I met up with Sharon* after having not hung out for a year. She lived in San Francisco, and I had moved up to wine country, and we were finally making our schedules work despite living miles apart. The cafe was abuzz with clicking laptop keys, babies on laps, and hipster baristas steaming espressos. The air smelled deliciously of coffee and fresh baked goods.
“So what’s new?” I asked. “Tell me everything.”
Sharon had finally left her job working for a high-profile magazine. Whenever we’d talked about about her job in the past year, she’d told me what she didn’t like–her boss, her co-workers, the work itself. She’d thought that it would be exciting, especially given the name on the marquee, but the work had been mindless and repetitive, the magazine just one of many owned by a conglomerate that cared more about selling ad space than about publishing great writing.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “I guess things just had to reach a tipping point for me to get frustrated enough, to leave. Once I decided to leave? Done. I was out of there in a week. I wish that I had left, sooner.”
Thinking about our conversation later, I couldn’t help but notice that this is one of the few upsides to dissatisfaction: you really get a pretty low tolerance for taking shit or settling for circumstances that are less than ideal.
Usually, dissatisfaction is seen as a bad thing, and I’d agree that being chronically dissatisfied points to a general pessimism in one’s approach to life. That’s probably not too healthy.
But dissatisfaction also points to something else: a willingness to feel.
The Willingness to Feel
I’ve felt straight-jacketed by every 9-5 job that I’ve had. I think that that’s why I’ve had so few of them in my lifetime, and why I haven’t had a standard 9-5 job for the past decade.
I don’t mean that 9-5 jobs just “haven’t been my favorite.” I don’t mean that I’ve just kinda-sorta not liked some, but others have been okay.
I mean that I’ve felt fidgety agitation walking in the door, which took all of my energy to contain in service to remaining “professional.” I’ve spent entire days smiling and handing things to people while inwardly, I seethed, I boiled, I wanted to claw at the walls to get the hell out of there.
My energy dipped wildly while within the confines of a cubicle, then spiked as soon as the elevator doors closed to take me to the lobby and out the front door at the end of each workday.
There’s something more to Sharon’s story, something that might get easily missed if all someone was focusing on was her courage to leave the job.
Sharon had the courage to FEEL.
It was when her frustration–her dissatisfaction–built up to a point where it couldn’t be ignored, that taking action was no longer a matter of strategy for how she’d leave. The circumstances of her employment were slowly suffocating her. She hadn’t left before, because she’d numbed out to her feelings just to make it through each day.
I understand why people clamp down on their willingness to feel. When you loathe what you do for eight hours a day, yet you think you have no other options if you want to pay your bills, it makes sense that one would say, “Look, I can’t survive this if I don’t dull these feelings. It would be intolerable for me to keep showing up here, and feel everything that I feel.”
This is also why, I think, so few people meditate. On the cushion and in the quiet, feelings will come up. Especially at first, they’ll be highly agitating and inconvenient.
Yet I also see how it was an intolerance to the 9-5 cubicle that pushed me to search for anything that would give me more flexibility in my schedule, to do whatever it takes to make that happen, so that I could build my current career.
In the great grand scheme of life, what I’ve been willing to sacrifice to make my dreams happen is nothing compared to what so many other people go through. I don’t pretend that I’ve experienced the kind of serious, “life on the line with no other options” poverty that so many face on a daily basis, and I’ve never denied the various invisible forces at work in a society that gave me, a white chick with some smarts, extra advantages and privileges that I might not even be aware of.
I will say that even with those benefits, it was still hard, and it was still scary to continue to make choices that would point me towards living the life that I’m living, today.
One of the reasons that I kept making those choices towards what I really desired was that I never clamped down on my capacity to FEEL.
My dissatisfaction felt so prevalent, that where other people see the fear of the unknown as intolerable, I see sitting with that dissatisfaction, day after day after monotonous day, as intolerable.
On the flip-side, staying open to my capacity to feel meant that when my schedule was free and I could devote myself whole-heartedly to the things that lit me up, I was blown wide open. Being tapped into the wild love of writing, I could get pretty productive with it.
Embracing All of It
So here we are, with another lesson on embracing ALL of it. Just as I invite you to stop trying to arrange your life so that you’re never afraid, I invite you to stop rigidly shutting down your dissatisfaction.
It’s always hard when we’re scared shitless and the only thing we’re grasping on to, is a dream.
But you know, it’s always worth it. If you know that there are things in your life that you’d like to shift, and you’ve wondered what it’s going to take to get them to move, consider examining where you might have shut down your feelings just to survive the day-to-day. It might be that you’ve been like Sharon, settling for something you don’t like year after year, promising yourself things are going to change and then never changing–because you haven’t let yourself truly connect to how much you really, truly dislike what’s happening and thus, how much you really and truly want things to change.
Dissatisfaction, unleashed, can be scary, but it has a lot to teach you.