Risk as an afterthought (part 3 of 4)

Driving without brakes—it’s a risk maybe worth taking?

Some people are just wired to do something creative, John said during his interview. For them, he said, the risk doesn’t exist. I might even go a step further and say that not-doing something creative is a huge risk for a creative person. 

My last job—the soul-sucking corporate job I had in senior living—lacked any modicum of creativity. If creativity is a vibrant green plant, that place was the Sahara desert, doused in gasoline, set on fire, and then salted like the ruins of Carthage. I signed invoices and wore a suit. My office was beige and any sort of personality or creativity in advertising, in social media, in an email, was met with swift derision from people who lacked not just creativity, but also humor. There are refrigerators in morgues that house more lively personality than the executive suite of that job. 

The biggest risk I took was choosing to stay at that job for one year in order to make money. I made the decision to hit the road after about two weeks at the job. I did some creative work and also hired a graphic artist I trusted to do some work for less than half the rate of the ad agency we regularly used. I was called into the VP’s office and told that from that point on I would be working exclusively with the ad agency. 

That ad agency was good at finding ways to bill us. They weren’t creative; they weren’t especially bright or insightful. But they had clout and the VP’s ear. So we continued to use bland language in our materials, stock photos, and traditional social media campaigns. So after being told that my job was essentially to sign the agency’s invoices, I began to plot my escape. One year in corporate at a job I hated, working for people who didn’t even have enough personality to dislike. Disliking them would be like disliking cotton balls or having a strong opinion about drywall. 

But I did feel strongly about the job and that, I now realize, was the risk. Commuting into work felt like cliff diving. Meetings with the cadre of consultants and highly-paid, gauchely-dressed execs felt like the standoff scenes in any spaghetti western albeit without a Morricone soundtrack or good cinematography. Shutting the door to my office and opening the email was a too-fast descent in a deep sea diving capsule (one with cold war era technology, mind you). The risk was choosing to keep my creative projects at bay for another day and then choosing to do that again and again for one year. 

When I announced my plans to not move into a different corporate job, to not move back into public service or teaching, to not make money via a steady paycheck, my coworkers commented on the risk, which honestly didn’t feel like that big of a deal. I needed out in the same way the CFO needed to fly down to Naples next weekend to play golf, the same way any of the VPs needed to upgrade their boring Lexus for an equally-boring-but-newer Lexus. By the time I tendered my resignation I could have clawed my way through the beige walls of my office to freedom. I was so near the point of losing my mind, it was unreal. 

When I was hired in to the job I noted how many people were long-term employees. Thirty-three years in IT (which explains the Cold War-era technology). Twenty years in sales. Twenty-five years as a dietician. The thought that I may be doing the same thing until I retired horrified me. Where some people find the routine comforting, I found the roboticness, the repetitiveness, the safe and superficial culture to be numbing. I am simply not the sort of person who can shut off the creative part of their brain for eight hours and buckle down to do what they did over the past decade-plus of yesterdays, especially when it comes to media creation. And choosing to do another job in the same field? That was also riskier than setting out cross-country in our 42 year-old bus.

I did have an out—a safe out. A dream job that seemed created just for me. I applied and never heard from the job until I was six months into my job at senior living and well into plotting my escape from Château d’If. Then I got the offer from the dream job out of the blue. Loads of money and benefits. Prestige. Work that might actually be stimulating. The recruiter made it sound enticing (as recruiters do) and after several back-and-forths, I decided to lay it out on the table. I told the recruiter about my recent marriage to Miracle and how we were planning to do this crazy bus trip and how I wouldn’t be cutting my hair or wearing a suit for the foreseeable future. She emailed back and didn’t just understand; she was ecstatic and told me about her grandfather, who was part of the largest-ever longitudinal study on happiness. “You are absolutely doing the best thing,” she wrote. And at that moment, tossing the golden job offer away after realizing it was only merely gold—a rock someone else said was valuable—I felt fully confident in my decision.

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