"Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know."
- Pema Chodron
It was 2am and I still couldn't sleep because the words in my head raced like a news ticker; endless questions that I could barely track - is this really what I should be doing with my life? If not this, then what? How do I make the change? Should I?
I was at law school and deep down I just knew that this path wouldn't lead me anywhere that I really wanted to go. But if I admitted defeat, that would mean that I had taken a wrong turn and that made me feel like a failure and a fraud.
So I tried to ignore my anxiety because it was uncomfortable. After all, we're wired to run away from the painful and towards the pleasurable. Yet that anxiety was a message from my subconscious telling me something that my ego didn't want to hear.
The Chasm: Who We Are and Who We Are Paid to Be
When it comes to 'work' we can often feel silly for bringing our emotions or subconscious into the equation. Our work self is our 'functional' self - we tell ourselves that emotions are for our personal life; at work we are paid to show up and deliver.
Yet I find that most work dissatisfaction stems from a chasm between who we are at our core and who we are paid to be in our jobs. What we do each day should still feel like an accurate reflection of who we are and what we stand for on a deeper level.
Many Escape members who I talk to don't hate their jobs; but they don't feel happiness at work either. I recently met a banker who described that he wanted to change careers just so that he would feel something - instead of feeling like he was switched 'off' for five days out of a week, going through the motions like a hollow robot.
The friends I know who are most satisfied with their jobs are those who have managed to create work around their natural interests - topics and industries that emotionally engage them. Jobs that make them come alive because the work is aligned to their deepest values.
It's hard to know what else we should be doing, if not this - but embracing as opposed to avoiding our negative emotions or anxiety is what can lead us towards our dream job. The struggles we undergo are the very signs we are looking for in tracing the elusive path.
Learning to Listen to Negativity
Most people start their job search on job boards but then realise that they have no idea what they are searching for. Negative emotions can point us towards what we are searching for by reminding us of our deepest values and core goals. Essentially, frustration is a signal that something in your current environment isn't aligned to your values.
If you value creativity, you might feel stifled and depressed by an environment that punishes you for thinking outside the box. If health is important to you, long hours that prevent you from exercising or eating right might bring up frustration or guilt. If you like helping others, working in a job that you feel harms others could feel like torture.
If you continue to ignore the frustration, it can deepen into depression, which is often described as anger turned inwards. As writer Andrew Solomon says: "The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment."
If you dislike your current setup, but feel powerless or fearful to find a replacement, you can start to resent yourself for not having the courage to change. It's not easy to step out of anything without reassurance of what may come next. But faith is believing in what you cannot see and almost every Escape story starts with a leap of faith.
Escape member Ben Harper used to work at a big-four accountancy in London. He decided to switch jobs because of his disillusionment and because of the feelings he was left with.
"As long as a partner brought in work, no one really cared about how they treated staff or what they said," he said. Partners were very possessive over contacts. "If you could help them win the next piece of work, they were all ears, but if not, you were just another commodity."
"I was rock bottom on motivation and needed a drastic change," Ben recalls. He recalls when he used to stand on the platform at Clapham Junction station on a Monday morning surrounded by gloomy faces as he made his way into work.
Now, he is the CFO of Zamsolar, a social enterprise in Zambia that sells solar lights and phone chargers to people in villages that are not on the grid; a role that is much more aligned to his values of helping others and seeing the world.
How To Translate Anxiety
The first step is often to create space and to spark thinking and then listening to what comes back. Sometimes this means going along to events that inspire you - whether it's a general Escape the City event, or a meetup in an area that you're interested or an industry that you're interested in exploring.
Listening can mean recording things in a journal or saving links that interest you in a Bookmarks folder. Giving yourself time to search without needing to find an answer straight away is invaluable - it allows you to see patterns emerge.
Through listening to the emotions instead of trying to run away from them, you can find a compass that helps you discover the work that you were naturally designed to do.
It seems counterintuitive to embrace pain, but the pain is there because something is misaligned or broken - there is some value that is so important to you, that you are neglecting or going against enough, that is causing this pain.
Depression or anxiety is an alarm clock designed to protect you long-term (even when it seems to be hurting you in the present moment): when you've woken up, and made the necessary changes in your life, it will have served its purpose.
This post originally appeared on The Escape School.