What happens when everything in you says you need to jump off a metaphorical cliff and believe with all your heart that a net will be there to catch you? My inner child is about to find out.
After I left political consulting about 10 years ago, I never really got my life back on track. I knew what I needed to do. I knew what I wanted to do. But I found plenty of reasons not to pursue the work I was called to. I was afraid — and it was easy to explain to others why I wasn’t doing it.
“I’d really like to be making films and creating other media,” I would tell people, “but that’s expensive and hard to get into, so I can’t really do it.”
And almost everybody would nod his or her head in understanding, especially if I explained the huge amounts of investment required to make feature films.
Other people were often eager to tell me what I ought to do with my life. It was always something practical and reasonable, often closely related to something that person had done. I was slowly sucked into being practical — which has made me miserable with my life today.
I dread Mondays at this point. I count the hours until Friday afternoon. I live for the feeling that I’ve been paroled for the weekend.
I used to love work and I saw little difference between a work day and an off day. In most of the things I’ve done in the past, work was enjoyable — at least in the relative sense. For the last seven or eight years, I’ve done the simplest work of my life, but it’s been the most miserable.
For the first time in my life, I’ve felt as though I had little or no control of my time. I had to be at a desk — doing work ordered by someone else — at certain times. I chaffed under this lack of control and I fumed about doing work which meant nothing to me.
About a year ago, I tried to buckle down and force myself to be fully dedicated to selling real estate, but I’ve been trying to live what someone else thought was a good idea.
The owner and broker of the real estate company where I work has been extremely encouraging and helpful in pushing me in this direction. He wanted me to sell a lot of property and then buy rental properties of my own. Since I successfully manage all of our company’s rentals, he knew I could do it and make a lot of money.
But I might as well be digging ditches. I don’t want to sell houses. I don’t want to own or manage rental properties — for myself or for him. I don’t want to manage contracts for our company or become the broker and manage agents.
Doing that sort of work has made him successful. He started with nothing and has made himself well off. But it’s not the right path for me.
I sat down with him Friday and explained that I need to do something else. I told him I don’t know exactly what that will be, but I need to make plans to leave the company.
He doesn’t want me to leave. Part of it is that he’s come to depend on what I do for the company, but he can eventually replace the management functions I’m handling. He mostly doesn’t want me to give up on selling real estate. Those are two different functions — and he wants me to become wealthy through selling real estate and building a collection of property of my own to manage.
He makes a persuasive pragmatic case. He and I can both look at the numbers on paper and know it makes sense. Selling real estate is very profitable if you’re good at helping people. (And I am good at it.) If you represent either the buyer or the seller, for instance, on a transaction for a $400,000 house, you’re going to make around $8,000. If you can do two of those a month, you can make around $200,000 a year.
It’s not hard. And it’s not rocket science. But I’m miserable doing it. I’m so miserable, in fact, that I’ve become terrible at doing something I’m actually really good at — which makes me even more unhappy.
Here’s what I’ve realized.
If I had a choice between making $1 million a year on projects for which I had no creative control or making $50,000 a year on projects for which I had complete creative control, I would forego the money and take the creative control.
Money is nice, but it’s not worth selling my soul for — and I’m going to be so unhappy doing something I can’t control that I’m eventually going to fail anyway. So I need to listen to my instincts and stop trying to do what makes sense to other people.
Is that crazy? Maybe. But I need control of my work.
I told the owner of my real estate company that I’m taking my sales license inactive immediately. And I also told him I’m leaving the rest of my job there by sometime this summer. I went to the website of the state real estate commission Friday night and de-activated my license. I can no longer sell real estate unless I re-activate it — and I don’t plan to do that.
I convinced myself that I could force myself to become successful and wealthy with real estate. I had a really nice business plan, in fact. It just turned out that I hated the life that required so much that I can’t do it — mostly because there is another calling for me.
I read a short book today by Steven Pressfield called “Turning Pro.” Pressfield is well-known for his books and other writing about how artists and entrepreneurs can get past the resistance that’s stopping them from doing what they need to do. I had previously read his famous book, “The War of Art,” and “Turning Pro” follows up on the same subject.
Pressfield said that when people are called to do something — whether it’s art or launching a business or almost anything else — they often pursue a “shadow career” instead. It’s something that’s vaguely related in some way to what they ought to be doing, but it’s safe and practical in the eyes of others.
As I thought about it, I realized that’s what I did in the past when I worked in newspapers and in politics. I wanted to write and sell ideas to the world, but I did it in a safe way that used some of the same skills — but didn’t give me control over the message. The things I’ve done have been safe cop-outs.
(If you have even the slightest interest in making a change in your life, I strongly recommend “Turning Pro.” At the very least, listen to the audiobook, which is only a couple of hours long and costs less than $5. I’ve recognized myself — for both good and bad — all over this book.)
Who was I before I started worrying about what other people wanted me to be? What did I need to do before I started worrying about being practical enough to satisfy the people who I wanted to love me?
Something deep in me felt the need to connect with other people — to touch them with words and images and ideas. I needed to reach out to people and say, “I’m trying to figure this out. Won’t you come along with me while we try to figure out life together?”
But it was easier to get paid if I did things the way other people wanted me to do. And it seemed as though someone else was more likely to love me if I would become wealthy and successful, so I tried to be acceptable to someone else. That made me miserable — and I did it in a way that left me unhappy and unsuccessful.
I jumped off the cliff Friday. It’s a long way down and I’ve given myself about six months to get a net in place. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do by then.
But I know I will be happier doing the work I need to do. And I also know that someone worthy of my love will want me whether I get wealthy or not.
I’m scared, but I’m excited. There’s a lot to figure out quickly.