Do you ever feel that no matter how good your job, how nice your colleagues and how cool your boss, somehow none of this is who you actually are? Here’s how that felt to us and what we did about it.
A day that fills some of us with a fear so profound, so consuming, that it retroactively infects even the most benign Sunday with a sense of dread and foreboding.
Is this normal? Is this all there is to life? A slog through mild unpleasantness at best, abject horror at worst, always focusing desperately on the next brief pit-stop (the weekend! the bank holiday! the Christmas break! summer! yippee!) to be able to exhale and just be you.
And then your rest is over, and it’s back to normal. Back to living for tomorrow – for that promotion, for that raise, for that big break that’s somehow always beyond the horizon. That day, we used to tell ourselves, everything would finally be fine. Oh silly us, we meant the next day. No, the next.
What about living a life we love today?
Itinerary of an Average Monday
I wake up on a Monday and the first sound I emit is a groan. I feel hungover but without the fun memories. Instead I am beset by the horrors of transition – from a sedentary and peaceful state to one of motion and showering. This is what a newborn baby must feel like.
Misery Factor – 8/10 (worst breakup ever, creepy uncle, kidney stones)
I manage an unimpressive leak. This is the highlight of my day and will stay so for many hours.
Misery Factor – 6/10 (accidentally reading Game of Thrones spoilers, stubbing your toe, eating a cherry and realising too late that it’s a tomato)
The world outside the window seems grey and cold and menacing. Are those umbrellas? The sight of an umbrella is as upsetting as a crying child crawling away from an upturned wheelchair. It’s a post-apocalyptic nightmare out there and everyone looks angry and wet. So I’m going out into that warzone. And for what?
Misery Factor 9/10 (actual war, your doctor recommending prayer, beetroot)
Oh here’s what. Awaiting me outside is a horde of the most highly-strung zombies you’ll ever see, each of them just as miserable and self-absorbed as me. Just walking straight, jaws set, unsmiling, avoiding all eye contact and desperately clutching coffees, a few of which will cause some minor tragedy on the way to work. Yep, everything is miserable and I’m not special. The most impact I could ever have on any of these assholes is getting in their way.
Misery Factor 7/10 (public toilets, tapas, piles)
Oh also it’s not as cold as I thought outside so now I’m on my way to the subway and I’m starting to sweat. Crestfallen, I open my jacket and a ferocious gust of that trademark London wind instantly freezes the sweat onto my chest, neck and back. Yup, no way I won’t catch a cold now.
Misery Factor 10/10 (genocide, Mongol invasions, Paul Giamatti)
There’s 30 emails in my inbox by the time I get to the office. That’s 30 things that need to be done asap, to which I add the 10 I didn’t get to yesterday because at 1am I was too tired to progress those any further. Ok, it’s 9.30am and the clock is already ticking fast.
I need to plan. I know! I’ll make a To Do list! But let me procrastinate just a little first. I can’t just go into all this work cold.
By now the pattern has become clear – all I’m doing today is negotiating my way up and down the Misery Scale. When does it all end? When can I stop being miserable? My mind travels 15 hours into the future. This is what it sees:
• 10am-12noon, I pretend to be a Very Knowledgeable Professional. Pure, distilled stress. I don’t know what I’m doing and I think it shows. Projected Misery Factor – 8/10 (“I’m a total fraud”)
• 12 noon, lunch, I call Marc for dietary advice and enjoy what little carbohydrate the little nazi allows. But it’s tainted by the dread of those 15 minutes being over far too soon. Also the carbs turn out to be underwhelming. Projected Misery Factor – 5/10 (“this is the least shit my day will get and it’s still kinda shit”)
• 2pm, gym session, which I hate. I do it so I can eat my ribs, donuts and peanut butter ice cream on the weekends. Projected Misery Factor – 6/10 (“at least it’s not due diligence”)
• 3pm-7pm, more make-believe. I use words like escrow and notwithstanding. I look like I have answers. I do this while also pretending that dinner is not the only thing on my mind. That’s my version of multitasking. My throat feels achey. Projected Misery Factor – 7/10 (“I’m still a fraud, but if I can at least make it till dinner”)
• 7pm, dinner, this isn’t going well. Not only does the food turn out to be way worse than I thought, the same it’s been every evening since Rao knows when, but I’m suddenly present to the realisation that I am having dinner at my desk. I Skype mummy. I’m withdrawn and curt like I’m doing her some favour by calling when I’m so miserable. Projected Misery Factor – 10/10 (“I’m eating at a desk, this is not how I was raised”)
• 7.30pm – 11.30pm, do work. Emails have slowed so time to get stuff off my desk. Tell people I’m looking into things I haven’t quite got round to yet. Blame the trainee. Talk to the boss, fake excitement at working late. Then agonise about being perceived as fake because he’s no fool – he’s not happy to be there and thinks it’s weird that I sound like I am. Feel really, really tired the whole while. Oh by the way I was definitely right about catching that cold. Projected Misery Factor – FUBAR (“because tomorrow’s going to be exactly the same”)
And that, a day in which we didn’t read a Great book, listen to a Great album, watch a Great movie or TV show, eat a Great meal, drink a Great sazerac or do virtually anything that could give either of us lasting pleasure – that was the kind of day we had both chosen to make our standard.
The Great Everything
Don’t get me wrong. The place Marc and I used to work, it’s a good place. As far as law firms go, you couldn’t get much better. I mean, it has the shittiest carpets you could ever imagine, but we got to hang around insanely smart people, we earned well, there was some brainy work and something you won’t hear from most people with corporate jobs – we actually got treated decently.
A good place.
But to us it wasn’t about being in a good place. We wanted to live a life that was a closer reflection of who we are, not someone else’s dream.
We thought: imagine a career that isn’t something you do just so you can afford to do what you love later, but that is the thing you love itself. You could be hustling 18-hour days, making a fraction of those enticing corporate salaries, but it would never feel like work. Right? Your whole life dedicated to your passions? That’s the jackpot.
There was one thing we really enjoyed at the firm. We loved interrupting people’s work to have long conversations about our kinda stuff: Great experiences, what beauty and quality mean to other people, finding your purpose, relationships, careers and a few thousand other topics but mostly food. These were the conversations that had made the two of us friends and got us through law school.
Was there a job that would kinda just let us discuss this stuff? We sure as hell couldn’t find it.
But one day, Marc had his daily What Should I Do With My Life catch-up with the usual crew: himself, his Dreams, Practicality and, he thinks, God. Normally these meetings were just shouting matches where nothing got concluded, but on this particular day his internal meeting had gone better than usual.
So, later that Monday night, Marc marches into my office with a big, mischievous smile on his face, like he’s pissed in one of the firm’s potted plants.
Hey, you know that thing you called a religion the other day?, he says.
Art, donuts, transformation, yup.
Right. He plops down on the chair in front of my desk. Let’s quit and do that instead.
I frown. C’mon Marc, what does that even mean? How do we get paid?
Typical. I rest my head in my hands to think. This is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard in my life.
But there’s also this feeling , one I haven’t felt in a long time. A rare but familiar sensation usually reserved for those brief pit-stop moments in life:
Misery Factor – 0/10 (Louis Armstrong, sukiyaki, Superman)
I look up at Marc.
Never gonna happen.