There was a path laid out for me. Finish high school, go to college. Finish college, get a job. Find a husband. Buy a house. Raise a child. Get a dog. White picket fence. Perfect life. That…hasn't really worked out for me so far.
Failing the realization of my domestic fantasies, I have always fancied myself a…career woman. We girls can do anything; right, Barbie? Slim-cut business dresses and heels. Taking the train downtown to work. Corner office…someday. On the path: I took a job in Kansas City after college. Moved into a loft downtown and drove six minutes up the highway every day to my entry-level job. Making $27,500 a year, I had enough to live on and then some. I was riding high — even if I was doing my laundry at home every weekend —but I knew I was a little fish in an even littler pond.
I wanted more.
I moved to New York and took the train to work every day — the downtown 6, the W to Manhattan — but I could have worn pajamas in the office. I never took it that far, but I could have. Conflicting hip-hop rhythms did battle from computer to computer. The drop ceilings were black; the walls were dingy. An old Haitian woman in circulation reheated fish in the microwave at lunch, permeating the open air above a sea of cubicles. There wasn't even a kitchen; I rinsed my Tupperware in the same sink where I washed my hands.
If at first you don't succeed…
I fell in love with a boy in Chicago and took a job to pay the bills. Dresses and heels, yes, but the train went the wrong way. Into the suburbs. Every day, I watched my city shrink away into the distance. I shared the van ride to the office with five, seven, nine other people, at times, but my bitterness was unique. I'm better than this. I'm a city girl. What made me better? And oh, the rules: Don't eat at your desk. Don't listen to music. Don't take more than a half hour for lunch. Don't drink at the company holiday party. Don't ask to work from home, even though your commute adds up to three hours a day (we moved into this nice office so you'd have everything you need!). And don't ever — ever — convey that you're anything less than thrilled to be there every day.
Plenty of room in the sink to wash my lunchtime dishes, but I was ready so quickly to wash my hands of that place. After about six months.
And yet. Nearly three years later, there I was, languishing in the northwestern suburbs with job prospects about as far off as the city. When I wasn't struggling to get out of bed in the morning, I was joking that I'd take a well-paying custodial position with the school district if it meant a shorter commute. Go back to slinging lattes and Frappuccinos in a green apron if it meant I could interact with people, make them smile. Make me smile. Just get away. The money at this job was good, but I was miserable. And no one seemed to know.
Or they didn't care.
But there was a small complication that kept me from leaving: Despite my distaste for those in charge, I loved the people I worked with.
Work with. Present tense. That three years later is now.
My staff and I, we make our own fun. We close the door to my boss' office and curse, sotto voce, to relieve our collective frustrations. We forward YouTube videos and stupid news links; we go out to lunch and let off steam. It may not be unique to my workplace, but it's new to me. Then I leave the office, get out into the industry. I work for a magazine that caters to a singularly fantastic group of people, who work tirelessly for less money than me but delight in every sale to every individual who buys something from them. They know their trade inside and out. They love it. And they know me. And they love me.
And I. Love. Them.
So every job I applied for, whether the money was better, or the commute was shorter, or the staff was younger…I didn't care. Because I was attached. And that made me torn.
Until a month ago.
When a woman approached me, dangled the carrot and said, "I read your blog. I know you hate your commute. [I…know…everything.] What would you say if you could work from home but stay in the industry?"
I took the bait. I ate that carrot.
Unlike the people I work for now, she sees that there's more to life than dresses and heels and early-morning trains. And corner offices. And salaries. And benefits. And rules. And misery. (Is this my exit interview?)
She is the happiest woman I've ever encountered. Even when she's complaining, she does it with glee. Every time we talk, she infuses me with her verve. Optimism by osmosis. Only…it isn't. Because I've always been this person. She just brings it out in me.
She knows me. She gets me.
And she's challenged me to take a leap. A leap of faith. Which I've…never really been into. I've made the big moves — Kansas City to New York, New York to Chicago — but those were calculated risks. With job security. They were moves everyone generally approved of. This woman… She challenged me to leave a stable job that made me miserable and take a chance on something that could fulfill every career aspiration I've ever had but never knew about. Something that also could very well blow up in our faces. Because that's the kind of risk you take when you're an entrepreneur. But if I fail, we both fail. And because we are who we are, we can't actually fail. Because if one door closes, another opens — and we walk through it together.
I met her on Friday night as she made her way back from vacation in Michigan to her home in Minnesota. We shared tapas and two bottles of wine; we plotted out the next month and how things would look going forward. I stumbled through the weekend, giddy to get to Monday, give my notice and hand over my overly formal letter of resignation. Three more weeks, and another adventure begins. I'm vague because I can't be specific; there are loose ends to be tied up everywhere. I'm vague because, well, the future is vague. And really, what does it matter to anyone who comes here exactly what I'm doing?
I'm free. In 23 days, I am free.
This opportunity is one of many I'll be pursuing. It keeps me connected to the industry I love — my industry — but affords me the luxury of time and location to do more. To test the waters: PR. Social media. Events.
To WRITE. Expect more here. Hold me to it.
Friday night, we walked to the Metra station, half-drunk on Albarino and the other half on sheer schoolgirl glee. As the train's headlights neared, I spotted a cluster of pewter cuffs on her wrist, entwined to look like one. I asked about them. She flipped her wrist around to reveal three separate bangles, each inscribed with a different perplexing phrase. Each phrase was taken from the writings of one of her friends, Patti Digh.
Then she took one off and said, "Here. You should have this one." LET GO OF THE MONKEY BARS
And I tried to think back to being a child on a playground, because I've worked so hard for so long just to be an adult on a path. To something. On the monkey bars, to move forward, you have to let go of the rung behind you. Dangle precariously from one seemingly weak, unsteady arm to grab the next. Swing. Trust your own strength. "But you have to wear it turned like this," she said, sliding it around my slender wrist and turning the inscription inward. "This is your message. It's not for anyone else." I wanted to cry. I stared at the bracelet all the way home. I've worn it every day since I got it.
For all the times I've claimed to be in love, for all the times I've trusted someone… It's never felt like this.
I've never felt so full of hope. Never felt so full of love — not this kind of love, anyway. For the fear I embraced and wouldn't let overcome me… The fear I turned into action. For the future. This love is for myself. For my badass self.