Practicing Nonattachment

Practicing Nonattachment

Although it looks like the job issues are starting to settle down for the short term, I’m still not sure that this isn’t the beginning of the end for me at the Big Corporation where I’ve been working for the past few years. I never thought I’d ever have a corporate job in the first place — I mean, I was a writer and an academic and in general, ever since I gave up on New York City in my twenties, had been someone who’d chosen quality-of-life over making a living. But when I finished my PhD and was so miserable and fed up, and especially fed up with being broke, I thought I’d give it a whirl. I remember driving around the Bay Area with my brother when I’d first moved out to California and I was temping while trying to find a real job. I remember looking at all those big buildings and thinking “there’s got to be a job for me in there somewhere.” Those buildings looked like safety. Those buildings looked like people who had the kind of stability that Patrick and I had never really known. I wanted in to one of those buildings. I wanted to try to build a “normal” life, to stop trying to be so special and artistic and authentic and just have a life. Make enough money to have a decent place to live and maybe go on vacation once in a while.

And so I got a “real job.” I got a real job just as the book I’d given up on was beginning to find a life. Because of this, my first few months at the Big Corporation were somewhat surreal. I was the oldest, most overeducated intern I think they’d ever hired (and the fact that I was still enrolled, since I was ABD, was crucial to their ability to bring me in as an intern), and the whole time I was madly trying to pretend I had a clue about computer networking or technical writing, I was getting emails from my agent about which publishing houses were interested in my book and which ones had passed. It was enough to make a girl’s head spin.

I never thought I’d stay at the Big Corporation as long as I have. But my novel, while it did reasonably well for a very dark first novel, never earned me enough money to even consider leaving. And then life just sort of happened. I worked my way into a position I liked, working with people I liked. I managed, after two years of concerted effort to get them to let me telecommute full time so I could move up here to My Little House in Montana. I discovered I liked having the safety net of a traditional middle-class job — health insurance, a 401K, a generous salary. And because I wasn’t paying attention, I let my debt level run up to the point where I really need to keep this job.

And so, despite the fact that the job changed suddenly and radically on me last fall, and despite the fact that I’m no longer working with people I know well and I’m having to adjust to not having that kind of trust and rapport one builds when you’ve survived the wars together, and despite the fact that this has been a very bumpy transition. I’m not going to be able to go anywhere for a while. And so I’m back in the place where I was three or four years ago, where I have to prove that I’m a solid employee, a hard worker, someone who can be depended on, while simultaneously building a new set of personal boundaries between my life and my job.

I was talking to Wendy-the-Buddhist about this last night. About how I’m trying to practice nonattachment toward my job. About how I’m trying to just accept all these changes, accept that I’m no longer an insider in my group, accept that I have to start over and prove myself again. About how I have to let go of my own ego and hurt feelings about having to start over like this. About how I’m trying to accept all that while not getting attached to outcomes. About how I’m sitting again because lately this transition experience has me not sleeping, has me indulging in worry. We talked about how many people we know have jobs they don’t really like — we’ve both weathered major career changes in the past couple of years, and in the process, we’ve talked to a lot of people about their jobs and how those jobs either do or don’t work for people.

Because as difficult as this transition has been for me, I still have a Very Good Job. All I have to do to remind myself of that is to go look at a site like Ravings of a Corporate Mommy. I get to stay in Montana. I don’t have to go to an office every day. Because of the time difference, I have a little block of time in the mornings to write, and now that the sun isn’t setting at four in the afternoon anymore, and now that the mountains are starting to thaw out, I can walk my dogs every evening in a place so beautiful that people come here for vacations. I am deeply grateful that I have a job in the first place, especially one that affords me the very pleasant life I’ve built.

But I can’t help feeling like it’s also time to start planning an exit strategy. Like it’s time to really start living small and pay off my debts, build up my savings, make a long term plan so I have some options and so I don’t wind up like so many people I know, semi-trapped in a job that is just a job, wondering what might have been, wondering if one wasted one’s chance here on the planet.

5 thoughts on “Practicing Nonattachment

  1. I confess I’m having trouble relating to your post. Telecommuting sounds like such a dream to me! The perfect compromise between having the important securities of a job, without daily having to suffer the physical presence of any loathsome bosses or coworkers. And you don’t have to endure a time-consuming and exhausting daily commute. Not to mention that you get to live exactly where you want to be, where I imagine there are many fewer jobs (and lower than Bay Area salaries too, I imagine). Imagine: when the stress gets to you can freak out in the privacy of your own home – rather than in a cubicle (yikes)! It seems like it would be easier to produce the work product results (how else would they measure your performance?), and deal much less with office politics, at a serene remove from the daily fray!

    Boy, had I been able to telecommute even part of the time to my last job, I think I could have lasted in that position forever, despite the bosses from hell, inane coworkers, mind-numbing tasks, etc., etc.

    But it sounds like you do have it figured out – belt-tightening and financial planning are key to not having to report to someone else, whether on-line or in person. And it sounds like you have to travel to the job from time to time, that sounds hard, leaving home like that. But I still confess to be curious – on a daily level, what’s it like for you to telecommute? Are you connected on line to the boss at every moment so that there’s a Big Brotherish feel right in your own home? Or is it that the people in the Home Office are jealous of the fact that you telecommute and they don’t, so somehow they’re sabotaging or undermining you, so that your work product isn’t the most important thing?

    Ummm, just wondering!

  2. I fell in love with your blog this past week and I just wanted to say that I hope you find everything you’re looking for and that things start looking up again. You deserve it.

  3. Well Carakleet, it is still a pretty great gig, which is what I was trying to remind myself of this morning by writing this post. But it’s still working for someone else, and having to ask “how high” when they say “jump” and I’ve always been bad at that. Maybe in my next life!

  4. Sometimes it’s good to look at your job from the outside, as you do in this post, and realize that it is pretty good. I have to do that with my job all the time. . . ! The idea of nonattachment, of not letting one’s own emotional existence or sense of importance as a human being be ruled by the job, is a valuable one. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Good thought. And the outcome (being able to have your house) is positive to make up for the rest, no?

  5. It’s a sad day when I discover that I am an example of misery.


    Gettng out of debt is excellent planning – so when the time comes when the Very Good Job is no longer Very Good, you will have options that you don’t have now.

    As for telecommuting, Carakeet – I’ve been doing it more or less since 1998 and almost 95% of the time since 2001. The best tool, the most important thing that makes it successful – is self-discipline. Bottom line? You have to be able to focus an honest full-day’s work into every day. And the political savvy to make sure your team and your management feels your contribution.

    Wonderful writing, Charlotte. Is your book as good? 🙂

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