An Experiment in Not Caring

I haven’t posted in a while because work has been insanely stressful. Upon much reflection, I am convinced that for many of us with outsized work expectations, the problem is giving too much of a shit.

I’ve always struggled with two sides of myself – the side that is obsessed with conventional professional success and the side that thinks it’s all meaningless, so we might as well live how we want. For the past 16 (!?!) or so years, the first side has always won out. I have earned the prestigious degrees, won the prestigious jobs, joined the prestigious organizations, networked (or tried to – never got very good at this) with the prestigious people.

All it has brought me is an ever more prestigious misery.

The other night, as I lay in bed contemplating either running away or just finally ending it all, I had an epiphany. If all of this prestige hunting hasn’t brought me happiness, then perhaps it’s time to stop. Perhaps it’s time to finally let the other side of me take the wheel and see what she can do.

So, I’ve decided to begin the slow, painful process of learning not to care about stupid, meaningless shit anymore. And since the main source of stupid, meaningless shit for me is work, my first step is to stop caring about my job.

Beginning a few days ago, I’ve started pulling back from everything that isn’t 100% essential to being an “adequate” (read: Not stellar, but not shitty) employee. I canceled an appointment when I was sick and skipped a meeting that I knew was pointless. Those might seem like small things to many people, but for me, they are huge.

Even bigger, I’m slowly extracting myself from extra professional obligations that I took on but that are not necessary for my career. I’m dropping a book contract that I no longer want (I did not receive an advance, as is the norm for many academic publishers, so there are no damages to worry about). I’m quitting a position in a professional organization that takes up countless hours and gets me little more than a line on my CV.

Most importantly, I’m extracting myself from some major work drama that has literally been causing me to lose sleep. I have found that my position is unpopular and requires endless politicking to advocate for. Well, fuck it. If the majority of my colleagues want to go another direction, then who am I too keep fighting? Let them do what they want. Yes, I still think my position is the better, more ethical one. And I’m disheartened to see my best colleagues allowing themselves to be led by my worst. But they are all adults, and it’s not my business to keep pushing my agenda if no one wants it. So, let them have theirs. My new agenda is to sleep at night.

In the end, this is not my life. It’s just what I do for a paycheck. I’m not going to stop doing my regular job, being decent to people, or helping clients. I’m just going to stop everything else. No more extra tasks, no more pointless meetings, no more politics. If people get mad and want more, oh well.

We’ll see how it goes. Caring hasn’t worked out so well for me; let’s see what not caring has to offer.

2018 – A Year of Simplicity

My New Year’s resolution this year is to get back on track with the simple living/minimalism movement.

I first discovered this movement way back in 2000, when I was only 22-years-old. I embraced it with the passion and fearlessness that come naturally to the young (and a lot harder to my now about-to-turn-40-years-old self).

For two years, I pursued simple living & minimalism relentlessly, paring down on unneeded possessions, paying off debts, exercising and eating well, and reading copious amounts of literature in my spare time, of which I had an abundance. At the end of the two years, I had pared down so much on unneeded “stuff” that all of my possessions fit into my car (before I got rid of that, too). A lifelong anxiety sufferer, I remember it as one of the most peaceful times in my life.

And then I screwed it all up. Worried about my lack of career prospects (I was an English Lit BA working in the stereotypical barista-type jobs), I decided to apply to law school because I had a feeling I would do well on the LSAT. Yes, you read that correctly. I made a huge, life-altering decision on what was little more than a whim. I had mastered a lot of the physical aspects of simple living, but clearly, I had a long way to go on the mental ones.

It turned out, I was right about my test-taking prowess, and I was accepted into one of the most prestigious law schools in the country. I wish I could say that my training in the simple life had caused me to seriously reflect on what getting an expensive degree like this would mean for my life, but the truth is, I was so honored to be accepted by the school that I never seriously considered not going. I had grown up working class with less-than-ideal parents, and rejection – from my parents, from opportunities, from people from higher social classes, etc – had worn on me.  This acceptance filled a gaping hole in my self-esteem that I hadn’t even known was there. It was the “big F you” that many picked-on children fantasize about.

Except, it turned out, I was entirely unsuited to being a lawyer. Perhaps I would have been ok at a smaller, less competitive school, but at this one, I was surrounded by people with wealth and connections beyond my wildest dreams. I could never decide whether to try to fit in or to stake independent ground and this feeling stuck with me well beyond law school – as a result, I floundered between multiple identities for years. I would strive to accomplish some “prestigious” goal, only to realize that I didn’t really want it and quit either mid-stream or after I’d achieved it.

I graduated from law school almost 13 years ago. Since then, I have passed the bar, obtained another graduate degree, and embarked on three different careers (in fact, I’ve actually changed careers four times, but the last time was back to career # 1, albeit in a higher-level position). I never did become a practicing attorney, but my law degree & M.S. did land me all of those jobs, so, from that angle, grad school was a good decision. On the other hand, I still owe nearly $100k in loans (that is a triumph – it was once nearly $200k), my job is far more stressful than I want (much of it of my own doing – saying “Yes” to too many things), and, most importantly, I simply do not feel “at peace.”

I know now how right I had it back in my early 20s; I think I just needed to experience all of the things I was trying to avoid before I could truly believe that they weren’t worth having. Well, now I have, and I’m ready to rededicate myself to simple living. I suspect that with the hole I’ve dug for myself, it will take more than a year to dig back out, and, really, I’ve already started, but I’m taking advantage of the new year to begin chronicling my journey.

So, with that, let’s get started – Happy 2018!