I found myself asking the question that is the most adult of all life cliches: “Is this all there is?” I didn’t want to spend a third (or more) of my life inside the walls of a drab, lifeless office producing work for an organization in which I am an utterly insignificant cog.
Now, many people have used this intersection in their lives as the entrepreneurial spark to start a business of their own. The problem is I can’t think of anything I want to do. It is not a fear of uncertainty that prevents me from striking out on my own; it is a lack of professional ambition. There is just nothing in the professional world that gets me excited.
Find Your Passion, Hate Your Job
I’ve been through this sort of existential crisis before. In fact, I tried to find meaning in areas where I was truly passionate. I started out trying to make it in the movie industry. I left my hometown in Arizona thinking I was destined to be the next Steven Spielberg (who is also from my hometown) and headed to film school at the University of Southern California. It was a lot of fun, I got to ensconce myself in cinema, but the career guidance at USC film school at the time was–how should I put it?– fucking worthless. I spent the next two years taking unpaid “internships” that ended up being little more than free work on crappy movies that would never see the light of day (have you seen the movie Tortured Intellectuals? You haven’t? Go figure. It’s not even on IMDB). I wasn’t cut out for that world, so I left Hollywood behind to try my hand at the only other thing that I was equally passionate about: sports.
I moved back to Arizona and parlayed my media production skills into a position as a TV sports producer at a local news station. I had never set foot in a TV studio before, but I caught on very fast and was moved onto other positions at a lightning pace. I started as a junior-level sports producer and video editor, but within a short amount of time I had been fast-tracked toward producing major news shows, where the real career opportunities were. I was offered promotions three times in less than two years before I realized that working in TV news was an unequivocally terrible job.
The White-Collar Shuffle
Movies didn’t work out. Sports and TV didn’t work out. I became one of the anonymous millions of people who took his shot at glory and missed. On my plummet down toward mediocrity, I grabbed for anything I could hang onto. What I found was a high-paying job at one of the largest technology companies in the world (the team that hired me was looking for somebody with expertise in the TV industry. It’s not what I ended up doing in the long run, but from a hiring standpoint I was in right place at the right time).
I participated in the white-collar professional slog that, for people everywhere, has become the mental equivalent of smoking. You don’t necessarily like it, you know it’s slowly killing you, but you do it anyway because–despite the dangers– you do find a sick comfort in it. Instead of nicotine, it’s a big paycheck, and instead of emphysema or cancer, you bring home ennui or anhedonia.
I spent five and a half years of my life going into an office and having my passion and interest eroded by corporate politics. Like I said, I was a living example of the most common adult-life cliche of our age.
Worse still, I was subjecting Kathleen to the pain and darkness I brought home with me. Her upbeat, can-do attitude was being pulled into my dour vortex. Aside from the personal problems this induced, it also had an impact on Kathleen’s professional aspirations. This is the last thing I wanted. You see, Kathleen is entrepreneurial and ambitious. She has ideas and passions and drive, attributes I lost long ago when I chased dreams filled with celluloid and sweat. In 2015, I made a commitment to her (and myself) that I would take active steps to change my circumstances. I sought out other jobs, but I had a major professional problem: there wasn’t anything I was really passionate about. I already took two runs at making a life for myself with my passions (which is two more than a lot of people ever take), and I failed to find success. So, where was I supposed to go? I don’t want to work for its own sake; I want to be engaged in what I’m doing. The problem is I had no sense of what that could be.
Planning My Exit to Become a Full-Time Dad
Kathleen and I had been discussing having kids on and off for a while, but her interest turned into white-hot desire over the past year. It was a bit of a surprise because she had been on-the-fence-leaning-no for years, but her opinion had changed, and I was open to either decision.
However, I had a condition: I told Kathleen that if we were to have kids, then I want to stay at home and be a full-time dad. There is nothing for me in the professional world, why not channel my energy into my family and allow Kathleen to thrive in her world building her business? She signed onto the plan without hesitation.
While Kathleen and I got to work on the biological requirements, I strategized my exit from my employer. I caught wind that there may be “redeployment,” a sort of soft layoff system where people are cut from teams. Those impacted have the choice to look for a new job within the company or take a severance package.
This was the opportunity I had been waiting for. I found my name on the redeployment list, and in a surprise meeting with my manager. With feigned sorrow, he told me I would no longer be on his team. I sat silently with a mask of manufactured shock while a celebratory fireworks display went off in my head. At the end of the meeting, he said to me, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“You know, this is a lot to take in. If it’s okay with you, I’d rather just take a few moments alone to digest it and then go home for the day.”
“Of course, Brent. Take all the time you need.” He left the room, I waited a beat and then did a fist-pumping Snoopy dance before strutting out the door.
Our Timing Sucks
Admittedly, it wasn’t the best timing. Working through Kathleen’s pregnancy and leaving after the whole family was healthy at home would have been ideal. But our household is full of optimism and sunshine, a marked change from the dark cloud hovering over our roof just a few months earlier.
Now I’m getting adjusted to my new lifestyle as Director of Household Operations. We’re still a long way off from figuring out a routine, but at least Kathleen and I get a running start at getting our home ready for Creature. This is the new normal. Me as a full-time dad.