Three years ago, I read the Holstee Manifesto for the first time. It reads: “This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit it. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love. Stop over analyzing, all emotions are beautiful. Life is simple. When you eat, appreciate every last bite. Open you mind, heart, and arms to new things and people, we are united in our differences. Ask the next person you see what their passion is, and share your inspiring dream with them. Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself. Some opportunities only come once, seize them. Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them, so go out and start creating. Life is short. Live your dream and wear your passion.”
It stuck with me. It stuck so much that if I was going to have my own life manifesto, it would read something like that. Of course, living that way takes work. It’s not everyone’s default, nor is it mine. But when faced with a difficult decision, I often come back to this. At the beginning of September, four months after my university graduation and faced with the uncomfortable uncertainty of moving forward, my life began to crumble.
Up to this moment, I had done everything perfectly to prepare for life after graduation. I had chosen a degree relative to the work I wanted to do, I had over three years of work experience in my field, I had won awards, I had planned and spent wisely to be left with no student debt, and I secured a full-time summer position doing what I love. My resume was stacked and I’d created my own portfolio website to attract prospective employers. In late July, I began searching for jobs to start in September. I knew what I wanted (a job in marketing/communications to students at UBC), but lack of opportunity in that area led me to search elsewhere. My back-up plan if I didn’t get a job: go travel for a little while and do some exploring.
Surprisingly, I was offered the first and only job I applied to. It was a position with a national communications corporation as a promotions coordinator. It was also a position my parents had told me I “probably won’t get”. It seemed like a big deal when I was called with the offer and I accepted because it seemed like the obvious thing to do. I would have a secure salaried position working with, arguably, the biggest brand in Canada and with a radio station I listened to every day. Everyone I spoke to had only positive and encouraging things to say. No one told me not to take it. No one stressed that I should seriously consider something else.
To fully understand the context of what I was about to do, you should know that I had spent the last four months, and the three years before that, blissfully inspired, excited, and motivated by my work. Near the end of my three years with UBC Recreation as a Director in their Marketing Sector, I had voiced to several people that if I could get paid to do this work for the rest of my life, I would be the happiest girl in the world. It only took a couple of weeks into my *paid* summer position in communications with another department at UBC to realize that I was working my dream job.
Flash forward to September 4th; my last day. I had been feeling nauseous for a couple of days, but I chalked it up to exhaustion. I had plans to meet with a couple of my favourite UBC colleagues as a final farewell before I left campus and started my new job the next day. It was the last goodbye of the day, spent with someone who’d been by my side unconditionally for the last three years, that really made me realize all that I was leaving behind. It’s not like I had a choice; I had to leave this job and this campus; there was no other option. Part of me felt ready to conquer the next challenge, but a huge part of me wasn’t sure I could.
The next day, I began my familiar route to UBC but turned off early to head in the direction of my new office. I was shaky with nerves, not unusual for me. Walking into the new space, my eyes felt as wide as they could stretch. The environment was so different from any place I’d worked in before. Ten foot high grey cubicles, four walls with a small entrance, filled what I assumed was a large room. With everyone hidden away in their little panel-mounted boxes, I couldn’t see any faces. All the larger management offices were empty – their occupants out golfing. There was a small kitchen, but no lunch room or social space of any kind. Closed doors led to hallways of half-empty offices. News radio played through the ceiling tiles. I was later told that the floor was so quiet because most people had been laid off or fired recently. I was most definitely the youngest person there.
As I quickly discovered that the work I was meant to do was not what I expected, my inspiration drained and my anxiety levels soared. By the time I got home that evening, I was in an uncontrollable fit of tears, unable to really explain what was causing me so much grief. The next few days were some of the worst days I’ve lived through in recent memory. My stomach was in sickening knots, crawling its way up my throat. I couldn’t sleep and I had bouts of crying that subsided only for a short time before the next wave would hit me. Every bite of food or sip of drink would threaten its way back up until I weakened and threw it up. No matter what I did or where I went, nothing would stop this debilitating pain. My parents offered to take me to the hospital; I said no. When on Monday, I couldn’t keep my breakfast down, I called in sick to work. It felt pretty pathetic calling in sick on my second day. I lay on the couch half asleep most of the day until I went to see the doctor, who prescribed me something in the Valium family to calm my panic. Filling that prescription, alone at night in an almost-closed London Drugs, was my lowest moment.
The next day, I attempted work again. Now given a better idea of the work I was meant to do, my spirits fell even more. It was too easy, uninspired, and monotonous. I couldn’t focus and tears felt too close for comfort. I ate my lunch alone in my cubicle and told my boss I was still sick and had to go home. Whether he believed me or not, I don’t know.
It was the next morning that I quit my job. Criticize all you want about how I didn’t give it a chance, how I was too picky, or how I just needed to suck it up – I have criticized myself for all those things too – but just know that I was in agony. I missed my old job so much, and I missed being a student, something I never thought would happen, and I missed the exhilaration of following my passion. My life had been replaced with something I didn’t want, and with the nature of this change, I felt like I was being forced out of something I loved. My mental health was shockingly poor, adding to the cycle of disappointment and frustration I felt with myself for not breezing through life’s transitions with the adaptability I observed in my peers. Unfortunately, quitting my job didn’t provide instant relief like I hoped. My anxiety and depression carried on as if nothing had changed, except now I worried about how I, someone who loves being busy, would fill my days with absolutely no structure.
That week, a lot of people asked why I quit my job and chose (hopefully temporary) unemployment. Without knowing it, my thought process much reflected the Holstee Manifesto. As cliché as it sounds, I chose the pursuit of happiness. I took control of what I could change, and I changed it. I simplified my decision and I put myself first. I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can do this, forgo an income for my personal well-being and start from scratch. I know what is most important now is to work on myself and build the mental foundation for the life I want before I go out there trying to get it. I know now what is important to me, especially in a career – creativity, support, teamwork, a social atmosphere, and work that I care about.
In the meantime, every day feels like climbing a mountain. Some are steeper than others, but every day I wake up feeling like there is no choice but to gear up and make the hike. It’s exhausting and the mountain never ends because I never get that proud satisfaction of reaching the top. Every day, I wonder how long it will take before I finally reach the peak, when I get to relax and enjoy the view. But the mountain’s socked in with clouds and mist, and I can’t quite see where I’m going or where I’ve been. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time.