I'm at a crossroads

I've been disciplined and successful in my job but now I'm restless and unfulfilled. Should I quit?

Published September 20, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I am in the moment of my life journey whereby I have to decide whether to pursue A or B.

First, I have been an obedient individual, an always-stick-to-the-rules type of guy. I am not trying to be arrogant but since I was small until university I have been trained and educated to excel in school. Listening to teachers and higher authority and following instructions are my specialties. I was able to enter into privileged university and got a business degree. Even my decision to enter business school was because I thought it was the right thing to do and that is where the money is.

Cutting long story short, now here I am, having a great job related to what I have been studying hard in university, earning way more than my friends, having a lot of benefits and social status.

Which is also the problem.

I realized that I have been pursuing Prestige, not my dream. I can't remember the last time I still believed that pursuing my own passion is the right thing to do. I am working just for money; I spend my day so that I can get that big paycheck every month. I work so that my parents will feel proud after spending lots of money for my school. I work because it is such a high position that it is so rare for anyone to get it. I work because there is a lot of potential to climb up the corporate ladder in this good company.

I have a great boss, great company, great paycheck, great benefits, but how come am I still feeling unfulfilled? Every time I go to work, I basically have no motivation; sometimes I even think about quitting. I do not understand why I can't appreciate my present moment, but thousands of people would kill for my job.

My relatives all praise me for the great job that I have, my friends are approaching me for consultations. But, I have been thinking about quitting this job, throwing out all this prestige, and then pursuing my dream. But I am afraid; I think the reality is not as sweet as just doing the thing that I personally like.

This job gives me financial security, ability to pay my debts, afford a nice apartment, chance to grow up and be successful in career, and give me a pretty high social status that I am reluctant to give up. However, this job does not give me sense of accomplishment as to who I am, and I feel like I have no motivation to do this work.

I have been aspiring to work in another location and I am learning to speak that country's language. That is why I am in a dilemma of whether I should pursue prestige/security or should I take big risk in pursuing my passion?

I think all my actions all this time are heavily influenced by my environment. I want to decide based on what I really want, but sometimes I am confused if I am just running away from the hardship of my work right now.

Any thoughts in this would be much appreciated!

Thank you!


Dear Lost,

Rather than choose A or B, I suggest that you choose A and B.

Your life task now is to begin pulling various parts of yourself into a coherent and happy whole. This means acknowledging dormant interests. It means catching up on pursuits you have had to ignore. It also means enjoying yourself a little bit.

Rigorous study requires self-denial.  Law, medicine, business and the arts all force us to put aside for a while parts of ourselves that, while not perhaps our strongest sides, are nonetheless vital to our wholeness.

The answer to your restlessness is not to give up your professional life. The answer is to gradually incorporate your other interests. Look for avenues of professional advancement that appeal not just to your ego but to your heart.  This may mean sacrificing certain things to gain other things. It may mean working in a field that offers more emotional or spiritual benefits and less prestige but it doesn't mean becoming a loser. It means making intelligent and balanced choices that take into account not just your skills but also your values.

My intuition tells me that you have some fairly fixed, perhaps not-wholly-conscious beliefs about who you must be. You may believe that if you do not excel you will lose the love of family and friends. In making some small changes to your plans, you may find this fear comes up. I encourage you to face this fear.

Basically, we grow and change. Aspects of our personality arise and subside. You can call them archetypes or you can call them strong interests, potentialities, capacities, needs or whatever: As time goes on we change. We give expression to different sides of ourselves at different times.

For instance, when looking for a mate, we may exaggerate our debonair, extroverted side. Later in family life we may exaggerate our staid, solid, good-earner side. Later, when kids are off to college, we may rediscover a relaxed, playful, golf-loving side. These changes might be seen as responses to changing external conditions.

We also undergo internal shifts. These may arise because we have neglected parts of ourselves in pursuit of narrow, demanding goals. If we have not faced some unhappiness from childhood, or indulged some interest or passion, it is like an overdue item on a to-do list. But I believe we also have an inner self with its own changing rich and complex drives and interests, which you might call the soul. It is not just a collection of to-do's but a quasi-autonomous and somewhat mysterious entity  linked to the larger human and non-human world, perhaps what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious. We can be more businesslike and refer to the soul as the authentic self or the needs of the individual but it amounts to the same thing: You are a human being and you are multifaceted. When you are restless and unhappy the thing to do is ask what new capacity or interest needs to be addressed.

So rather than quit your job, I suggest you inquire of yourself what are your interests at the moment. Are they romantic? Do you crave companionship and love? Do you crave art? Do you crave nature? Give yourself permission: You may buy a motorcycle and become a beatnik. You may go camping. You may sing in a musical.

Follow your cravings. Trust your intuition. Do not act rashly, but allow yourself to dream rich dreams about what you want. Then, use your analytical side to patiently assemble the pieces of a more varied and more flexible life.

By Cary Tennis

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