I love the idea of absolute immersion which Tynan described in his recent article, "Love Work." I intend to apply similar techniques to the next big job, project or passion that comes my way. But I am not ready just yet. When the time comes to make that leap, I'll be first over the edge, but for the moment I have found something else. I've diverged from the 'normal' but have not found or created the next road. In terms of a lifetime I am standing still. Taking a break. Stagnant. But guess what? You don't have to be running forward to smash complacency. If you are tired of the status quo, but unprepared to leap into a new life, this post is for you.
I'm a mechanical engineer, more or less. I love solving complex problems, but that love does not extend to the issues that come with the bureaucratic workplace. To that end, I'm done with the corporations. There are too many interesting problems in the world going unsolved to waste time and talent generating minute changes in stock values. That's all I really did at my last job. There was no sense of ownership in one's work, which for me led directly to having no sense of purpose. I need a sense of purpose.
So last June I turned in my notice and looked at my options. I had enough money to do whatever I wanted for the first time in my life. (I'm 30) No ties to anything. Basic freedom. The open road. It was overwhelming.
I would roll through half a dozen ideas a day, thinking each better than the first before coming back to zero. I have lived a pretty standard life; being faced with unlimited options is a foreign concept. "What would you do if you could do anything?" That's a powerful thing. Generally a rather decisive person, I was stuck with a decision life had not prepared me to answer. At least not immediately. I needed a stop gap.
So I packed up the car, moved from Seattle back to Tennessee, and started teaching. A one year appointment at a state university, instructing sophomore level engineering classes. You could call it a demotion of sorts. You could call it a step backwards, career wise. You could very accurately call it a 6 figure pay cut. I call it perfect, for three simple reasons:
1) The work is immensely challenging. I know the class material well, that bit is trivial. Figuring out how to actually convey the material, to teach, is a monster. I can't speak for other fields, but teaching in engineering is not just about providing subject matter. It's about establishing and fostering creative problem solving skills. Teaching something is also a powerful means to develop your own expertise. I have found my own analytical abilities skyrocketing as a result of my attempts to convey these skills to my students. I may never work in engineering again, but problem solving skills transcend job titles.
2) I used the position as a giant reset button on my personal life. Shortly after accepting the job I wrote out a list of rules. Number one was, "Put students first." I meant exactly that when I typed those three words, and have used it as motivation to get myself together to a degree that I would have thought impossible 3 months ago. I quit drinking. I flipped my diet around completely, losing 35 pounds in the process. I cut out pointless media consumption and replaced it with all the books I never read. I wake up ready to roar and go to bed satisfied with a day well spent and exited to tackle the next one. I spent a good bit of life in various states of depression, and as I type this I cannot recall the last instant where I was unhappy.
3) I have gained an incredible amount of control over my time. I had about 4 mangers of various calibers at my last position. Now I effectively have none. I'm left to handle my time and classes as I see fit. Every week, I get the bulk of my work done between Sunday and Tuesday, leaving the rest of the week available to help students and improve my teaching methods. Every bit of spare time beyond that is devoted to that age old riddle, "What would you do if you could do anything?" I'm getting there.
Boiled down to the grit: if the big life change you need eludes you, make a small one and crush that sucker with all you've got. Find the key motivator that lets you push through and make the most of your days. ‘Just the next job,” becomes a tool with which you may craft your life to suit your goals. When the time comes for the next big thing, you won’t be overwhelmed. You will be ready for the chase.