day, I was expected to arrive into the office at 8.15am (even though the start-time was 9am) and I was expected to stay until 7.30pm (even though the finish time was 5.30pm). If I left on-time I was seen as a slacker – even if all my work had been completed for the day. A lot of nights I would stay past 8pm, just to win some kind of approval with my manager, who watched everyone with hawk-eyes to see what time they were leaving.
I would even keep working when I got home, so she could see that even though I had left at 7.30pm, and hadn’t got home until 8.30pm – I was still working hard at 9.30pm.
On one occasion over a weekend, my manager called me in to work during the Saturday because she needed help completing a project. She had called me twice beforehand and hadn’t got through (it was the weekend and I had family visiting – and we had been on the tube where you get no signal). By the time she finally got through to me, she was so furious I hadn’t been readily available to her, she was yelling down the phone at me using language I wouldn’t repeat in a blog post. I was in the pub with my in-laws at the time, and had to remove myself from the table because of how badly I was crying.
I could reel off more and more examples like this – but hopefully these few show you the kind of place this was. For so long I thought this was OK – that being made to feel like this was OK.
FYI – IT’S NOT OK.
I was so down around that time, that I barely recognised myself. I have always prided myself on being optimistic, cheerful and happy – but in that job I was none of those things. I could feel myself disappearing, I was rarely happy and I started to panic over the smallest things. My anxiety levels every morning were almost painful.
It was the strongest thing I ever did to pack it in and leave. And as soon as I handed in my notice and felt the relief wash over me, I knew it was the right thing to do.
I left the media agency for a job in a start-up company called Autographer – and overnight I went from one extreme to another. From a job I hated with a team of people I barely knew – to a job I loved with a team of people who were awesome.
It goes to show how quickly things can turn around. I let go of this notion that I needed to be working for a big company – and instead chose something that suited ME – not the expectations people had of me.
In my new role, I was working everyday with people who were fun, smart, excited and just generally great. I felt happy because we were a team, and we all loved the product we were working for. Since that role, I’ve made a point of never sacrificing my happiness for a job, and now I work for Tiger, with more great people and another great brand.
But it’s taken a long time to get here and to realise how important it is.
I think this is what the quarter-life crisis boils down to….
We all have to work hard. That’s the first thing we have to come to terms with.
For most of us, there’s no way to get through life without working hard.
There is no ‘easy’ answer or way out of this. You probably won’t win the lottery. You probably won’t marry a millionaire. You probably won’t win £1M in a lucky roulette spin in Vegas.
You will have to work. But working hard, doesn’t have to mean you’re miserable. And at some point we realise (for most of my friends, it has been during their twenties) that it’s soul-destroying to work hard for people who treat you like shit. Or for a cause you don’t believe in.
Side note: I don’t know why this came as such a shock. It’s not like all my favourite TV shows haven’t been warning us about this. Rachel in Friends who quit the ‘easy but shit’ coffee shop job to follow the harder but more fulfilling career in Fashion. Chandler who quit his ‘nobody knows what I do’ job to do advertising – something he actually enjoyed. Marshall in HIMYM who became an environmental lawyer because he couldn’t do the corporate bullshit anymore. Miranda in SATC who quit her high-paid job because they kept making her miss her kids milestones. Penny in The Big Bang Theory who took a ‘boring’ job, because actually she wanted something where she was valued and where she’d be stable and secure.
This isn’t new information, I just wasn’t listening before.
It’s better to work hard for a cause you believe in, or a company that you love. Do something that makes you passionate, or at least doesn’t make you miserable. You’re in work for 70% of your week – that’s a lot of time to be doing something you hate.
You’re not weak for admitting this or wanting to do something about it. You’re strong. You’re changing something and that takes courage. And once you find it, everything will start to feel right. Mondays won’t be so bad if you like what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with.
Just because a company ranks #1 in the ‘Best Companies to Work For” list, doesn’t mean it’ll be the best company for YOU to work for.
You might be happier in a company that never even made the list. Or maybe in no company at all – maybe you’ll be happiest working for yourself.
I didn’t doubt it would work out, but I felt tested at times. And I felt confused too. We’re told as kids, as teenagers and as graduates that being ‘successful and ambitious’ is to go after the conventional jobs, with big pay packets, big perks, with the big companies – but success and ambition come in so many different forms.
For me, I feel successful when I’m creative. When I create something beautiful or witty or meaningful with photography or words. For other people success might be balancing a cheque book, or getting a promotion. It might be getting a part-time job, so they can spend their other days with family or a hobby. It might be building a company, and watching the people they hire succeed around them.
There is no definition of success, except for if you FEEL it. If you feel it, that’s the only definition you should need.
And stop worrying about what other people think.
Lastly, don’t feel like you HAVE to stick it out, because you’ve been chasing after a career or job that someone told you in high-school was the best route or best fit for you. In that stage of your life, people push you towards the most obvious job choices; Doctor, Lawyer, Teacher, Banker, Nurse, Plumber, Electrician.
They are all great jobs, but I never wanted to be any of those things, and I still don’t. Just because someone else’s view of you was limited 10 years ago – don’t let it limit your view of yourself now.
When I was 5 years old I wanted to be a vet. When I was 16 I wanted to be an actress. I’m not either of those people anymore, and chasing those out-dated dreams aren’t going to make me happy.