For some time now, I have become increasingly aware that certain parts of my life do not bring me happiness. As a realist, and someone who considers himself fairly self-aware, I have spent more than a few mental cycles squaring off against this issue, looking at it from all angles, weighing my feelings and thoughts about it, and moody as hell because I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, and I couldn’t shake it.
We Gen-Xers grew up in a strange time in America. We were born on the tail-end of a fairly depressed period of economic tumult. Many of us weren’t exactly poor, but we certainly weren’t rich either. The requirements for college degrees in the job market were still fairly lax, so a man could make a “damn good life” (to quote Ned Beatty’s character “Daniel Ruettiger” in “Rudy”) without a college degree. You weren’t going to have a vacation home, but you could take care of your family.
Right before most of Gen-Xers were born, the women’s movement had awoken a desire in many women for something more than what they had been sold was their lot in life. So, when California passed “No Fault Divorces,” which allowed either spouse to initiate divorce for any reason, other states soon followed and by the 90s, more than one million children each year were part of a family broken by divorce.
Gen-X children discovered a few things growing up:
- Nothing is forever. At any second, everything you think is good and normal can get ripped away and there is nothing you can do about it.
- Don’t count on other people to provide for you. If you want something, don’t expect a handout or a freebie. You have to get out there and make it happen.
- Love comes with caveats.
And people wonder why so many Gen-Xers became Preppers. Now, I don’t want to make too many generalizations here, but as a keen observer of others, I believe these three “lessons” Gen-Xers were taught have contributed to–at least for me–the following:
- I’m a planner and a saver. I don’t do anything without first researching the heck out of it. I know months in advance what my annual expenses are and rather than having to pull money out of savings, or put it on my credit card, I stash away for it each month like our parents’ old “Christmas Account” where they saved up money every paycheck to use for gifts during the holidays.
- I am generally distrustful of people’s motives until I get to know them. I won’t say I’m unfriendly, but I am rarely the first person to open up. However, once I do trust someone, I’ll tell them my life’s story if they want to hear it.
- A job is a means to an end, not something you have the latitude to pick because you love doing it.
As of today, I can say that the thing that brings me the most dissatisfaction and dare I say, trepidation, is my job. True, I don’t have any truly close friendships. I have a great many acquaintances, but between work and family and responsibilities around the house, there just isn’t much time for anything else. I realize this isn’t healthy, but I also realize that this idea of “self-love” and doing things for yourself is a relatively new phenomenon and one that our society has only recently been able to afford to indulge. I certainly never heard my father talk about needing a massage, or my mother complaining that she hadn’t gotten her nails done.
But, I’m OK with being a bit of a loner. Interestingly, the one other person I feel I could really connect with, is pretty much just like me, except he either doesn’t care to spend more time with me, or just doesn’t feel the need to.
So, back to the “job.” For nearly 30 years I have striven (strove? strived?) to climb the corporate ladder, with various levels of success. I have known something about myself for a long time now; something that I know is in conflict with my career growth goals. That something being the fact that I don’t like playing “the game.” I no longer have a desire to be an executive. I don’t feel the need to have a seat at the boardroom during the day and then sit through multi-hour dinners chatting it up with clients or other business leaders in the evening.
You can see how this might be a problem for a “leader.”
I am at a place in my career where I don’t necessarily “need” to make more money. It’s always nice and I would love to be able to afford better vacations, a new truck, and a vacation home. But at what cost? Lately, the cost has become crystal clear: time. Time taken away from my family; time taken away from “me” time doing things I enjoy; and time taken away from just taking care of myself, exercising and whatnot. I’m almost 50 and having worked and played pretty darn hard for nearly half a century, my body isn’t exactly a luxury yacht that will smoothly cruise its way through retirement.
And I suppose, coupled with having reached a financial place in my life where I’m not terribly concerned about tomorrow’s paycheck, I don’t know that I want to continue doing what I do now. The very thought of sitting at my computer, locked away in my office for 8 hours a day, while my family and those around me go on short vacations or even take off for lunch, feels like a not-great way to spend the 1/3 of my remaining good years, of which 1/3 of those years, I will still have to work; particularly in light of recent events (more on that in a sec).
Very recently, I took a new job. It’s an amazing opportunity and the pay is very good. But now working on my 7th week, I’m more confident than ever that I do not enjoy what I do. Well, that’s not entirely true. I enjoy parts of my job, just not the parts that involve relying on other people to give me what I need to do MY job, traveling, or trying to figure out how to solve a myriad of problems about which I have to question numerous people to try and understand the how, why, who, and what.
Mo’ Money. Mo’ Problems.
My third week on the job, I met with my new manager and while he was laying out a list of upcoming expectations, I started having chest pains. As someone who exercises a lot, I’m used to getting strange twinges and aches, but this was something else. It hurt and it wasn’t stopping.
Using my watches’ ECG function, I took my ECG reading, which normally looks very smooth and says, “No arrhythmia detected.” This time, there were massive peaks and the result basically said, “We’re not diagnosing anything you see, but IF you don’t feel well, you should probably see a doctor.”
Recognizing the pain was probably just stress-related, I blew it off. I did tell my wife and I also told her to just keep an eye on me that evening. Then I went and relaxed in my favorite chair and within a couple of hours, I felt mostly back to normal.
Yesterday at my annual physical, I mentioned this to my doctor. She decided to run an in-office ECG, since I’m on blood pressure meds anyway. So, they hook me up and run the test, which only takes about 30 seconds. Then the techs unstrap me and file out. My doctor comes back in and says, “You have a very interesting ECG. It says you’re having an active heart attack right now. Do you feel OK?”
I felt fine and told her so. So anyway, now I have an appointment with a cardiologist in a couple of weeks to see what’s going on. And all of this has helped crystallize a point that I have slowly come to realize, which is that I need to do something else, professionally. The money be damned. Well, not completely damned, cuz, I got three kids to put through college. But still, I need to stop trying to do “more” and do something that I can–maybe not enjoy–but that at least won’t kill me.
I’ll keep you posted.