I make no secret that I am an addict in recovery, and this has meant devoting myself to, in the words of the AA literature, “clearing away the wreckage of my past.” Compared to many other addicts who are recovering from addictions like gambling and sex addiction, drug and alcohol addicts who embark upon an honest recovery experience an almost immediate improvement in their quality of life. In fact, you’ll hear many addicts in 12-step meetings say: “I got sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.” Even now that I’m over 17 years clean and sober, I’ll never forget how liberating it was to wake up in the morning not feeling nauseous and hung over, and not having to apologize for the chaos I caused the night before. I jumped head first into recovery and did all of the do things recommended to maintain my sobriety—I got a sponsor, went to meetings daily, and began actively healing the relationships around me. Another important part of the puzzle for me was to get physically active and start addressing years of neglecting my body.
A common theme in most early recovery is to introduce stability and regularity into your life—something that is sorely missing in the realm of an active addict. I’ve been employed as an English teacher with one of the school boards in the city for over 20 years now, and sobriety has allowed me to build up trust by both dependably showing up for work every day and fulfilling the commitments asked of me. I am immensely grateful for everything sobriety has brought into my life. In fact, I had the word Gratitude tattooed on my arm, so it’s with great trepidation, that I make the following public declaration—Despite the success I’ve had in my career, I find my job neither challenging nor soul-affirming. It feels almost sacrilegious to tinker with success, but like every other piece of my life, if I’m not growing, I’m regressing.
I’m currently at the precipice of a substantive career change, and coupled with all the excitement of taking on new challenges and pushing my limits, comes the inevitable anxiety and self-doubt, in other words, the ugly face of fear. The late Maya Angelou said: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” It’s worthwhile to note where she starts from--liking yourself. I have a tendency to beat myself up for not making a career jump sooner, but maybe I was just doing more of the groundwork involved in “liking myself” before I felt ready to look beyond myself.
There has been a lot of talk around our house lately about career burnout and to whether or not it’s even reasonable to expect a sense of fulfillment from a career. Through these challenging conversations, I’ve been able to crystallize in my mind what I want in a new career by making the distinction between a job in which you sacrifice yourself and a job in which you offer yourself. The teaching profession for me has been a career in which my success is realized in the success of my students, but it has been a “sacrifice” in that it is a job that does not nourish my soul. I’m in the process of crafting a new career that will allow me to be of service to others, but in a way that feeds my inner passion—and it’s in this space, that I make the distinction between “sacrificing” and “offering”. I thought I’d share with you the following checklist that I devised to help frame the next chapter of my working life.
1. Is your career aligned with your passion in life?
There is an ongoing debate about whether you should do what you love or learn to love what you do. I’m not naive enough to believe in some kind of divine alchemy that will magically transform my passion into a lucrative career, but I am convinced that aligning my career with my core values allows me to be open to the possibilities of where that passion can lead me. The one caveat I would add is the importance of self-directing this passion based on your skill set, and in so doing, your new career becomes more about exploring your passion than about exercising your hobby. Through this lens, I’ve identified that I am comfortable talking openly about the uncomfortable, and that throughout my life, I’ve been able to harness adversity as a stepping stone to growth.
2. What’s the composition of your tribe?
Our ability to find our tribe is critical in that it offers us a sense of validation and can relieve us from the isolation and alienation of modern life. I like what American writer and entrepreneur Seth Godin says about tribes. “Instead of focusing on arguing with people who say no, it might easier to get near the people who like to say yes.” I spent almost 40 years of my life hiding the fact that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and as a result, much of my behaviour involved pushing people away or masochistically seeking out people who made me feel unworthy and ashamed. Since publicly disclosing that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse last year, I have been actively cultivating a soul-affirming tribe in my life. I’m surrounding myself with those who are supportive, those who I aspire to be like, and those who challenge me to step back, reevaluate, and lean-in.
3. Has your comfort zone become a smothering zone?
By staying risk averse, I become growth inept. Escaping the comfortable for the possible has a lot to do with who your tribe is and whether or not they push you towards growth, and as you encounter inevitable setbacks, provide you a safe place to land. In the words of motivational speaker Chris Murray, “Allowing yourself to be a conduit for opportunity requires a brand new outlook on life. Lady fortune cannot enter a locked door, you know. And contrary to that well known saying, she has rarely been known to knock.”
4. Are you doing what you “should” do rather than what you “ought to” do?
If this past year has taught me anything, it’s that being authentic in my interactions and writing has opened a door to like-minded individuals who have reached out to me as supporters or fellow travelers. I've have begun to evaluate the parts of my life that involve the most “uncomfortable” interactions, and then I determined whether I was allowing my authentic self to be present in those interactions. By doing nothing more than being present and honest about how I felt, the negative people have turned away, and this has provided space for the right people to find their way into my life.
I’ll close by sharing something I recently heard in a podcast interview with Terry Tempest Williams, in which she posed a very thought-provoking question—one that I believe gets to the heart of what I have been struggling with for so long. Many of us go about our lives with blinders on, never questioning what we do and why we do it. Ms. Williams makes the point that next time you're at a get-together making small talk, instead of asking What do you do? consider asking What do you see? If we all paused for a moment, we might just be surprised by what we see and where it leads us.