Sometimes, you have to find your lowest point before you can finally start to lift yourself up. About a year and a half ago, I stood in front of a hotel room window in South Portland, Maine, and thought about jumping out. I was five floors above a concrete walkway, and I figured that the impact of the landing would probably kill me. A few weeks before that, I had stood in front of a similar hotel window in Burlington, Vermont, but I was only three floors up and feared that the fall would only render me a quadriplegic.

I had (and still have) a loving husband and two wonderful sons, but I was incapable of enjoying my life because I was holding onto a job that I hated. I was a mid-level manager for a large retailer in a dying industry, which meant that I was under constant pressure to cut costs and to transition to new product lines designed to save the company’s skin. I hated what I had become in that role: a penny-pinching, plastic crap-selling robot. Financially, however, I was in no position to quit.

Enter Steven Slater. A few days into my Maine vacation after I had pressed my nose against that high window, Steven Slater jumped out of the emergency hatch of a JetBlue Airlines plane. Slater was a flight attendant, and he walked off of the job after 28 years in the industry when a passenger cursed him out. He grabbed the loudspeaker, announced his departure, popped open a beer, and pulled the emergency chute. Now, while his actions were not incredibly mature, Slater’s story resonated with me and with millions of other Americans. Although I wouldn’t pull my own chute at my corporate job for another few months, I knew that I had to fight for my sanity.

Before I could find wellness for myself, I had to accept responsibility for choosing my situation. I had bought into the myth that if you align yourself with a nice company, pay your dues and give your best effort, then you’ll be rewarded with financial security and stability. I had the security of a steady paycheck, but I hated getting up in the morning. My schedule made my family miserable. The requirements of the job were not congruent with my values. At the same time, I was choosing to get up and go to that job every day. Like so many other people, I was building and decorating my own prison.

I also had to prepare to lose everything. One day, before my shift was scheduled to start at my corporate job, I sat in my car and called President Obama’s mortgage relief helpline. I thought that if I quit my job, I would probably lose my home, and I wanted to try to prevent that from happening. I talked over short sales and foreclosures with the financial counselor as I baked behind the windshield in the hot summer sun. At the end of the conversation, I knew that I was willing to lose my home and my corporate respectability in order to save my soul. I understood that my family needed me more than they needed that bi-weekly direct deposit.

Fortunately for me, the story has ended well. My finances are cobbled together with spit and duct tape, but so far I have managed to both stay above water and keep my home. I have also found the joys of self-employment. My paycheck is not as steady as it used to be, but I have learned to live with less money. In exchange, I have gained my compass.

Working for myself has given me the chance to walk my oldest son to school every morning and to pick him up in the afternoons. I’ve also had a year and a half at home with my youngest son. My husband and I have “date night” once a week so that we can reconnect with some alone time. My corporate schedule didn’t allow for these simple pleasures. Now, I don’t know how I lived without them.

Having the freedom to determine my own path according to my own values, for me, defines wellness. Instead of standing on a window thinking about jumping out, I’m looking ahead at my late 30s, 40s and the years beyond feeling excited for all that I will experience. I’ve learned that caring for the soul leads to caring for the body and the mind. I have yet to find perfection, but I have found wellness.

Jackie Lee
Jackiesrandomthoughts.com

 


Comments

02/06/2012 1:06am

Jackie this was so much more than I had hoped for when I asked you to write for my website. It has helped me to think about all that I have given up for a life of "work." I can see the natural progression of thought between this and your newest blog too. Thank you. Thank you for having the courage to write this and for allowing me to feature it.

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