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As an intern at a marketing company the summer before my senior year of college, I knew there was something weird and different about me.
All of the other interns were either ecstatic to have landed a great (paid!) internship that would likely lead to a full-time job after college, or they were just there to collect a paycheck and check the “I got an internship” box to make their parents and future employers happy.
I was the only one who seemed to be studying the people around me to see what it would be like to be a full-time working adult.
What I saw sent me into a slight panic.
I watched people show up at the same time each morning, have the same small-talk conversations while stirring coffee in the same paper cups, and then sit in the same chair and stare robotically at a brightly lit computer screen for hours upon hours until the clock struck 5:30pm.
No one seemed particularly joyful about this daily monotony, but no one seemed to feel the deep angst I was feeling about it either. Everyone just seemed … fine. Mechanical. Going through the motions. Half-alive.
It felt like I was surrounded by a bunch of pleasant robots, while I was alone in my own head screaming, “This isn’t right! This can’t be what life is all about. This feels wrong to me.”
I kept smiling on the outside, but on the inside I was asking myself big, scary, existential questions like …
“Is this my fate? Is this what I have to look forward to?”
“Why does everyone else seem fine with this? What’s wrong with me?”
“What’s the point of all of this?”
I remember asking my mentor, who was a few years out of college, “How do you keep showing up here every day with no end in sight?”
What I was really trying to ask was, “How do you keep your soul from dying a slow death in this place? How do you stay YOU and keep doing the same thing day after day?” But I thought that might be a slightly overdramatic question for the workplace.
She looked at me quizzically and said something like, “This is my job; of course I keep showing up every day. That’s just what you do. And this place isn’t so bad. We have happy hours once a month!”
I smiled back at her, but internally I felt incredibly sad and alone and broken.
So it was just me. This is what it meant to be a working adult, and everyone else was wired to handle it just fine … except me.
I figured all I could do was suck it up and try to cheerfully accept my fate.
THIS IS WHAT REAL ADULTS DO, RIGHT?
After I graduated a year later, I went back to that marketing job to work full-time.
Before my first day of work, I told myself I’d been overdramatic the summer before. I played down the sense of panic and not belonging and brokenness I’d felt. I was an adult now, and adults got “real” jobs with cubicles and 401Ks, and they didn’t feel all angsty about it. So that’s what I would do.
Everything about the job should have been great: They paid me better than other jobs I’d applied to; I was a copywriter, so I was using my English degree; the people were nice and friendly; and there were lots of company perks, like social events and on-site car cleaning and even a concierge who would run errands for you while you worked.
And once again, everyone around me seemed perfectly content, so every morning when those big existential questions threatened to bubble to the surface, I shoved them down.
I pretended like the light inside of me didn’t feel slightly dimmer every day that I showed up in that place.
But suppressing your truth never works. Not long-term, at least. Eventually it always finds a way out, whether you like it or not.
MY CUBICLE PANIC ATTACK
A few months into the job, I hit a breaking point.
While sitting at my desk one morning, a vision flashed in my mind that sent me into full-blown panic.
I saw myself 10, 20, 30 years down the road, sitting at essentially the same desk, staring at the same computer screen, writing yet another dull marketing email, and feeling numb inside.
My body felt shaky and I couldn’t make my eyes focus on the screen. The air in my cubicle suddenly got thinner, so I got up and raced outside as inconspicuously as possible so I could take a deep breath and steady myself.
I didn’t know how at the time, but I knew for certain that I wasn’t willing to spend my life in that cube, watching the life force slowly drain out of me. It was a massive, intuitive wake-up call. I knew there HAD to be a better way to live.
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
After that, I couldn’t suppress my truth any more. So I started confiding in a few close friends, slowly and selectively.
I first told Rachel that I simply couldn’t stomach working in an office like this for the rest my life. I confessed that it was sending me into daily panic-mode.
“Me too,” she said.
Then I told my closest work friend how unhappy I was at this job, even though I had no good reason to be unhappy.
“Me too,” he said.
I eventually even told one of my direct teammates that every day as I was typing away on my computer, I kept asking, “What’s the point of this?”
“Me too,” she said.
I was amazed. I’d thought it was just me! I was so certain that everyone around me was perfectly fine and I was the broken one. But it turned out that there was a whole underground group of us suffering silently, when we could have been leaning on one another for support the whole time.
Once I realized I wasn’t alone and there was nothing wrong with me, I vowed that someway, somehow I would find a way to live life on my terms. And I would help other people do the same.
I didn’t quit my job right away — in fact, I stayed in the 9-to-5 world for another 2 years while I slowly built up a new kind of life for myself — but from then on, I’ve tried hard not to ignore that small questioning voice inside me when it says, “This isn’t right.”
FOR ALL MY FELLOW QUESTIONERS OUT THERE
Wherever in your life you’re feeling broken, alone, and uncertain — whether it’s in your career, your relationships, your health, your finances, or your general state of happiness and fulfillment — first of all, know that you’re not alone. You’re not broken. There’s nothing wrong with you.
Then recognize that the place in your life where you feel most unfulfilled is also your greatest invitation … your invitation to question the way things are and what else is possible for you.
When you become a questioner (which, if you’ve found your way to this site, you likely already are), a whole world of possibility opens to you.
Being a questioner means thinking outside the box and not accepting the status quo simply because it’s what you’re “supposed” to do.
It’s like you were living your life as a muggle, and then you suddenly find out you’re actually a wizard and all of the “normal” rules that everyone else is following and that you thought also applied to you … don’t anymore. (Where are all of my Harry Potter fans??)
… have a stubborn inner voice that doesn’t allow them to live a life that’s misaligned with who they are at their core.
… have a lower-than-normal tolerance for surface-level living. They need depth and purpose and direction, and without it they feel restless and dissatisfied.
… are the ones who go on to do, create, and experience amazing things because they can’t stomach settling for “good enough.”
I won’t lie to you — being a questioner is hard. It’s tumultuous. It requires courage. It will often make you wish you could just be “normal” and contentedly do the things you’re supposed to do without feeling like you’re selling out your soul.
But it’s also the only way to live full-out and feel satisfied on a deep, soul level.
Because once you find out you’re actually a wizard, you can’t go back to being a muggle. And would you really want to anyway? … I didn’t think so.
Are you a questioner? Do you ever feel alone and worry you might be broken? Does the start of a new year have you asking the big questions like, “Is this all there is?” and “What’s the point?” Come share with me in the comments!
IF YOU LIKED THIS, THEN YOU’LL ALSO LOVE THIS FREE E-BOOK…
Kristen (& Rachel)