When my father passed away I called a very close friend of mine to tell them about it. This was someone I had dated at one point and one of the few friends I had who had actually met my father, so someone who knew how important my father was to me.
My friend’s response to the news was, “Well, at least it’s a change.”
It was probably one of the most hurtful things anyone has ever said to me. And it fractured our friendship.
But at some point in my twenties I finally came to understand why my friend had said that. It didn’t forgive their lack of consideration, but I finally “got it.”
It’s easy to start down a path in life that isn’t the right path for you. But it’s a hell of a lot harder to get off that path, especially when nothing is particularly wrong with your life.
My friend was a little young for that feeling (seventeen at the time), but was training for the Olympics and under a lot of other pressures that I had somehow avoided up to that point.
In my late twenties I found myself doing well at my career–good pay, bonuses, good reviews, promotions–and not caring one bit about it. (Well, that’s slightly untrue. I like to succeed at what I do, so I cared if I was at the “right” level and earning “what I deserved” as compared to everyone else. But what I did on a daily basis wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. And I wasn’t living the life I wanted to be living.)
But how do you derail a successful life? How do you explain to others–some who are struggling to make ends meet or who’ve felt the pain of failure–that you want to walk away from everything and start over?
Your life is good. It’s not great, but whose life is? Why would you throw that away?
It doesn’t make sense. Not even to you sometimes. And I was single with no one to face the consequences other than me. What about someone with a family to support? How do you change everything in your life and still honor your obligations to your spouse and children?
Who cares if you’re happy when people are depending on you. Right?
I honestly think that’s why some people engage in very self-destructive behaviors. Because they want out and they don’t know how else to do that than to just burn every single bridge so that there’s no going back.
It’s one thing to just walk away from that high-paying job. It’s another to be fired for being a raging alcoholic who can’t do the job. And in some respects more forgivable to be the alcoholic.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) for me, my self-preservation instinct is too strong to just take a flamethrower to my life. So when I walked away, I did it nicely. I gave about six months’ notice to my company about what I was going to do and I left on good terms. My last day at work (in a field I had no intention of ever returning to) I worked until 10:30 at night to make sure a project report was done.
Which is probably how I found myself not escaping the way I had planned to. I fixed a lot of the issues I had with how I was living my life, but I’m not near as far from where I was as I’d like to be.
And every once in a while some little dark part of my mind wants me to just blow things up. Walk away in a way that I can’t take back. Because then I’d be done. Then I could start over and move on with something brand new.
But that practical piece of my mind steps in and says, “NO! What if…What if you need to go back?”
But I don’t want to go back. Yeah, I don’t really know how I’ll pay my bills if I don’t keep doing what I do. But I’ll never find a new path if I don’t actually manage to step off of this one I’m on.
So, I get it. I get the desire for the nuclear option. Just press the button and watch it all go up in a mushroom cloud. There has to be a better way, though. I just don’t know what it is yet.
What I have learned so far–
(a) Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it;
(b) Sometimes drawing the line and saying you’ve had enough leads to something better;
(c) Failure is everywhere, so fear of failure is not reason enough to avoid making a change;
(d) Even when you change you can end up somewhere that is surprisingly similar to what you thought you were leaving behind;
(e) Sometimes change becomes a drug in and of itself and you have to be careful that you aren’t just changing for change’s sake. (This one from a friend, but I’ve started to see that in myself a little.);
(f) Life is never, ever going to be perfect. (And if it is, it won’t stay that way.)
I don’t know. I don’t advocate the destructive path. I really don’t. But I think that if you continue living your life in silent misery that that’s where you’re likely to end up someday. So, better to recognize the need for a change and find a way to accomplish it without destroying everything you already have.
There’s a quote I love:
“If I’ve learned one lesson from all that’s happened to me, it’s that there is no such thing as the biggest mistake of your existence. There’s no such thing as ruining your life. Life’s a pretty resilient thing, it turns out.” – Sophie Kinsella, The Undomestic Goddess
It’s true. But I think you also need to see the need for change before you get to the point that you take the no-going-back option. It’s like saving for retirement. If you start early, you can save less and reach your goal, but the later you wait to start the bigger the sacrifice you’ll have to make to reach that same goal.