Discover more from Disco Dialogues
Imprisoned by the familiar
Q: What fears have prevented you from making brave choices?
Join hundreds of other curious folks that enjoy reading our weekly reflections!
There was a quote, a metaphor in the book “Maybe you should talk to someone” that was a wow moment for me when I read it and has stuck with me for more than a year after reading it. In the book, the author is in her own therapy session when her therapist Wendell tells her this:
“I’m reminded,” he begins, “of a famous cartoon. It’s of a prisoner, shaking the bars, desperately trying to get out — but to his right and left, it’s open, no bars.” He pauses, allowing the image to sink in. “All the prisoner has to do is walk around. But still, he frantically shakes the bars. That’s most of us. We feel completely stuck, trapped in our emotional cells, but there’s a way out — as long as we’re willing to see it.”
It was somewhat of a breakthrough moment for me because I had been feeling very stuck in my life when I picked up that book. Reading this story made me realize that those bars were my own fears and beliefs. Questioning whether we should continue to live in San Francisco? Should we move - rent out our house and go try a different city or country? Feeling imprisoned by my job - why not try to change roles, change industry?
“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” - Nassim Taleb
I went through all the reasons I was feeling stuck, imprisoned and it dawned on me that most of it was my doing. I had the freedom and the luxury to choose something else. That realization at a deeper level was freeing by itself. The knowledge that I had created those barriers, that there was a way out if I was just willing to see it. If I could identify what was keeping me behind the bars, I could by turning around a little to the left or a little to the right, pick a different option.
I had to at first be willing to examine those self-created prison bars and understand what was keeping me there - was it safety, comfort of the familiar, or something else? Is it possible that I was holding on to these desires so tightly that I couldn’t look past them and figure out what I truly needed? This led me down the path of reflecting on what was essential as I planned for the next phase of my life. I realized that creativity wasn’t just a nice to have, but something I wanted to bring forth into my day-to-day life, it’s what pushed me to start working on Disco Dialogues. It’s also what’s pushing me to ask if it’s possible to become a creator at work or whether creative side-hustles are able to provide me with enough juice.
What about you? Any self-created prison bars that are limiting you?
Two years ago I decided to step off the career path that I had been on for fifteen years and take a break. I had achieved success as a leader at a tech company in two different functions - business development and people operations - rising through the ranks over the years. For a large part of my career, I had been driven by my ambition - pursuing goals that I set for myself. In looking back, many of them were external measures of achievement or recognition. Leading a large team, being responsible for a core product initiative, getting promoted, achieving a certain compensation level, being recognized as a great “coach” by my team.
But I reached a point at which I was no longer driven to accomplish the things required to continue climbing the corporate ladder. I felt no aspiration to take on the roles that I saw above me. Even though my leaders saw my potential and supported my career growth, my desires were no longer aligned with their expectations of me. I was also not willing to stagnate in my current role and accept the status quo. I enjoyed the process of learning and being stretched. So what was I to do with this lack of drive in my current role?
Instead of worrying about the lack of ambition, it became the wake up call that I need to examine my career. I recognized that the future growth I wanted was not going to come from my current career path.
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.” - Wendell Berry
It was a scary moment - to realize that the pursuit of my ambitions had gotten me to this point in my career but was no longer the calling I felt going forward. I was giving up the safety and security of a job that had served me well for many years. I was known for being stable, calm, reliable and this choice made me feel irresponsible. I was not a quitter. I didn't want to appear to be running away from something.
It was also a moment of bravery. It took me three years to muster up the courage to actually follow through with this decision. I did not know what I was running towards yet but I had faith that once I decided to step off this path, another one would emerge. A belief that listening to myself would lead me to more clarity.
After trying many ways to ignore the voice that told me I was no longer enjoying what I was doing, it was time to respect it. It was time to stop listening to others’ voices and their expectations. I owed it to myself to step outside the boundaries that I had used to define myself and find a new purpose. The story is still being written about those choices I made two years ago. For now I am grateful that in choosing the unknown, I have once again become a more active participant in my life than I was two years ago.
If you find yourself at a similar crossroads, here are some steps I took to gain more clarity about my future aspirations
Doing an honest assessment of my strengths and where I wanted to see myself stretching in the future
Reviewing our financial position with my husband to reduce the risk that we would be taking as a family
Engaging with friends and colleagues to learn more about their career paths after quitting corporate jobs
Identifying role models that inspired me and learning about the values that drove their choices