After graduating college I could hardly wait to get right to work. For months I built a professional wardrobe of suits and stylish, but comfortable shoes for my 3 block walk to the office. My parents gifted me a leather, monogrammed briefcase…the kind with a large strap to make it easier for carrying on my commute from ferry to subway.
It made me feel successful to be carrying this high-quality piece of craftsmanship over my shoulder as I walked along the crowded sidewalks, people dodging through the shoulder-to-shoulder crosswalks of a bustling, big city. I felt like I was truly making my mark and moving up in the world each time I entered the massive revolving doors of my office in a sky scraping building…like I always imagined.
…until I didn’t feel anything but the mind-numbing monotony of the noise, the smells and the shared refrigerator in the break room where my yogurt would mysteriously disappear…even though my name was on it. I was burnt out and slowly coming to the realization that my image of this career path was startlingly different from living it.
I began to question why I chose this path. I began searching the recesses of my mind to pinpoint exactly why I’d thought this would ever be a good choice for me for the rest of my life.
It dawned on me that I was living someone else’s version of a good, successful and rewarding life. I was living a version of the perfect career formed by years of stories of sacrifice and knuckle-bruising, breakbacking work by my ancestors. The version I was living belonged to my parents. I was doing what they expected of me. I was doing what people told me would make me stable and wealthy. At no time, however, did anyone mention doing what would make me happy.
As this realization began to take hold of me, I actually focused my perspective from that of an immigrant landing in New York City with nothing but a dirty sack that doubled as a suitcase and a pillow and the clothes on my back, to the present day, young person who’d been fed glossy magazine images of a buttoned-up, bespeckled executive in tailored suits and a flashy watch with the price-tag of a 16 year old’s first, used car. This was the picture of success that was painted for me by generations of family members who talked of struggle and hardship and defined success by how much money one earns.
At this same time, I struck up a friendship with an older co-worker. He seemed more youthful, so I really had no idea there was a full, twenty year difference in our ages. I remember being floored when he told me his age…the same age as my parents. He had a permanent smile on his face and was active and always jovial with a positive outlook. I grew up with curmudgeons or people that were looking for the other shoe to drop and something to go wrong. It was hard to believe he belonged to that same generation of people.
My co-worker…my friend…took a genuine interest in me after a deep conversation about life and the future and where I saw (or didn’t see) myself in years to come. He offered me a lot of wisdom and insight into more than just the number crunching of big business and dollar signs. He also had a very broad definition of what success means, and it was different than that of my family.
See, where I come from, in order to be happy, you have to be more, do more and have more than the next guy. My parents generation calls it “Keeping up with the Joneses.”, but in my generation it’s the Kardashians. There isn’t enough for everyone to be wealthy. Not everyone in the office can be an up-and-comer…only someone with an edge or someone who works from sun-up to sundown.
As I stopped seeing validation in labels and trends, as a way to measure my success, and began to wonder what really separated me from all the other professionals behind computer screens, I opened up to the possibility that I’d made a mistake and there was definitely more for me out there in the world.
I started having lunch with my co-worker and skipping happy hour to have dinner with his family once a week. This is where I shifted my thinking about what wealth looks like. While a lot of young professionals were burning the midnight oil between the office and the hip sushi joint, I was spending time grilling in the backyard with a mentor who was a walking version of the highly effective habits of successful people.
I marveled at how exuberant he was after a day at the office…arriving home to throw the ball with his son and kick the soccer ball with his daughter while he ran questions by her in an auditory practice test for school. His wife was kind and hospitable and welcomed me with a warm embrace every time I visited as if she’d known me her whole life. As cheesy as I hear myself sounding when I say it, being with them was like drinking happiness!
Then he told me his secret…the secret that kept him from staying at the office one minute past 5pm. The secret that kept him from engaging in office politics or hostile co-workers competing for the corner office. He wasn’t gunning after promotions or accolades because he had a home-based business that supplemented the income he’d be making as a six-figure corporate executive without the 70 hour work week. He had no interest in trading his time and that of his family’s for a shot at a view of the city skyline. By his estimation, the faces of his wife and children beat seeing the sunrise on the brick and mortar of sprawling NYC from 35 floors up.
His spare-time, side-gig gave him the time freedom to remain available to his family and enjoy his life instead of being chained to his desk at the office. He wasn’t interested in missing his daughters soccer games or barely having time to sit down and share dinner with his family and tuck his son into bed.
The generosity of my mentor…taking me under his wing…to open my eyes, and doors, to a version of life and success that I’d never knew existed was like an invisible bonus of the job I took. It also prompted me to change my vision and get a new job.
A few years into this journey of being an entrepreneur, with a home-based business of my own, I’m happy to say that I’m now a mentor to young people I encounter who dare to question if there is something more to life than working late into the night and seeing the sunrise from inside a box.
If you’re facing burnout then you run the risk of fading away…dreams fading, time fading, memories of what can be fading into oblivion. But if you are looking for a better way to live, work and play I hope you’ll reach out to learn more.
I know what’s on the horizon for me, and I’m NOT losing steam anytime soon! – Chris