When I first entered the Working World, I was in a state of shock.
And, it was not the good kind.
It was the type of shock that leaves your mouth hanging open. The type that leaves you breathless whenever you look too far ahead. That squeezes your chest whenever you catch a glimpse of those who were worn down, those who chose to settle.
The type of shock that makes you wonder: “…Is this It?”
Within my first month of work, and my first month as a 22 year-old I already started to feel contempt for this stuffy world of suits and early morning meetings. I felt a hatred that I had never experienced before–one that made me angry at random people on the subway. But, I also realized, pretty quickly in fact, that This Time was one I would never get back. I was still fresh-eyed, and somewhat naive. I wasn’t yet jaded by the small, good things that happened everyday.
I mean, don’t get me wrong – I had had already caught sight of what was coming for me. I had seen glimpses of ugliness in the faces of those worn down by the commute, the work week, the kids, the spouse, the responsibilities — all that supposedly comes along with Adulthood.
And, I felt like I couldn’t escape It. I saw the unhappiness on the subway, the anger in the supermarket, the dreariness in the answers to simple questions like, “How was your weekend?”
But, as I watched myself transition into this so-called Adulthood, I began to question things. I was in a fresh state of transformation. I pushed myself to ask: what do I really want out of this thing called Life?
And so, in between the hours I spent staring out the windows at work, I tried to start figuring all of this shit out.
Because, I didn’t know what else to do.
I needed to remind myself what happiness felt like–I ached for something I didn’t even know I had lost.
Before I entered the Working World, I was twenty-one and traveling alone halfway across the world.
I spent three months in the South Pacific understanding how to navigate The World and all it’s glory. The people that I met may not have held a college degree, but touched coral in the Great Barrier Reef. They had tattoos and dreadlocks and lived out of a backpack. My friends who accompanied me in crowded hostel rooms and jumping out of planes were lighter in nearly every possible way—from their bags to their spirit.
Yes, if I could stereotype, these people were happy.
I saw firsthand that happiness doesn’t come from the address of your apartment, or the title of your job. It didn’t matter if you were an ex-Wall Street banker or from a small farming village in Dublin. The people that I met were brilliant and thoughtful; they empathized with you when you missed your bus, but also with the aboriginal family who lived in a shack on the river.
So, I’m sure you could imagine my shock then when I suited up and entered the Corporate World not two months after my return. And, I quickly learned that navigating the Corporate World is the antithesis of navigating The Real World—and I was much better at the latter.
But, it’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I, like many other 22-year-olds, came straight out of college and joined the masses working at a large investment bank. I mean, I had spent the previous summer interning at the same company, and surprised myself at the time with my pure excitement for the job. But, I should have known that something was off when I kept repeating to myself – I wasn’t settling, or giving in —as if that would magically morph my decision into something that it clearly wasn’t.
Of course, at the end of the summer I chose to accept the job offer anyway, which would start the following year.
I thought that the seemingly big paycheck would suffice, for a few years at least, while I paid off my exorbitant college loans. I thought that sacrificing my passion for spreadsheets would be understandable while I got myself settled into my shiny, New York City apartment.
Ironically enough, starting my first real job coincided perfectly with the peak of my search for happiness.
The elusiveness of It was magical to me. It was the ultimate game of “The Chase.” Because, when I first started working, happiness reminded me of the Golden Snitch: mere Muggles could only catch quick glimpses of this flighty, yellow orb of hope. If I could only catch It, I would have the world at my finger tips.
So, like any typical overachieving, naive young person, I set my sights on achieving It. Happiness.
But, the more research I did – the more yoga sessions I attended and happiness blogs I read – the more that I realized I didn’t need to. I already had it. And at that point, as with most realizations, I thought I had let it go.
Of course, I was still spending the weekends strolling into my apartment as the sun rose, reveling in my selfishness. I was too self-obsessed even to keep a plant alive, let alone care for another human being. I finally felt free: I didn’t have to answer to anyone. Not my parents, or a boyfriend. The constant gnawing of preparing for school exams was gone, and I was wrapped up in myself for the very first time.
Yet, there were moments when I wanted to immerse myself in these deep conversations about purpose and passion and impact and the meaning of life. I’m sure you’re not surprised, but it’s difficult to find other twenty two year-olds who want to talk about those topics. Actually, not many bona fide adults want to have those conversations.
One of my biggest points of my confusion upon entering adulthood was finding out that adults are just older—not necessarily smarter or wiser. I didn’t realize that people of all ages were still figuring out life’s complexities.
It was shocking and frankly, made me feel uneasy about getting “it” right.
I spent the first few months of my new job scribbling questions in the back of my notebook—not concerning projects that I was working on, but at the sheer bewilderment and distaste I had for corporate life. I couldn’t keep my real feelings from surfacing.
On a daily basis, I would wonder: Is This It?
Did my parents sacrifice everything to get me here—somewhere where I am not happy? For the first few weeks, I was so consumed with my own unhappiness, so weighed down by the stark differences between what I had perceived this job to be, and what it actually was, I felt like I couldn’t see past this dark cloud looming over my head. I couldn’t see the bigger picture, and I was losing a piece of myself everyday.
And the worst part? I started to realize that many “Adults” were happy enough.
They would enjoy their days, for the most part. They cared, enough, about the work they were doing to come in early and stay past dinnertime; to miss their children’s soccer games. You see, after witnessing the extent of happiness, feeling the lightness and bliss that comes with actually being happy, I decided that I wouldn’t settle for this half-way feeling.
I was never the type to settle for anything.
It wasn’t until I had a conversation, pretty early on in my work experience, with a senior guy at the company. He asked me about my travels the past few months as a way of making small talk, but that day, that conversation, I decided to be vulnerable.
I was so used to pasting on a fake smile, and gushing with excitement whenever I spoke with my colleagues about my experience at work. I was afraid of telling them the truth: that I had this ravaging internal conflict going on inside of me.
That I felt like I made a terrible mistake.
This time though, I started by talking about some of the important lessons I learned on my trip, and for the first moment in a while, I started to feel a bit of that warmth circling back through my bones. It gave me a weird sense of courage.
When this guy responded, he stared out of the window of the conference room we were in as if he was transporting himself back to a different time, a different self. He said, “When you come home from trips like that, it really changes your perspective. The important thing though is to keep that in mind not just six months after this trip, but six years. It is easy to get caught up in the day to day, especially in big cities like this one. But this is your life. You have to actually live it, instead of merely existing.”
At that moment, it just seemed like it all clicked. This conversation cemented the idea that it was difficult for people to stay grounded after years in the Daily Grind.
As I mulled this idea over in my mind, I realized that starting a job out of college—joining the stampede of grey suits entering the subway each day—takes a toll on you as well. As a young professional, you are not only learning how to navigate corporate culture, but you are also learning what you want to do, and who you want to become.
Newcomers and veterans of the Daily Grind alike can quickly lose sight of happiness in the monotony of the everyday.
But hey – we’re not Settlers, right?
So, I challenge you to take this time as an opportunity rethink what is possible. To keep reaching, and never give up. Because, living a half-ass kind of adulthood is nothing We ever, ever dreamed of.