A few years ago, I had a digital marketing job with a decent salary and great benefits. But I spent more time locked in the company bathroom talking myself through panic attacks than at my desk. I got in at 9 and I left at 5, not willing to give the company any more than what was required. I stopped engaging with my coworkers and instead, spent all day dreaming of what I could be doing instead: I could be writing a book! I could take a mid-day yoga class! I could actually make an acai bowl for breakfast instead of running out the door with a granola bar each morning!
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I wasn’t a bad employee — I just wasn’t a happy one. My anxiety was growing too big to ignore and it was time to start being honest with myself: I started to realize that my heart was in creative writing, and that what I wanted to do for the rest of my life was write books and stories. But I didn’t feel like I could do that while working in digital marketing full-time. After about a month of trying to curb my job-related anxiety without much success, I quit.
A few months later, I decided to go back to school to pursue an MFA in creative writing. I’m now writing a book while freelancing for brands full-time. Here’s what I learned:
If your job doesn’t make you happy, change it.
I spent way too long thinking that everyone hates their job — that it’s a part of the human experience to work a 9-to-5 and be miserable until we die. It’s not true! I became inspired by the people on my Instagram feed — the writers, influencers, and YouTubers — who decided to quit corporate and start working for themselves. They showed me that this path was possible and inspired me to think I could do it. My job wasn’t the right fit for me anymore, so I let it go.
Sure, it was steady money, a sense of security, and it provided benefits, but at the end of the tumultuous work day, my happiness was more important to me. I never spent any of my money made freelancing, so my savings account was healthy enough to make the move. I also cut costs by leaving my city apartment and moving back in with my parents.
Be your own advocate.
When it came down to what I really needed,— writing gigs, health insurance, a certain level of pay, a budget, a filing system — I was the only one who could get it. In corporate life, I had relied on human resources to email me notifications about my 401(k). I relied on my boss to make sure my salary increase went through thanks to the proper paperwork. But at my own desk, there was no HR.
Going full-time freelance while in grad school meant I was responsible for finding clients, AKA people who were going to pay me for my work. The dependable paycheck was gone now, the amount of money I made fluctuated: Would it be $5,000 or $30 this month? I had to advocate for myself; I had to make sure I was emailing brands, pitching, getting contracted for work that was more than just month-to-month.
I also had to negotiate higher pay. Now that I wasn’t in corporate, there was no longer a performance evaluation every six months where my higher-ups decided what kind of raise (if any) I deserved. When brands pitched me a number, I learned to not just take it blindly. If I felt I deserved more, I would ask for it.
Environment is everything.
At first, I couldn’t figure out the panic attacks. I’d be alone in a bathroom stall in the middle of the day, trying to understand what was happening to me. And then I realized: It was my environment. It was stuffy and gray and very cut-off from socialization. I worked in a high-rise on the 26th floor. I stared at a computer screen all day. There was no natural sunlight and my desk succulent was dying. I was dying along with it.
Quitting made me ask myself: What kind of worker am I? How do I, as an individual, work best? I need sunshine! I need breaks! I need to be able to stop midday to walk my dog or to take a 3 p.m. yoga class. Sometimes, I need to be social, so if that means meeting someone for lunch, I can do that without the knowing glare of a workaholic boss.
I also learned the Pomodoro Technique is the best method for my personal work ethic. With Pomodoro, you use a timer to allocate your time to specific tasks: Work hard for 30 minutes on one task, take a five-minute break, work non-stop again for 20 minutes, take a five-minute break. It allows me to organize and prioritize my for-money work, my schoolwork, and the book I’m writing more efficiently.
Find what works for you.
If you too are locking yourself in your company’s bathroom, your job isn’t working for you. If you too find yourself wanting to down a margarita most nights because it was a rough day at work, your job probably isn’t working for you. And if you too find yourself dreaming of another work environment, life, or opportunity, your job isn’t working for you. So what will? It’s your responsibility to yourself to find out. Think about what drives you. What do you think about when you’re daydreaming during a lull in the work day? Go do that. That’s the thing that will make and keep you happy.