The realization of misery

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 18, 2004, 11:17 PM | comments: 0

Almost two months ago I quit my day job. I justified it (rightfully so) by knowing that I had to dedicate adequate time to writing my book. What sealed the idea is that I could at least get by with the little book advance and advertising revenue from my sites. I wouldn't be rich or able to live the J-Pizzie lifestyle, but I could at least pay the mortgage for a little while.

The last two weeks in particular have led to a number of realizations, most of which have to do with the fact that three years in corporate hell sucked the soul right out of me, and made me a miserable person. The thing that's so fucked up about it is that I thought that for the most part I was pretty happy.

When the bubble burst in early 2001, and Penton Media was going down the crapper, I split for Pfingsten Publishing. After only a few months and 9/11 related problems (not to mention a bunch of cheeseball big company personalities in a worthless start-up), they laid me off. I spent six months on the "government payroll" with my self-esteem in the crapper, unable to find a job. I was at least able to learn .NET during that time, which got me a job at an even more shitty payroll company. A year and a half later they laid me off too. Barely missing a beat, recruiters calling every day, I got in on a contract job with a gigantic insurance company, breaking the six-figure barrier. Four months later, it was May, 2004, and I made the break.

Many things became very clear during those three years. The first was that money isn't the key to happiness, or a measure of self-worth. I doubled my salary in three years, and the more I made it seemed, the less interested I was in the work.

The second thing is that, for better or worse, your self-esteem is tied to what you do. Prior to this time period, I worked for three years creating, programming and engineering an amazing government cable access operation, and I loved it. I would've stayed had it not been for the fact I'd never break $30,000 on the salary scale, and the people I worked for would have no part in making a raise happen. (Money isn't everything, but skilled professionals need to have some minimum standard.) Even at Penton, I believed in what we were doing at one point. Every job thereafter I didn't care. It wasn't interesting, and that made me feel worthless.

The third thing is that the fire to do great things elevates your work ethic to a higher plane. I was doing great things in that government job, and worked insane hours to make it happen. The sheer act of creation is a natural high, and one I never got out of those three years. I would briefly have moments of satisfaction when I finished a revision for CoasterBuzz or something like that, but for the most part it was rare.

Fourth is that balance is key in life. I've talked about it in online journals for three years, but in reality I was never practicing it. Finishing Masters of Doom, I realized that lack of balance is what put Carmack's and Romero's ventures on a perpetual downward spiral (if the timing is right, you can still make millions even if you screw up). If you keep at it too hard, you'll burn out and alienate everyone else. If you live carelessly, failure will kick your ass. Somewhere in the middle, you can succeed and be happy.

Finally, the inability to take risks will keep you forever stuck in the same place. That's probably what was eating at me the most. In college I was idealistic and optimistic, heading into the worst business in the world, radio. I had a bright career ahead of me in an industry that killed more people's spirits than it elevated. The crappy jobs took those qualities away from me. Only now am I realizing that I missed out on three years because I wouldn't take any risks. Sure, I'm "poor" for the moment, but the long-term benefit of writing a book and taking time to "find myself" again will help me out.

Fortunately my dear wife Stephanie didn't take off during those years. She had a lot of realizations herself with regards to career and education, so naturally things could've been really bad between us. As of today, I feel better about myself, my surroundings, my skills, my interests and my future than I have in years. There are a lot of things I still want to change about myself, but I finally feel that I can evolve with a little time. I'm not stuck anymore.

Now I'm not just saying it anymore... it really is fun to be me again.


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