Distinctions Between Breathing and Living: The 9-5

Janice MacLeod is the author of the NYT best selling book, Paris Letters.  It basically chronicles the time in her life when she made a game plan to exit her well-paying corporate job in Los Angeles to travel, which then turned into her meeting a man in Paris and her subsequently moving to said Paris to be with said man whom she ends up marrying (see above picture).

When I read this book, it lit me on fire, I became absolutely obsessed, enthralled with the idea that there was a woman out there who was also feeling a similar office burnout to mine and got the hell out of her position.  If she would have laid down in life and submitted to her job and those social norms cast upon us by the ‘American Dream’ ideals, if she had submitted to that cookie cutter mold of how life ‘should be’ then she would have never moved to Paris, married this French man, wrote a best selling book, or had  his FRENCH BABY god damn it.

I consider this.  I consider the possible future versions of myself.  Who will I be if I submit to these ideals?  Who will I be if I go about life in the traditional sense, the laid out and trampled path?  Work the job as long as I can and then retire when I’m old? And more importantly, I think about – who will I be if I don’t?  Who am I really?  If I follow what it is I truly desire, who is it that I can become?

Every day in office life feels exactly the same as the last.  (I’m sure it’s like this in many other jobs, but having worked in offices since I was 17 – I can only speak about offices because offices are all I know.) . When I look at my calendar within the next three months, unless I stuff an excursion somewhere into it with my allotted vacation days at work, I know exactly what each one of those days is going to look like.  The burnout itself feels like groundhog day. Nothing but blank four walls to surround you, inspiring nothing.  The highlight of your day is what you decide to order in for lunch.   How fucking boring.

In high school, I had no interest in being made to sit in a class and listen to things I wasn’t interested in.  Even back then, I ditched all of my classes, and ditched them frequently to join friends with cars that were interested in towns outside of the small one which we grew up in.  We would drive down the 10 freeway aimlessly, just looking to see where it might go, we’d get lost and marvel at the fact that we’d made our way to the ocean.  I got in a lot of trouble for skipping classes so much and it’s a wonder I graduated on time (with a lot of summer school) but I still don’t regret those days of exploration and the feeling of freedom.  I learned more going off of the mountain that I grew up on and exploring nearby cities than I would have ever learned in my algebra class.

I’m still the same person I was when I was a teenager.  Except now, there are things like rent, cell phone bills, weddings (which I canned by the way in favor of an elopement, but that’s another story for another day), health insurance blah blah blah.  And of course, my favorite, the days allowed to go out and live your life as granted to you by your company who gives you permission to be out of the office that day(s).

I’ve fought with the way this system is in place a long time.  I tried to make myself okay with the way this system is by drinking alcohol.  Copious amounts of alcohol that made it seem fine, even warm and fuzzy that I was trading in these precious hours of my life to go sit at a desk for a salary.  Do you ever see how quickly office co-workers will go and get completely shit faced?  Or flock to their xanax or pain medication or cocaine?  Or actually anything to avoid the fact that they’re not happy with their lives?  Wonderful distractions, these little addictions can be.  It’s a nice way to numb out the fact that our lives are slipping through our fingers and we’re wasting it being subservient to the illusion of the person we should be.

I only came to this realization after I’d become sober following my own battle with alcoholism.  In office/corporate life, we aren’t celebrated for our creativity but our productivity.  You are always expendable and replaceable, you are another pawn in this scheme.  There are some people that love this style of living.  The traditional get the 9-5 job, build up the retirement, buy a house, have kids.  I digress.

I don’t happen to be one of those people.

It’s difficult for me being able to obey a human being who really has no business telling me when and where to be and at what time.

“If you’re sick of it, go do something else” .

So friends, here it begins.  As Janice MacLeod referred to it, she formed an escape plan.  Her own ‘Shawshank Redemption’ and now it is my turn.

Perhaps, it’s Europe’s fault.

I’ve had high business ambitions for as long as I can remember.  I landed my position as a senior executive assistant while still having dreams of being CEO of something someday.  I’ve served and learned from executives from Beverly Hills to here in Manhattan where I am currently.  I was always their young lion, hot to strike everyone else down.  I was ravenous.  I was also very frequently black out drunk.

Yep, it’s got to be all Europe’s fault, with their slower paces and the value they place on the smaller things like good company and afternoon siestas where they keep this company.  It seems every time I come back from Europe, I become more strongly opposed to American ideals of consumerism and competition.

Fuck all that.

The truth lies within the passionate rhythm of our heartbeat while doing something we truly love.  It’s not in all of these external, material things we grasp for to feed a hunger that will never be fixed that way.  Ambition is good, but for the correct purpose fueling it.

My current ambition: My Shawshank Redemption out of offices for good, obeying no one but God.  There’s a vast world out there, one with infinite universes, possibilities, ways of living and I intend to capture it all and soak up as much of it as possible within this lifetime I am gifted.  But it requires planning and commitment and most of all, strength of will.

NOTE: I highly recommend this book if you’re considering your own escape plan out of 9-5 life.  Elizabeth Gilbert inspired Janice and now Janice inspires me.  I think about her book every day. Definitely a wonderful read.


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