Waking up from the corporate rat race

Growing up, my parents worked tirelessly to provide for me and my sisters, as did my aunts and uncles for their children. That upbringing, plus my personal finance-related anxieties including saving for retirement, had me believing that I needed to put in my time, work hard, and delay all gratification until (maybe) retirement.

All work, no play—until I could afford to play.

Would it surprise you that I was absolutely miserable trying to play by the rules of the corporate rat race?

Commute to work. Get to work. Put in the hours at the office. Leave the office. Commute home. Eat dinner. Go to sleep. Rinse and repeat.

Signs that I needed an intervention

There had to be more to who I was than just endless hours of work. In hindsight, there were some clear indicators that I was in desperate need of a life change:

I felt drained after most work days.

After coming home from work (when in-person work was a thing) or signing off (when COVID forced us to work remotely), the last thing I wanted to do was think or even do. Work “required” my undivided attention and pushed the limits of my physical & mental endurance, so at the end of the day I was left a husk of myself.

I felt guilty on days I didn’t get anything done.

Whether on my days off or on days that I’d call out of work for a mental health day, I had these elaborate plans in my head to make the most of the day—lots of errands and general “life maintenance” to keep me busy. But then evening would roll around and I realized I’d done little else but scroll on social media for hours. And then I’d feel really bad about myself.

I lived for the weekends and dreaded Sunday evenings.

My mood correlated with the day of week. Monday through Wednesday were okay, at best. Thursdays were a toss-up, but Fridays, especially the afternoon, filled me with an unparalleled anticipation as “Weekend Eve”. I’d laze around on the weekend, feeling justified to do nothing in order to make up the time that I felt had been robbed from me during the workweek. But then as Sunday evening crept up, I’d feel the heaviness of the upcoming workweek weigh on my shoulders.

The pandemic was the catalyst that woke me up

First, let me acknowledge that I was absolutely in a place of privilege during the lockdowns. I’m grateful that I still had my job and could do my work remotely; not everyone could say the same.

Without commutes and social/familial obligations, I suddenly found myself time-rich, able to take on hobbies in earnest and take time to self-reflect.

With that self-reflection, I realized that, even with increased leisure time, I was still dreading work when Sunday evenings rolled around. That was my wake-up call to make a change.

I called it quits.

In the middle of the pandemic, with no prospects for another job lined up, I quit my full-time job to try going freelance.

It was time. I’d saved enough to last a good while, even if I had trouble finding my first client. And in the absolute worst case, I could always find another full-time job.

But it was official: I quit the corporate rat race.

I haven’t looked back since.

The result? A better Connie

The Me today is pretty different from the Me in 2020.

I built confidence in myself.

Though objectively I was aware of my professional capabilities, it was difficult for me to advocate for myself. Salary and compensation negotiations were especially challenging because I did not believe in myself enough to push hard enough. That’s not an issue these days; I know what I’m worth and the value I bring.

Plus, with my schedule and time being mine, streaming on Twitch grew from a fun side project into a real opportunity for me to live confidently and be my goofy, nerdy self.

I fixed my relationship with work.

Seeing my parents work hard set an example for me—for better and for worse. For better, I take great pride in doing good work and getting shit done. For worse, it was difficult for me to separate my self-worth from my work. It was a double-edged sword that I wielded for a long time.

I only fixed my relationship with work after I quit my full-time role and turned to freelance. With all my previous full-time employment, I had a very real fear of disappointing my manager and would overextend myself, usually to my detriment. Come in early, leave late.

I did not have a good understanding of work-life balance. And thinking back, my coworkers at the more corporate companies probably thought of me as a goody-two-shoes or whatever office equivalent would be of a “teacher’s pet”. Cringe.

But with freelance, how I worked changed. For one, I could be selective with the companies I worked with, finding the right mutual fit where respect and trust were inherent. Secondly, because of the nature of my role with my clients, there were no implicit expectations on either my or their side.

Nowadays, I’m able to do my best work and be my best self nearly every single day. Yes to healthy boundaries!

I went from being time-poor to time-rich.

Once I started working for myself, I stopped feeling shackled to my desk and spent my days in ways that worked best for me. Instead of staying at a 60% level of focus for a 9-to-6 schedule, I’m able to work at 100% in bursts throughout the day.

This freed me up to fit other activities in my schedule, like daily workouts, twice-daily reading sessions, and twice-weekly Twitch streams.

I’ve never felt as fit and learned as I do these days.

It’s your turn: red pill or blue pill?

I understand that going freelance isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But that’s besides the point; what I want is for you to understand and remember that you have opportunities to live your life more fully, and that you don’t have to play by the rules of the “rat race”.

You can find fulfillment in your life and be more than what you do for work, if only you gave yourself the chance to find out.

Think about the things that you can control, and how you might change them to get you to a better place tomorrow than you were today.

Main image by Corey Agopian.