After that last essay, I got to thinking about my time in social work. I did enjoy working with people with disabilities, but I don’t think I was ever actually meant to be a social worker. Some people have their calling. This wasn’t mine. I could hardly take care of myself, much less anyone else.
The REAL reason I stayed at that job for nine years was because they made it so damn comfortable. It was seriously ridiculous. They practically threw buttloads (the proper measurement) of “paid time off” at us, and we even got to design our own schedules. For a full time job, I generally only worked 20 - 30 hours a week. As long as we got our work done, they didn’t question it.
However, you know how it goes when you sit in a big, comfy chair for way too long? It sneaks up on ya and suddenly you’re sore as all get out? Sure, I had the security of steady pay and decent health benefits, but this job was starting to give me some serious workplace welts.
“Office life” specifically had become the hardest hitting pain in my backside. Being confined to a cubicle started to get claustrophobic. I grew increasingly sick of being encouraged to cover up my tattoos. And, I swear to God, if I got one more company wide email on “policies and procedures” or “rules and regulations,” then my brain would explode all over the computer screen.
When our agency had gotten taken over by another company, things only got worse. They began micromanaging our schedules. Our PTO got cut. We could no longer decorate our cubicles and covering my up my tattoos became mandatory. I realized that I had stayed in my comfort zone for TOO long and now had accidentally ended up in hell.
The daily grind had officially started to fucking grind me daily. If I stayed here much longer, I’d end up becoming some self-induced Gump with a bad buzz-cut, sitting on the edge of a bench, metaphorically bragging about my box of chocolates to total strangers.
While I could switch things up by making a lateral move to another agency, it wouldn’t take long before that seat got all too uncomfortable as well. I didn’t need a new chair, I needed to sit in something entirely different – something creative where I didn’t have to be responsible for people.
I wanted to be my own boss and not follow all of those unnecessary rules and regulations. I certainly wanted to stop wearing those damn long sleeves (or much of any clothing for that matter) to cover up my tattoos. Really, I just wanted to write.
Ever since I can remember, I had wanted to be a writer. Fortunately, this dream wasn’t so far out-of-place for me. Even in elementary school, I had a knack for it. I couldn’t do math worth shit. And because of my ADD, I could hardly even read. But somehow, I could write a decent story that the teachers always loved.
Back in 2011, I landed a side gig writing about “poz life” for a local LGBT publication. This is where we discovered my ability to write transparently due to my decision to live transparently. With that, the editors wanted me to tell more stories beyond that of my HIV status. They helped me hone in on my craft and my column quickly became a top favorite in the magazine.
But this wouldn’t be enough money to get out of my comfortably uncomfortable job. Besides, this wasn’t really “the dream.” I didn’t want to just write articles for others. I didn’t want to be restricted in word count or unable to curse like a sailor (God Dammit). I knew I had it in me to write one of those big, girthy things that no one ever reads anymore – they were called “books” or something like that.
In order to do this, I’d have to take a huge leap of faith and get out of the comfort zones entirely - no more keeping one foot in the door. Otherwise I’d never get out of hell. So after a lot of intense financial planning, I pulled the plug on both the social work job and the columnist gig. My coworkers cheered as I declared that I’d become a writer of said books. Although I’m sure a few rolled their eyes behind my back. It was fine. I’d show them.
However in the first few months, nothing went as planned. That was probably because I had forgotten to actually make any kind of plan. I told everyone that I just needed time to heal from the workplace. But, honestly, I was some Type A personality that’d rather clean the house than face the fact that I had no idea how to do this. As it turned out, I wasn’t so good without those unnecessary rules and regulations – without structure.
I successfully got to shed all of that terrible work attire. But instead of running naked and free in an open field, I now wandered around totally lost in a forest that made no sense. Every time I even tried to sit down and write, my brain got riddled with fear and went blank. I felt wounded that the writer’s life hadn’t been as romantic as I thought. Dammit, why didn’t I bring a first aid kit? Surely a bear would come eat me up at any moment.
Who would have thought that getting out of your comfort zone would have been so freaking… uncomfortable? I was like one of those cats who clawed their way onto a curtain and now had no clue what to do next. So now what?
Really, I had two choices. I could either sit there and wallow in my discomfort until I wasted all my resources and ended up back in the place I so desperately needed to leave or I could stop bitching and just start writing – even if my writing sucked. Maybe it’d eventually not suck and I could find my way out of this god forsaken forest.
So I did just that. I started writing, not knowing what would come of any of it. And truth be told, it DID suck. But after a few months, things began to take shape. I got into the rhythm, I got inspired, and I had a clear vision of what my first book would be about.
However right when I thought I found my way out of the forest, somehow the scenery all changed. A publisher told me that, nowadays, in order to become a successful author, one must first become a successful blogger. This asshole (who I love and am eternally grateful for) got me all turned around and and lost in the forest of discomfort yet again.
By this time though, I had learned some new survival skills. I didn’t know a lot about blogs, much less how to make one. But now tackling the unknown didn’t feel so terrifying. I’d sharpen my sticks and pitch some tents and figure this one out too. With the help of some awesome woodland creatures, I ended up assembling a blog that would take my shtick of transparent storytelling one giant, bold step forward. And it would surprisingly gain a quick following.
It occurred to me that this was what getting out of our comfort zones was all about. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be scary. And if it weren’t scary, it’d be comfortable. And if it were comfortable, we’d be right back where we started in the first place. The discomfort is what creates the change that we crave. And it certainly doesn’t stop after we take that first leap of faith either. Rather it continues long after our feet hit the ground. We just get better at figuring it out as we run.
So here I am: STILL a blogger, not yet an author – STILL wandering the forest. It’s been over TWO YEARS since I quit my job in social work and I have no major source of income to show for it. But that’s okay. I’ve come to realize that in order to find your way to something new, you HAVE to get lost. And you can’t take shortcuts in order to find your way out. Instead, take your time to really learn about the new environment.
Although it might be uncomfortable at first, you never know what (or who) you’ll find. Some say that not all who wander are lost, but I say that for those of us who are still lost, we are right where we need to be. Because in the end, we simply can’t make change by sticking to the paths we already know. So when our comfort zones have suddenly landed us in hell, the time has come to get lost.
Photography by @musclepix
Edited by Glen Trupp
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