Prologue: An Adventure Begins

September 15, 2014
Actually, I just want to fly hot air balloons

I’m sitting in the cafeteria at Target Corporation’s northern campus – TNC as it’s known amongst us Targetrons – in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota on July 2nd, 2014. The air conditioning is blasting directly onto me. It’s excessive given that the temperature is an unseasonably cold 56 degrees outside now at about 8:45 AM. I have a lovely view of the courtyard area outside my booth where a strange stone monument to…something…sits to my right. We sometimes refer to these oddly phallic stone pillars as “Targethenge.” A song called “1,000 Years” by someone named Christina Perri is playing (thanks Shazam). It’s one in an endless rotation of bland pop songs that are constantly pumped through the speakers here. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it before, but then its maudlin lyrics and familiar, melancholy chord progression make it interchangeable with hundreds of other sentimental love songs. You will most certainly attend a wedding where the couple will use this for their first dance. It seems written for that express purpose.  These details are not intrinsically important, but I’m trying to remember as much as possible right now. I’m less than two hours away from turning in my laptop, badge and the other implements of a worker bee in corporate America and venturing for the first time into a future where the next milepost is not clearly visible.

But It’s a Good Job

Nearly two months ago, I told my wife I wanted to leave my job. To most people, this would sound utterly insane. I’m highly paid, my reviews have been exemplary, my position is not overly stressful relative to what many others experience, and I work with a lot of great people. I also spend all of my time wishing I was doing something else. This is that something else.

Writing.

I’ve always done it, but I’ve never really done it. I attack the page in fits and starts. I’ve amassed piles of beginnings and few endings. It started in high school as an odd mix of journaling and stream-of-consciousness short stories. In the last year and a half I’ve realized not only that I wished I was writing all the time, but that I have to. More accurately, I have to find out how badly I want it. I have to try.

The conversation about leaving my job did not emerge from nowhere. For at least the last two or three years, we have been structuring our lives in ways that would enable us to take more chances and do more things that we love. Out of our own personal fears as well as love for each other, we have each encouraged the other to take the leap first.

I was 23 when my wife and I started dating. As is common among young couples, we spent a lot of time talking about our hopes and dreams. The things we wanted out of life. What we wanted to be when we grew up, whenever that was. I was desperately unclear on a lot of those points. At the time, I was in a PhD program studying political science. I wanted to teach, I thought. Never mind that I was in a research-focused program, my goal was to teach at the college level and mold the minds of the future. It did not go particularly well. In a single semester I realized I’d made something of a mistake. The focus on teaching was virtually nonexistent. The literature bored me to tears. The research almost everyone was doing seemed so, so ineffectual.

That was the biggest problem. I wanted to be “effectual.” As I was realizing I did not want a career in the professoriate, it became more difficult to explain what it is I did want. The silver lining was that I had some sense of what attributes I wanted professionally, and I was able to articulate those to some degree.

  1. I wanted my work to be meaningful in some way. Meaningful to me, most importantly, but hopefully meaningful to others as well.
  2. I did not want to simply cash a check working for some massive corporation (or even a small one) doing work I do not enjoy regardless of how wealthy that could theoretically make me. I had a terrible, crushing fear of waking up at 50 realizing I’d done exactly this.
  3. I craved flexibility. I dreaded the idea of having to occupy a cubicle for the sake of looking busy, even if I’d crushed my responsibilities and moved on to other things.
  4. Outside, on the edges somewhere, I hoped there would be a creative element to what I did.

There are a number of ways to achieve these attributes in your work. These desires are also not even remotely uncommon. It also seems that more and more businesses are looking to provide these things, particularly to attract young knowledge workers. I’d venture that most technology, new media, and web-based companies have statements regarding their mission and values that touch on these sentiments in some form or another.

But, for me, I found myself roughly seven years removed from graduate school – I stuck it out for two years to at least walk away with my master’s degree – and my professional life was in almost complete misalignment with those statements above. This is not at all a negative reflection on Target or the work I did there per se. As massive corporations go, it was a pretty darn good place to work. But I was deeply unsatisfied, and I knew I needed a change. I was also as certain as I could be that if I simply hunted for another job, I’d convince myself that some position largely the same as the one at Target was “different” or “exciting” in some way that it would not really be. I need a clean break, and I need to try writing.

Do or Do Not. There is No “Try” (Thanks Yoda)

I was, and in many ways still am, deeply risk averse. I don’t want to be. I admire those who put themselves on the line emotionally, physically, economically, to go after the things that they want. I’m getting better, certainly. To most, quitting a well-paid corporate job without having another lined up would absolutely seem like the action of a risk taker. Correct, but know first that we made sure this was more than workable before doing it. As I’ve approached this change, people have frequently told me how “brave” I am.

My wife is brave. I am lucky.

I’m also naturally introverted, despite being comfortable speaking in front of crowds or being onstage. It’s not easy or comfortable for me to reach out to new people, to try to make connections, to ask for help or offer it. These are obstacles I will have to overcome. Which is to say nothing of the obstacles associated with learning to manage my time in a whole new way and developing the discipline to write even when I don’t feel like it.

But those are problems for July 3rd. For now, on July 2nd, I’m excited. I’m terrified. I’m at peace. It’s messy inside my head right now, and that’s okay.

I’m jumping and trusting that the chute will open.

I’m diving and believing that I can swim.

There are endless metaphors for what I’ve undertaken because it speaks to such common human fears and desires. The fear of failure and uncertainty and the desire to control one’s own destiny and pursue one’s passions. I don’t know what’s next. This alone is new and frightening for someone who has always known where the next stop on the road lies. Fear is not a choice, but how I react to it is. I’m choosing, as best I can, to run straight at it. As I push away from safe, comfortable shores I repeat just two words to myself every time I look back at the familiar land behind me and wonder whether I’ve done the right thing.

Go.

Do.

That’s all I need right now, and that’s good enough.

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