By Janice Payne
As children, from the time we learn how to communicate, we quickly learn that life is going to expect a lot more from us than just naps. Our parents and teachers plant the seed that one day we’ll have to be something or become someone. So, we opt into this perpetual cycle of wanting to achieve an identity that we currently do not have. As kids, we dream of becoming the president, superstars, firefighters, soccer players, etc. Then we grow older, and those dreams slowly grow BIGGER and more exciting. Who doesn’t get a tingle when they hear “actuarial science” or “telecommunications?”
I thought I knew what I wanted to be when I went to college in Philly for Advertising & Business. I spent four years working hard to get good grades and scored the best internships at several advertising agencies in the city. All of these intentions I set out ultimately landed me a full-time job at an advertising agency only a couple months after I graduated. That was the goal, wasn’t it? I graduated high school so I could get into college so I could then get the job… the steps after that were completely unknown to me. No one seems to talk about what happens after you land the job, and frankly, I avoided thinking about it.
I was on auto-pilot for a year, working my 9-5 and “living for the weekend” like most people my age do. Scheduling happy hours to “spice things up” and taking trips I could fit into my ten whole vacation days. I found myself thinking all the time; damn, is this it? I wasn’t exactly happy, but I also wasn’t even sad, I was just going through the motions. I felt like a watered-down version of myself. Deep down in my gut, I knew I wasn’t on my path.
But for the biggest plot twist in my life thus far…I got laid off from my job on June 2nd, 2017. I remember being asked to gather my things and leave that same day. It was a total blindside, I had rent coming up, and the thought of asking my parents for money at this stage in my life seemed shameful. I remember walking out, sitting in Dilworth Park, and bawling my eyes out while listening to Mac Demarco. Why? I don’t even listen to Mac Demarco on a normal day.
As my bruised ego slowly started to heal; once again, time reminded me that it always finds a way to reveal what is true. And at this point in time, I can wholeheartedly say that being laid off was the best thing that could have happened to me because that rejection was the catalyst for me to wake up from my auto-pilot. For the first time in a long time, I feel free.
Since leaving my M-F 9-5, my life has only been filled with the things that make me happy. I found a part-time job in the music industry where I get to combine my experience in digital marketing with my greatest passion, which is music. I’m working in a relaxed environment with like-minded music heads doing interesting work, and that has made the biggest difference for my morale. Sure, I’m making a lot less money than I was making at my last job, but it is so much easier getting up in the morning for a job I actually enjoy. More importantly, working part-time has allowed me to make more time for the things I enjoy like reading, writing, seeing live music, and traveling as much as possible.
In July, I was camping under the stars on Mount Rainier in Washington where I helped shave a gypsy fire breather’s head and fed watermelon to a llama while wearing a black unitard that wasn’t mine. What a trip that was. In August, I went to a music festival in New York where one of my best friends and I held hands as we were brought to tears inside Android Jones’ spellbinding Microdose VR dome. At the same festival, I was able to witness A Tribe Called Quest’s last show they’d ever play. In early September, I took my first solo trip back to China, where I was born, and climbed 268 steps on a mountain in Hong Kong to pray beneath a 112 ft. Buddha statue. Just this past weekend I went to another music festival in New York where I finally got to see the Gorillaz, one of my favorite bands of all time, perform. In a couple of days, I’ll be taking a solo trip to California to visit old and new friends in Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Twentynine Palms.
My intention for taking this trip is to gain clarity on what area of California I’ll be moving to in the winter. I’ve dreamt about moving to California since I was 18 and it’s a goal that I’ve always suppressed because I’ve been afraid to leave what I know. My life in Philly is easy, in fact, it’s wonderful. I am perfectly comfortable in Philly, where I’m surrounded by the streets I’m familiar with and the people that I love. But being comfortable is as good as being numb. In my experience, it’s only when I’ve stepped outside my comfort zone that I feel close to magic, and magic is lightning in a bottle.
It’s crazy to think that the person I was at this time last year is almost unrecognizable to me now. I feel like I am living in color again and I can’t begin to explain how refreshing that is. Routine isn’t suitable for the human spirit; there is too much going on in the world to ever settle for complacency.
Do I have my life figured out? Absolutely not. But when you have the foresight to trust that the universe has a way of connecting all the dots, you’ll start to see the positive side to everything; even in the things that feel like crushing rejection. Whether it’s rejection from a job, a friend, a parent, or the guy you really liked, and so on. Sometimes our darkest moments put us on a direct path to the greatest things we have yet to experience. When you no longer fear any type of rejection, to me, that’s freedom. Trusting that nothing meant for me will ever pass me has allowed me not to waste any time dwelling on rejection like I once did. With patience, time will bring you all the incredible things you never expected to happen, and you’ll be grateful that anything else that wasn’t meant for you didn’t stand in the way.
So, the further I transcend away from an ordinary life, the more I realize that happiness is not a result of being someone or something, it is a consequence of doing. I realize now that I don’t want to be anything, for I already am. Living our lives in hopes that we become something feels like a big waste of time to me. I think people sometimes put too much pressure on being whatever label they’ve decided they’re willing to limit themselves to. Humans are too beautifully complex to be limited to just being one thing. Why is it so easy for us to slap labels like “doctor,” “teacher,” “stay at home mom,” onto one’s identity? This sort of pressure was one of the reasons why I was so willing to stay at an office that I didn’t actually want to be in. I was afraid that without my job as an account manager, I would have no label to attach to my sense of self. The problem is that a lot of people only know how to identify themselves by their professional success and not who they are as people, at their core. When I would meet strangers, a lot of them usually start small talk off with “So what do you do?’ It was easy to hide behind that question by saying “I work in account management at an advertising agency.” Yet, why did this answer feel like it had nothing to do with me as a person at all? I am a culmination of my passions, my music taste, what I choose to do with my free time, the friends I surround myself with, how I treat strangers, how I let go of heartbreak, the jokes I laugh at, the books I read, the cities I visit, and the list goes on.
Being laid off initially felt like I was being stripped of my identity or like I had failed at something. If that were true, why am I so much happier now than I was before? I believe that as long as you’re moving in any direction that isn’t backward, you’re on your path. I’m not saying I’ll never work as an account manager again; I could totally end up doing that. Or I could end up selling handmade friendship bracelets on some remote island somewhere. I’m not sure what’s in store for me next, and that’s the fun part. The uncertainty of life is the magic, because at least uncertainty feels a lot more like living than auto-pilot ever did.