About 9 years ago, I caught a lucky break in my career.
I landed a really great design job at a really great retailer’s headquarters. I had no degree, no fancy work experience. I’m not entirely sure how that door was opened to me, but it was.
And I seized the opportunity and ran with it.
When I first started there, I worked late nights, took on extra projects, went above and beyond over and over again. For me, it was easy to do that, as I had come from a life of freelance, so I was used to working non-stop just to make ends meet. And these people wanted to pay me far more than I’d ever made freelancing! So I gave them so much of my time and myself without them even having to ask.
I was promoted quickly, but then things took a turn. Shortly after being promoted, I was put on a dream design team within the company, a team I’d always wanted to be on. Then four months later, I was removed from that team and sent back to my former group.
It hurt. And it sucked. It was like a demotion and to be frank, my heart was broken.
After that happened, it became harder and harder for me to give my all to my job. I would still give a lot, but I was angry about it. Sad, really. Disenchanted. I took things more personally and felt utterly defeated.
Then something finally clicked. I realized I was likely only ever going to be on the team I was on, working on the same projects day in and day out, and I made peace with that. It wasn’t so bad, eh?
And then I relaxed and I just. stopped. trying so hard. I stopped trying to achieve that next promotion. I stopped giving more than was required. I took longer lunches, left early. I always completed my work but my days of going above and beyond were over.
I stopped giving so many fucks.
Much to my surprise, the strangest thing happened. All of a sudden I was put on projects I’d been longing to be on for years. I got put back on the exact team I had been kicked off before and this time, I had even more creative opportunities. I was given the work I had always wanted to work on. Concept projects, magazine ads, huge campaign initiatives for the VP and CEO.
It seemed the less over-the-top effort I put in, the less fucks I gave, the more opportunity I was given.
This rocked my world. And shook me to my core.
I’d spent years busting my ass and had done it gladly. And yet, I barely got to be on the projects I truly wanted and I spent most of that time busting my hump on production work. Then, when I stopped giving a fuck, when I started giving more to myself than my job, I was assigned projects that were drool-worthy and everything I’d ever wanted to work on. When I started giving less of my time to my job, my time there became infinitely more valuable for some reason that didn’t make any sense to me.
What I began to learn from that, is that this world (at least for me) is a bizarre little kingdom of opposites.
The last shall be first, the first shall be last.
I was raised Southern Baptist, so I know a lotta bible stories.
One bible story that always stood out to me is a parable in Matthew 20. I’m not going to quote it, because good god, that’d be boring, but long story short, this rich dude hires all these workers to work his vineyard. Some workers he hires in the morning, some in the afternoon, and some he hires really late in the day. At the end of the day, he pays them all the exact same wages. A penny a person.
Now, I myself used to get really annoyed at this. What gives? If I’d been working all freaking day in the heat only to make the exact same money as the dude who shows up an hour before quitting time, I’d be pissed. As were the workers in the story.
But the man with the vineyard says, look, we agreed on a price and it was the same for everyone so shut up, because I’m allowed to do what I want with what is mine (needless to say this practice might be where the concept of hourly wages originated).
Growing up, I was taught that parable was about salvation. Everyone is given the opportunity to be ‘saved’ from ‘hell’ no matter what time of day it is or time of life they are in – they will be offered the exact same gift and treated the exact same. Ok, that’s kinda nice. (And soon we’ll debate the concept of hell and whether or not it exists, but that’s for another day.)
I now look at that passage and wonder if maybe it’s also pointing to something else. We only live once right? Well, as far as we know. So our time on this earth is the most precious thing we have – literally – because it is so limited.
We have been trained that this world requires us to abide by certain rules – I must give a company five days a week, 40 hours of my time (sometimes more depending on where you work), and in return they allow me two days to myself and pay me wages so that I can ‘live’. We are conditioned to believe if we play by the rules, perform well, show up on time and leave after the boss does, we’ll be taken care of and have longevity with a company.
I am here to tell you what you likely already know … that is horse manure.
However, even knowing this is horse manure, there are those that still hold tightly to these rules. They show up early, they do all their work and then some, and they get frustrated when someone else doesn’t adhere to these rules and still seems to advance.
Why? Well, much like the parable, they feel they’ve worked harder and longer and therefore deserve more.
I’m not saying I disagree with their frustration, I’m simply saying this world doesn’t always work out that way. And we all know that. People get promoted because of politics or having a like-able personality. Corporations will keep you for years, taking the best you have to offer in the prime of your life, but give you the axe once you reach a certain age and/or pay grade.
The corporation will always do what’s best for it. Period. And not what’s best for the individual employee.
That’s why it’s up to us to do what’s right for us. Period.
Maybe, just maybe, the guy who showed up late in the day to that vineyard learned that his time is valuable. Maybe he knows that this life, with it’s limited timeline, is all he has and therefore he chooses to spend his greatest resource, his time, elsewhere – with his family, with his friends, maybe on a side hustle that allows him more creative freedom.
What if instead of getting frustrated at that guy and calling him a slacker, perhaps we see that he’s a person who maybe, just maybe, has his priorities right?
My personal belief — based on some pretty radical experiences — is that a company values an employee who values themselves.
But let me clarify – valuing yourself and your time DOES NOT mean don’t do your work, show up drunk, miss deadlines and expect to keep your job. That’s not valuing your time or yourself at all. Valuing yourself simply means find what your needs and boundaries are and do your best to stick to em. Find out what makes you happiest and therefore allows you to be the most productive, best version of yourself as an employee. It does NOT mean disrespecting your bosses, but it does mean being bold and finding ways to give to yourself first, before giving to your job.
I found that when I set new rules for myself — when I stopped stressing about getting to work before 10 am, when I stopped taking on every project big or small, when I started being super honest about how long certain projects might take and if a deadline was reasonable, when I stopped fretting about arbitrary rules and what might happen if I didn’t follow them — I started creating my BEST work. Seriously. I created from a place that valued myself and knew my worth and wasn’t afraid to take risks or ask for help if I needed it.
And my bosses loved this.
Now, I’m in a creative career so my rules and my boundaries get to be a little more flexible than most and I understand that. In addition I had set a precedent of being a really hard worker, so when I started to set boundaries it wasn’t as hard to ask for a little freedom. Perhaps you don’t have as much freedom to push back, but I would encourage you to find where you can set those boundaries, where you can push back just a little for your own well being. Start small and see where it goes.
It might feel a little uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re like Ash and an upholder. But my bet is that with time you will start feeling just a tiny bit happier and more empowered and will, honestly, start producing even better work.
Take care of yourself first, and you’ll do an even better job for your company.
Ethical Assholes make the best friends
Mark Manson wrote a really great article on why it’s good to be an asshole. Well, an ethical asshole, that is.
It’s a really great read, but the point of the article is to show that not all assholes are unethical and being an asshole doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a complete jerk. Oftentimes, being an ‘asshole’ is really key to building the best life for yourself.
Now what he means by ‘being an asshole’ is a willingness to be disliked and/or upset other people. I have this down for the most part. I have gotten fairly comfortable with being disliked. I don’t ENJOY being disliked (who does?), but I have become more and more comfortable with it.
Why is this important? Well, for one, it means I am not willing to give up what’s best for me for the sake of saving someone else’s opinion of me. It means I’m truer to myself and what I really want and how I’m feeling. And this, in turn, actually allows me to create deeper connections with other people.
I wasn’t always this way. I used to really really care what people thought of me, to the point it paralyzed me in fear. I was afraid of upsetting people and I felt like I had to cater to people’s demands in order to have them as a friend in my life.
What changed? Well, when I moved to Dallas, I longed to have a group of friends to go out with regularly. And for a short bit, I ended up finding that. I met a girl and we became really close. But then …that friend and I had a very public falling out.
What I hadn’t realized before our altercation is that her friendship had placed extreme demands on me, both emotionally and physically to the point it erupted in a very volatile way. It was an incredibly high maintenance friendship to say the least. In addition, it felt like a place where we could only ever build each other up and never really say the hard, sometimes negative things. Not that building each other up is a bad thing, but if you don’t feel safe or free to say harder things for fear that other person might just walk out, then the negative will build up and build up with no release. And eventually erupt.
Since then, I’ve learned that no one – no single friend – is really worth constantly breaking your boundaries for. And that in order for me to be a good friend, I need to be diligent in sticking to my boundaries – with my time and emotional energy.
And I’ve also learned that the best kinds of friendships are formed when you’re willing to have the hard conversations and say the harder, negative things in love … when you’re willing to put strong boundaries in place and be honest about them. When you’re willing to be who you are truly, sharp edges, petty fights and all. When you’re willing to say ‘hey, you can do you, but this is what I really think about that situation’ … even if saying that means upsetting them. This is how you grow with someone. It’s not that you seek to be disagreeable, but rather you aren’t afraid of it.
In work and in relationships, I’ve learned that being an ethical asshole is really important to being truly happy and building real, sustainable, long-term relationships.
A kingdom of opposites
This world is really, really weird. And the moment you think you have it figured out, something happens to throw you into a whole new arena of thinking.
What I have learned is that things in life don’t always operate the way I think it should. Or rather the way I assume it will. But beyond that, I have come to learn that (at least for me) things tend to work out best when I follow a path that is opposite of what I would assume is the correct way.
For example ….
What you resist persists – Ain’t that the truth. A perfect example is trying to diet. When I attempt to cut out things I know to be ‘bad’, my typical response is to eventually cave even worse than before and indulge greatly. But if I instead focus on what I can eat, focus on the things I can have and make sure they’re good things, I tend to do better.
Loving someone well actually means loving yourself well first – People have said this for years and I never thought anyone really meant it. I just thought it was some cliché thing people said. But it is the balls-out, honest truth. Loving someone really well doesn’t mean you give them everything you have and more. It doesn’t mean you love them greater than you love yourself, and you just keep giving and giving until you have nothing left. In fact, it means the opposite. It means you love yourself first, you give to yourself first, and out of that place of deep, peaceful love, you are then able to give love to someone else and have it be sustainable. Real love sets boundaries. Real love means taking care of yourself 100% … and then, and only then, once you see how well you can love yourself, will you be able to love someone well and treat them how they deserve.
Read this article by Ash if you wanna know more about it. To love someone else, you must first love yourself. Weird right?
When I am weak, then I am strong – Another bible quote thing for ya.
I wrote recently about how I felt powerful, like a goddess. I am a firm believer that we have the ability to co-create with God/the universe and that through hard work and powerful intentions and straight-up faith, we can change our lives. ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul’, yadda yada.
I have this job I’ve always wanted, in this area of downtown Dallas I’ve always dreamed of working, and I believe I helped manifest that. And I feel super grateful. But … some changes have been happening at work. And it’s left me feeling very uncertain of my future. But honestly, I have been feeling, for a long time, that my future isn’t staying with any company till the end of my life .. because, as I mentioned above, corporations aren’t going to take care of us. Ever. And I know I want more from my life.
And now here I am, with the knowledge that I have the power to change my life and yet … that power isn’t really power, is it? It’s the opposite of it. My true power is in vulnerability. It’s in humility. It’s in recognizing I don’t have any power at all really. I have my intentions, I have my goals, but for me, the path I know I’m supposed to travel down towards my purpose, is the path that is opposite of standing in my ‘power’. The power I’m meant to access is in acknowledging I don’t have any power at all.
I’m not saying I need to constantly whip myself and tear myself down. Humility and recognizing my powerless-ness isn’t about self-deprecation. It’s acknowledging what I don’t know, what I’m fairly sure I can’t accomplish, yet pursuing my dream anyway.
Being humble and knowing your worth are not mutually exclusive. You’re able to have both. I know what I’m worth in my career and in my life, but I also know that I might not be worth that to every one I meet. That’s ok. I’m not for everybody. However, I have found that when you stay humble but respect yourself, your values and your boundaries, often employers/friends/lovers will see this and value you as well.
When it comes to this next phase in my life, this destiny I’m hoping to create, I trust that there are some weirdly mystical, sometimes opposing forces at play and that I will eventually wind up exactly where I’m meant to be. If I try to force it or will it to be one way vs another, it just won’t work. But if I set my goals and intentions and stick to my values and boundaries, then I know the path will reveal itself. As it always has. I don’t have to understand it for it to be true. Isn’t faith strange?
This world is filled with beautiful opposites and contradictions. And for me, I’m learning that to create the life I want, to step into that power, I must first humble myself and admit that I don’t have the power at all. To have the dream life, love and career I so long for, I must recognize these opposing forces and welcome them, instead of fighting them.
This world is a kingdom of opposites. And I think the key to recognizing our potential is embracing them.
Because if there’s a king, I’m pretty sure he loves both sides.