Five years ago, I was working in a corporate job, miserable, convinced that the job was slowly sucking away the very marrow of my soul. Despite nearly ten years of therapy and endless self-help, I could not turn this job experience around –my heart was withering. I felt like I was not contributing, not living my purpose, and generally wasting my life away doing meaningless work.
By that point, I was emotionally pretty healthy – I had resolved the majority of my childhood trauma issues and had could process emotions fluidly without resistance. I didn’t have much therapy left to go – in fact by that point, I felt done, but was a bit afraid to quit, knowing my life wasn’t yet what I wanted it to be and not sure how else to get it there. (And yes, experiencing this space and having to figure out what to do is how I ended up doing the work I do today – but that is a longer story for a different time.)
Fast forward to today – past quitting that corporate job, finding work I love as a coach, returning to working part-time on a project basis at that corporation, then, just a few months ago, having a sudden law change give me the option to either quit altogether or come back full time to my old role doing exactly the same things I did five years ago, with the same people, in the same situation. As most of you know, I chose to return to full time work.
What you might not know yet is that I love it. I’m having so much fun that I find myself looking forward to going to work.
This situation once felt like the slow suffocation of my soul – and it hasn’t changed in the last five years.
What has changed is me and the story I’m telling myself about this job every day.
Which brings us to the most important thing you (and I) didn’t learn in therapy:
A huge, huge chunk of our daily happiness depends on the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. While I can’t get “huge, huge chunk” into an actual percentage, I can promise it is the bulk of why I can joyfully get up on Monday mornings and go to a job I used to blame for the steady erosion of my soul.
In therapy, we deal with the mess from the big wounds in our lives – we clean up emotional pain, we get fluent in the language of emotions, we figure out how to relate to our pasts in healthier ways. What we often don’t deal with is the type of “narrative tone,” if you will, that our internal storytellers learned from past experiences.
My internal storyteller while growing up was dramatic – an epic battle of good vs. evil, a tone which could encompass terms like “soul death” and “heart withering” without a blink of an eye. This was not without a certain amount of reason, either – much of how I framed this got me through the whole “slogging gruel” of therapy and healing.
To show you what this looks like: five years ago, I was telling myself (almost daily!) how my work had no meaning, how a trained monkey could do my job, how awful corporate politics are, how I was not living out my soul’s purpose, and if I did not follow this call to …do something, whatever it was… I would have completely missed out on why I came to the planet. I listened to classes on self-improvement and finding my purpose while working on my spreadsheets, desperate to find “the answer.”
Looking back on this now makes me laugh – no wonder I hated my job! Who could like anything with that much toxic internal dialogue around it?
In the years between then and now, I’ve done a ton of work on my own internal storyteller, bringing her out of the land of Hollywood melodrama and into a realm closer to a French film.
I questioned the idea that somehow I had to get paid doing some healing work or I wasn’t “living my purpose.” I figured out that living my purpose meant being me, no matter what I did for work.
I finally recognized that just because I have a natural skill, backed up by years of experience, doesn’t make my spreadsheet design something a trained monkey could do. In fact, it’s a freaking awesome (and fun) skill, and I get the wild bonus of being able to listen to audio classes while doing it. It took years of people saying “seriously? I could not focus like that” and years of me doing other things (like writing and coaching) where there is no possible way I could be simultaneously listening to an audio class to make me realize just how valuable that bonus is.
So now, I go to work, and tell myself (almost daily) that this is such an awesome, cush job, that I am so lucky to be valued and paid to do something that I find fun. I still don’t love corporate politics, but I don’t focus on them. Instead I focus how it’s great to be able to interact with lots of people daily and my “purpose” is to be present and kind with them. I dropped all the self-help classes and now listen to podcasts like The Black Tapes or Limetown or Invisibilia while designing even-more-awesome spreadsheets than I did 5 years ago. I still have grouchy days, of course – I’m human – but at no point do I think my job can have any effect on my soul.
There is much more to say on this topic, but for the moment, I’m inviting you to take a look at an area of your life that is not going as well as you would like and just notice what types of stories you are telling yourself about them. Are they the types of stories you’d want to listen to, given the chance? Or is there a better story out there for you, just waiting to be discovered?