At work, I was so stressed out I wore a red rubber band on my arm to snap myself whenever I had a depressing thought. It really worked. But one day, I realized how sad it was to wear the rubber band in the first place. It was a shackle.
The thing is, I actually liked my job for the most part. In the one year I worked as an associate at one of Japan’s top venture capital company, I got to fly around the world to meet potential investees, helped run a startup accelerator, met amazing entrepreneurs from around the world, single-handedly ran the first FailCon in Japan, and even helped publish the Japanese version of Disciplined Entrepreneurship. Every month was different, never being too repetitive.
But I wasn’t happy.
I worked 9:30am to 21:30pm every day. Eat, sleep, work, repeat. There was no time for personal growth, leisure, or friends. The worst was working hard all day, only to wake up and realize it was all a dream. It was bad enough that all I did was work, but now I don’t even get to enjoy my own dreams? Was this how I want to live my life? Was this what the path to success looks like? It didn’t feel like it.
I wanted to travel. I wanted to gain new skills. I wanted to create products rather than just fund them. I wanted to not have a clue where my life would be in 6 months.
So, after one year of joining the workforce, I quit. I put in my two month’s notice. I didn’t have a concrete plan of how I was going to make a living. No brilliant transition to something immediately grand. I just knew that if I stayed, I would be tired and depressed, like the rest of the salarymen I see on the subway, and the thought of it suffocated me.
Many people want to quit their jobs and pursue their passions. I understand it’s not an easy choice to make, but it was honestly one of the best life decisions I’ve made. I felt in control. My path was my own to narrate. I’ve got my fair share of problems, but I’m happier and am growing as a person, faster than ever. All that rubber band shackles now is a deck of cards.
This is NOT an article on how to quit your job. Rather, it’s a fascinating look at the universal pattern of how people grow, and why forging our own path in life should be our first priority.
Enter The Hero’s Journey
The Hero begins in the familiar world, but must depart to navigate the unfamiliar world. In the unfamiliar, the Hero is faced with numerous trials of fear and death. Out of struggle comes a new strength. The Hero takes possession of this new strength to defeat his ultimate tribulation. Our protagonist completes the journey by returning to the familiar world with the new-found power to transform society, just as the Hero, himself, has been transformed.
I believe that, at any given time, we are all protagonists in a narrative, going through the Hero’s Journey, over and over again. But when I look around, it’s easy to see who has countlessly ventured into the unfamiliar world, and who has always remained in the familiar. I see the latter as a tragedy. Especially amongst young adults.
Young adulthood is the first time you become the main author of your life; the sole architect of your narrative.
It’s the liberty we’ve won for ourselves after years of preparation, and we should be taking advantage of that. While we’re young, we should spend as much time in the unfamiliar world as possible. We need to continuously cycle through the Hero’s Journey to grow ourselves in ways we never thought we could. To find out who we could become. To see where we could end up:
“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
– John Augustus Shedd
You don’t need to rush to a salaried life and have someone direct it for you again. Because, unless that’s your dream job, the cost will be your youth:
“You can always sit down and work. You only have a period of time where you’re at your peak physical. Use that shit up.”
– Michael Dorian Bach
Once you grow older, you become in charge of other peoples’ narratives; it won’t be just about you anymore. And that’s ok. But your journeys will have to become less frequent. And you begin to worry of losing against the trials and taking your loved ones down with you. So, a fantasy broods amongst these late heroes, thinking that their personal journey can start after 65. But by then, they’ve become too fatigued to go conquer the big quests.
Here’s what people in the last years of their lives had to say:
Bronnie Ware worked in palliative care for many years, tending to people during the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. A handful of themes cropped up in the things they regretted during their final days:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Looking at this list makes it clear how vital having the courage to challenge your self is, when you have the health to do it. Some people are afraid of quitting because of financial security or what they’ll look like if they fail, but the only thing you should be afraid of is regret.
Health is temporary. TEMPORARY.
It truly is the only time you can rapidly undergo self-transcendence. So pursue those crazy ideas. Create things. Travel to new countries. Get lost. Fall hopelessly in love. Experience the ecstasy of the present. Find your goosebumps. Lose a finger or two.
Then return from it, stronger than ever. Share your tales to help others.
And when you’re ready, start the journey again.
I'm on Twitter @shoinwolfe if you ever want to talk.