The office is tiny. In between a Baskin-Robins and a dry cleaner. I sit at a desk littered with loose papers and brochures in front of a large monitor with an array of open tabs. A red WAWA coffee cup sits next to the keyboard. Behind me is Tammie, at sixty-two she’s just returned to work after beating ovarian cancer. In front of me is Julie, she’s sixty-five with two grown daughters and a new white whisker on her chin. Across from her is Lena, seventy-eight, smokes twelve Newports a day and doesn’t talk to me. If we were friends, I’d probably ask her for a cigarette. Then again, probably not. Because behind her is my boss, my father. And behind him is my mother, the accountant.
I am twenty-nine and not just living with my parents but working for them. How did I get here, I sometimes think. How did this happen? How did I go from media startups with beers on tap and corporate gigs with 401ks and Friday happy hours to this? What ultimate decision led me here? The writing, I remind myself. I wanted more time to write. Less stress and hours at work meant more time for what I was trying to do. It was the sacrifice. Do this to get to where you want to be. It won’t be hard. Not harder than the last job where you hated the commute, the boss, the hours. I know the answers, yet most of the time, I forget them.
I don’t forget what it was like when I started. That was a dark winter. Every Monday for the first six months I’d take the 5:25 am train from New York to Philly, meet my mom and drive into the office with her, where she’d tell me to get off my cell phone or stop slouching at my desk. I’d work till five, drive home with either my mom or my dad, and eat dinner with the two of them, until someone said something that someone, usually me, interpreted wrong. After dinner, the thin walls of my bedroom would be filled with the sounds of my mother’s television program – God Friended Me. But it was the thoughts, louder than the TV, that kept me awake. This is too hard. This is worse than before. I should just quit.
But I couldn’t quit. Not after Jay and I almost broke up over the decision. The decision he told me was my worst one yet. The decision that meant I had to take a pay cut, spend half the week back at home, and inundate myself back in the trenches of family life. The decision that came after just two years of quitting another job. But I had to do it, I told him. This is the only way.
Two years later, my sister is also back living with my parents. She dropped out of college after her first semester. We all understood. College didn’t have to be her thing. She could do baking or fashion or anything else. Now she’s back home and going to community college. After working at a doggy daycare, a nursery school, Chipotle, another doggy day care and Five Below, she’ll find out in a few weeks if she’s accepted back into the school she so quickly left. So we’re both at home, again. Both living in the limbo of our decisions.
On Saturday I passed her walking down the stairs. Her hair now a mousey grey after dying it platinum blonde, purple, then brown. She was carrying two big bags of laundry, her face partially covered in an oversized sweatshirt and the energy that wafted off her is what I assume parent’s call attitude. What’s up? I asked her. Nothing, she replied. Just tired.
In the kitchen a few minutes later I asked what she was doing all day. She said nothing, she was feeling depressed. Why? I asked. Because I need to get out of this situation, she said. I’m miserable. Well, I said, it’s the situation you created. The words had the sour taste they always did when I knew I’d have to eat them later. Just two days earlier, I was sitting at work thinking about how miserable I was. In fact, three of the five days last week I dreaded going to work, spent the morning in a sea of gloom, wondering how the hell I would ever get out of the situation I had so casually put myself in.
Though we’re ten years apart, our decisions are identical. Two years ago we were both unhappy where we were and demanded a change. Two years later, we feel the same. Something is wrong. Something is making us miserable. Only now I’m starting to realize that it’s not our situation, not the job or the commute or living back home, it’s our inability to stomach the misery that is inherent in life. The sacrifices inherent in success. The pain that comes with building endurance.
After three jobs in the last five years I’ve noticed a pattern. After about six months of gritting my teeth, getting used to new systems and bosses and processes, I begin to feel comfortable. I officially get the hang of the requirement. And then work becomes monotonous. Then, the coworkers I so wanted approval from, become people I wish wouldn’t talk to me in the morning. Become people, I feel, aren’t pulling their weight. Become problems, or pests, or pains in my ass. And after a year, the job I wanted so badly becomes the job I can’t stand. And after two or three years, I leave and do it all over again.
But all I’m doing is starting another cycle. Beginning another race. What I should remember is my track training. The motto we used to tell ourselves before every ten mile run. It hurts until it doesn’t. Fight through till you hit the next high. Push past the wall and keep going, where the endorphins kick in and you feel like you could run for hours.
No job, no situation, no life is perfect. We’re all here running our own race, pushing ourselves across our own finish lines. And the beauty and the elation that comes is always in persevering through the pain. Every job is going to have bad moments. Every week may have a bad day. A day where you don’t want to be there. Where you wish you were somewhere else. Where you just want to throw in the towel and start again, somewhere else. Some other way. Strength is knowing how to work through these thoughts. How to feel the bad day, let it slide through you, and remember that quitting, changing, moving to something else, won’t change the feeling.
Sometimes, the only thing that changes a situation is sitting through it. Letting it pass and become another day. Another day you stuck it out, closer to your goal. So when this week gets hard, I urge you to remember your strength. To think of it like training for a marathon. To remember that only by pushing through, the joy will come. Working through something is so much more satisfying than quitting or stopping. You just need to push through the pain, the day, the hurt and if you can do that, you can keep going. And when you keep going, there’s so many more possibilities. So wherever you are, keep going. Remember that this is your road, your run, your life.
Check out ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson’s Top 10 Ballet Tips – these are great principles to apply to work and life.