At the end of last year I had the chance to confront my belief that returning to my former place and style of working was a viable option for contributing to my income. I left my steady job in April 2012, and in the back of my mind there was always the possibility of returning on a more flexible basis in order to earn some money at a high hourly rate.
Late last year I accepted the offer to return to deliver some training. I was missing being part of the team, working with a computer system, and a reliable source of income. It seemed like it should be possible to pull off a brief return appearance if I didn’t make any major long term commitments.
What happened? I enjoyed it for a few days, then got sick for two weeks. I returned for a day and got sick for another two weeks. I had been afraid to confront the truth that it was time to truly say goodbye to my old way of life, so sickness did it for me.
By telling myself a story about what “should be possible” I was trying to bypass my gut feeling that it wasn’t the right thing for me. It seemed logical that spending fewer days or hours at work would have made it easier to be there, but it didn’t turn out like that. Every minute spent in a hierarchical bureaucracy is a microcosm of all that working in such an environment implies. The imbalance of power, the lack of control, the little inefficiencies and frustrations were all present.
I enjoyed the enthusiasm of the people around me who were excited about the challenge of the work, even as I re-experienced the intensity of the mental effort required to carry out complex computer projects. I also heard the familiar stories of anxiety and frustration that had been my own story. Indeed, some of them were the same issues, moved forward by 18 months.
After a four weeks of illness I had to admit to myself that I didn’t want to do this type of work, even briefly. It was pulling me back into old ways of thinking and feeling that I had worked hard to relinquish. Embarassing as it was to go through that process, it served an important purpose. It was very clear that I needed to move fully into the new way of living that I have been creating for myself. Having experienced a life of creativity and autonomy since I left my secure job, I was a different person. I didn’t want to make the adjustments and compromises that would be required to operate in the old environment. Trying to do so was dragging down my health and my ability to move forward into a new way of living.
When I left work in 2012 to travel overseas I took with me a small stone from the building as a momento. A little bit of the tower building went with me around the world, and sat in a box beside my computer at home. Having realised that this experience was about letting go fully and completely, I decided to perform a symbolic act. On my last day, I returned the stone where I had found it, on the balcony beside the office, with a request that it look after the friends and colleagues who I was leaving behind. Of course you don’t really leave people behind. The dear friends that I made all those years are still with me, and always will be, no matter where we are or how often we see each other.
Since that last day, I feel that I really have let go. I can walk through the foyer of the tower without the nagging fear that a large hand will come down from the sky and pull me back into my old life. Over the Australian summer I have been exploring some new ideas that are going to be very helpful in moving forward into new ways of working and earning an income.