I originally posted this back in June of 2018! It’s a time of reflection and I think the subject matter here is important for those of you thinking about making changes in the New Year.
It was the Summer 2006. Probably a Monday Morning. I had been awake since 3 or 4am. Plenty of time to get up, shower, put on my work clothes, eat breakfast, and head to the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in North Houston. I had a flight to Dallas that left at 10:30am. I was going with my mentor who was a Senior Engineer with the Oil and Gas Company I was working for after college. He had been working as an engineer for almost 20 years. After I had gotten my clothes on, it was probably around 6am. I sat on the side of my bed and stared at the wall in my room from 6am until about 9am. I called my mentor and told him I wasn’t coming. He asked, “What’s going on?!” I can’t remember what I told him in response. I was too spaced out. He told me that we would sit down and talk when he got back.
I managed to go into our office that day. I probably should’ve just stayed home. I wasn’t getting anything done. My projects weren’t moving anywhere and I had just flaked out on this flight to Dallas that the Company paid for. I knew… The end was nigh.
Later that week my mentor was back in the office and we sat down to talk. I explained to him that I had become incredibly depressed since I started working for the company and I was barely functioning. He then shared something with me that was very surprising. He said that he suspected something was wrong with me. He could recognize the signs of depression in my behavior because he had gone through the same thing when he first started out as an Engineer. He knew firsthand what I was going through. I asked him about what had helped him get through it. His main reason for sticking it out was the fact that he had a family at the time. It was a good stable career and he felt he should make it work for his family. Then he looked at me and said, “You know Travis, you’re single. It’s a very different position than I was in. I’m not telling you what to do but you are in a different position.” That conversation stuck with me. Of course, I made the choice to leave and I’ve never regretted that decision.
When I put in my 2 weeks notice to the Company, my mentor was surprised along with quite a few other people. There were a few people who thought it was a brave move (everybody else just thought I was crazy). The interesting thing to me about the comments of bravery was the fact that I was really leaving the job out of fear. What was my life going to be like if I was depressed everyday? I had stopped exercising and I was eating fast food for every meal of the day. I was having thoughts of suicide. I was utterly miserable. I felt like I was saving my own life, not like I was making some bold and courageous move.
Maybe even more than the depression, I was pissed off. I did everything that I was supposed to do. I worked hard at school from a young age. I listened to my teachers. I earned a partial academic scholarship to college. I was a good kid. I made all the right moves. When I told people that I wanted to be an Engineering Major, I always got such praise for it. This of course made it seem like a rock solid plan for my future. I spent God-knows how many hours and sleepless nights studying. I sacrificed a social life. The job that I had worked so hard for was taking my health. After all that hard work and sacrifice, all I get is suicidal thoughts and depression that’s so bad my body, literally, hurts? A switch flipped in my mind at this point. The lead up to quitting the job involved a lot of me getting other people’s opinions and fielding quite a few negative responses:
- “You haven’t paid your dues!”
- “You know how many people wish they had a college degree like yours!”
- “You’re crazy!”
No, the depression is about to kill me. Believing all of society’s lies about the American Dream and the golden ticket of a college education, is killing me. My mentor was saying something that no one else said in my entire academic career, “Travis, it’s okay if this just isn’t for you. You can choose another route.”
I was infuriated with all of it. I did all the right things and it felt like it was leading to my own demise. I think the specific thing that was so frustrating was realizing how much I had let the opinions of other people dominate my actions. There were many times when I thought about switching my major to exercise science. I never did it because I didn’t want to be viewed as a flaky kid. I am also someone who likes a challenge and I like to finish things. My own personality traits worked against me in that way. People pleasing didn’t allow me to have the confidence to shift. And, my own stubbornness made it more appealing to stay the course. We can let the ideas/opinions of others dictate our behavior, but, we can’t be frustrated at others when we’re suffering the consequences of those behaviors. I was mad at myself.
“Okay, Travis. You’re in debt. Depressed. And your health is falling apart. You believed lies that you didn’t have to believe. You chose to believe those things. Now, if you are going to dig your way out of this mess, 100% Ownership, you have to take responsibility for the choices you made.” I understood the concern of my family and friends. However, giving so much weight to the opinions of others is what got me in that mess in the first place. I made the choice that I would never do that again.
As I look back at the circumstance that led to my making the ‘bold’ decision to walk away from the ‘good job‘ I think about the fear I had of living an existence that was purely about paying the bills and living a comfortable lifestyle (By the way, if that’s what you want, go for it! It wasn’t for me!). I think about how pissed off I was that I had spent so much time suppressing my own desires to live in the boxes of other people. I still get frustrated about this. So much of modern life seems to be about clinging to comfort and avoiding conflicting viewpoints. Leaving engineering and the ensuing litany of criticism I faced, is something that people still find very courageous when I tell the story. All I wanted to do was wake up and feel good about going to work. Seems pretty simple and, I would think, relatable. For me, the courage to be myself came out of the frustration with investing all my time and energy into being someone else. This is why I believe in 100% Effort, 100% of the time. Up until this pivot point in my life, I was a pretty compliant human being. Like I said, from a societal standpoint, I did all the right things. I emptied myself in pursuit of these things. When you invest so much in a process, there comes a point where you demand a positive yield and it doesn’t matter who thinks what about that demand. “I worked too hard to not get better results.”
- “You haven’t paid your dues!” – It’s not about paying dues! It’s about not accepting mediocrity!
- “You know how many people wish they had a college degree like yours!” – You know how many people are actually willing to make the sacrifices to get it?! Few!!! I’ll do what I want with it!
- “You’re crazy!” – I’m crazy for not wanting to kill myself or eat my way to a heart attack? I guess you’re right then!
I always give my whole self to things. Whether it’s my relationships, work, my health etc. I’m not certain that it’s the right way, it’s just my way. If I am going to be involved in something, I’m going to do my best to give the process my all. That mindset makes me almost totally intolerable of inefficiency. I demand progress out of my life and when I don’t see it I am willing to scrutinize myself heavily and overhaul my behavior and maybe my paradigms. This mentality acts as a governor on where I put my energy. Who wants to consistently exhaust themselves in an utterly fruitless endeavor? In this situation, I was looking at life and saying, “You need to give me better than this!” Ultimately, the realities of life aren’t changing just for little ole Travis, so this really means, “Travis, you need to love yourself enough to put your energy into the processes you actually believe in! Never mind who doesn’t like it!” Putting forth herculean effort and taking uncommon levels of ownership, gives me the impetus to look at my situation truthfully. Who keeps investing all their money into a bad business? Who keeps doing exercise routines that don’t yield any physical strength? Who keeps investing their whole heart into a relationship that keeps crushing them? In reality, a lot of people do this!
My question to those people would be, “Do you really love yourself?” I have to believe that if you did, you’d be willing to engage the hard work of change. That’s where I landed. I love myself too much to let all my effort be poured into something that’s destroying me.
Do you Love yourself enough to do the hard thing?