Thursday, December 18, 2008

Finding Balance

At the end of October I left my job amidst a plunging economy and job market. I chose to leave in pursuit of happiness and fulfillment which has been entirely lacking from my career. Ever since I left college I have heard the words of my Chancellor ringing in my ears, often in my head and often because my father has repeated them to me time and time again. During our graduation day ceremony the Chancellor warned all of us new graduates that "It's not a real job unless it has health insurance."

Having moved to New York City three years ago, fresh from a year over-seas with socialized health coverage I thought to myself - I'm in good health, I'm young, what will it matter if I go a couple months without health coverage until I find a job with benefits?

In all my then twenty-six years I had never been hospitalized. I'd only had a couple rare trips to the ER years before when I had Mono. I was young, unemployed and a new arrival to the city. I was determined to find a job and "make it" in New York so I made a trip to the Work Force One employment center in Harlem. While filling out all the paperwork to register for their job seeker services a man announced that if anyone was interested in health coverage they should come see him when they were done. I thought, well it can't hurt. I went and talked to him and discovered the coverage was through Medicaid - health coverage generally used by people on welfare. Great, I thought. That's a morale booster. But I signed up anyway.

A week later I wound up in the hospital for four days. I would have had to pay over $32,000 in medical expenses out of pocket if it hadn't been for the coverage I elected the week before. Instead I only had to pay $1,500.

That experience taught me the value and importance of maintaining some level of health care because you never know what can happen in life. Another unfortunate and false lesson I took from that experience was that I had to settle for a job. I thought as long as I had benefits and a steady paycheck I should be happy. I was lucky to have these things - it is true that many people go without and I do not mean to belittle their importance, especially in the case of health care or where one is providing for a family. I was so wrong to believe; however, that having those securities was the best I could or should hope for in a job.

I stayed in administrative office positions, serving as an assistant to someone else or to a team of other people, or serving as a liaison between different departments or groups of people for over three years. I went to work every day and put in my best possible effort and completed my work to the best of my abilities. But no matter how hard I tried or how strong my work ethic I could not change the fact that my work would never be good enough. It would never be my best because I was unhappy. I clung so much to that false sense of security in having a paycheck and benefits that I lost sight of seeking my own fulfillment.

I realize, now that I am unemployed by choice and devoting my free time to reading, writing, researching future course work, and volunteering my time to help others, that I was lying to myself in order to avoid change and risk. I thought I was doing myself and others a favor by staying put and getting my job done every day because I was a fast learner and efficient worker and I understood the ins and outs of my job better than anyone else and if I left they'd have to find someone else and train them all over again. I even told myself things might fall apart if I left - as if I was that important. They ran well enough before I started the job so why would it be any different after I left? It was just an excuse.

I spent part of the afternoon yesterday outside, half frozen, trying to muck the frozen ground of the horse pens where I volunteer. My nose was cold, the tips of my fingers went numb for a while and the longer I stood on the frozen earth the colder my toes and feet became.

In recent months I have been volunteering at The Mustang Center in Louisville, CO. Typically I help out with riding therapy lessons but the weather has been below freezing, sometimes in the single digits lately so classes have been canceled. Now in these cold weeks, instead of helping with classes I have been helping with the mucking and feeding - dirtier and less glamorous work that assisting with classes, for sure. But even as I stood with my mucking rake and wheelbarrow among the horses, half frozen, I realized I was far more content working among them for free than I was sitting in my office behind a computer desk earning a paycheck.

It seems through my volunteer work I am discovering a path to my passion and fulfillment. All I need to do now is create a balance between doing what I love and earning a sustainable living. I think I have heard the term "starving artist" so often in life that I began to believe that one could not be both a success in a creative endeavor and a success financially. It is time now to cast aside that lie too and discover the balance between the worlds of sustainability and creativity. Now I understand the two are not only NOT mutually exclusive but that gaining financial success and stability is completely dependent upon achieving personal success and fulfillment through living authentically and using my talents to my fullest potential.

We as humans do not do ourselves any favors by diminishing our talents in an effort to not stand out or rock the boat. In fact we diminish ourselves and everyone around us by not living into ourselves fully. Only by finding and embracing our true selves can we ever hope to really support each other and create balance for and between us all.

Visit the website for The Mustang Center by clicking on the link below:

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Steph! I wonder whether your old chancellor has considered the idea that a large chunk of the country now lacks a "real job?" Health insurance is indeed a boon, even if it is a rip-off. I also agree that it is a waste of life to sell yourself short in a career. I think that tendency--to not live up to one's potential--oozes into freelancing and other facets of life as well. I wonder how it connects not only to fear, but to laziness. Comfort, even if it's a sort of biting, unpleasant, tuned-out sort, can feel safer than the Great Unknown...into which we all seem to be heading...muahahaha...I'm going to go watch TV now.