“I really believe in the philosophy that you create your own universe. I’m just trying to create a good one for myself.” ~Jim Carrey
If someone had told me years ago I’d one day be serving mushroom mafalda to a former VIP client, I’d have laughed in their face. Not an “I wouldn’t be caught dead doing this” type of cackle; more with an “I haven’t waited tables in twenty-five years, why would I start now?” kind of incredulity.
But it’s true. I’ve gone from defining myself as “Career Girl Sam”—toiling in an industry that was killing me—to a far simpler existence. Literally pulled from my laughable one-page resume: giving people a positive dining experience.
Now this trope may seem overdone. People quit their highfalutin jobs every day. Maybe they’re sick of the rat race. Maybe they wake up and realize the lifestyle they’re trying to maintain is unnecessary. Or maybe their mental health is under attack (mine was). Whatever the reason, walking away from a pressure-cooker job is not a new thing.
Since I walked away, however, I’ve been challenging the so-called “rules” of life. I’ve decided to re-write them. And I have the pandemic to thank for giving me the clarity I never even knew I needed.
The First Shift
I’ll start with how I saw myself. Like all of us, I had a different hat for every role. The one I wore as Sam, the mom. It was a practical hat, meant to keep my ears warm in the winter. The one for Sam, the career girl. More a signature, fashion piece netting plenty of compliments. And, of course, the ones I wore as Sam, the daughter… Sam, the friend… Sam, the sister… I could go on, and so can you.
Over the course of twenty odd years, I’d worn and collected so many damn hats I’d forgotten who was underneath them.
I’d forgotten about the Sam that I am.
Well, you reach a certain age and suddenly you’re aware of time running out. I could hear the clock pounding in my head at night.
Once I realized there was someone living inside me who had been buried underneath all those hats, I decided I needed to give her a chance. And the best way I knew was to figure out how to thrive in my own way, on my own time, and with my own set of ideals.
I don’t hold any secret sauce to succeeding at this game called Life. But I can tell you, I’m happier these days. Changing up the rules has made a huge difference.
Screw the Productivity Hustle
I’ve been in a perpetual state of anxiety for most of adulthood. In the past, I was rarely in the moment. (Was I ever? Probably not.) Because it was a constant series of this, then that, then don’t forget about these 500 other things I was juggling. All of which could come toppling down at any moment.
And here’s the deal: I’m not ashamed of my incessant quest to get sh*t done. It’s part of who I am. But I’ve learned some things that shocked me. Thank you, pandemic, for showing me that it’s okay to wake up and know your contribution to the world is simply being alive.
The stripping away of so much from our regularly scheduled days has created space for… well, nothing, if I choose. Understand this is decidedly not how I roll. I will try to squeeze seven minutes out of every five whenever I can.
But it’s unhealthy. And I saw myself projecting my constant hustle onto others. If my husband “sat around” on his day off, it would trigger me. “What did you get done today?” “Uhhh, I watched ‘Forged in Fire.’ Why?” The poor dude. He’s entitled to rest and restoration. Just because I didn’t allow myself the same luxury didn’t mean he had to operate under that hard-core philosophy.
He said to me the other day, “Sam, I’m not you,” and then it hit me. Why am I driving myself so much?
I fill every second with a TO-DO that, quite frankly, does not add much value to my life. So what if the house hasn’t been vacuumed in a month? So what if the laundry resembles a mountain of clothing chaos I summit only when necessary? (Like, hardly ever. Rummaging is more our style these days.)
I’ve decided to stop chasing—and exalting—productivity. It’s exhausting! Here’s what I now do instead.
Do you and forget about validation.
Along the way, I’ve prided myself on being a woman who could pull amazing things out of thin air. Elaborate costumes made at the eleventh hour. Corporate events I’d swoop into and sprinkle my own “something something.” Need a little pick-me-up? Standby while I write you a rap song and perform it in front of all your peers.
I believed in trying to nail everything I was involved in. Which meant operating at high intensity, twenty-four-seven.
And I documented it all on social media.
I wanted everyone to know how capable I was. I gobbled up their validation, morning, noon, and night. But unconsciously.
In fact, I thought I was just being funny. In some ways, I was. Getting stuck in my red leather boots at airport security in Toronto proved highly entertaining for my Facebook peeps a number of years ago. Losing my keys in the snow. Smashing my phone for the umpteenth time. It was all part of my little show. Another persona—Sam, the relatable dumpster fire.
For the last eight months, I’ve mostly been off social media. I was initially motivated to take a break by the same things that probably irk you. But when I felt an uncomfortable vacancy after completing something cool that nobody knew about, it hit me.
Newsflash: I was desperate to be liked, and hungry to be lauded. I knew I needed to stop relying on this external validation.
Now if I have a private moment to myself, I don’t feel any pressure to whip out my iPhone and snap a photo. I can, if I want to, but it’s for me. Or my family. These moments have become sacred.
And I’m not pooh-poohing anyone who loves their daily scroll through the lives of others. Nor am I judging those who enjoy sharing things themselves. Have at ‘er.
But I can tell you, I have more available real estate in my head, and I truly do not give a flying you-know-what on the opinions of followers. I’m doing me. On my terms. No permission needed.
I’m not sure why, but I grew up attaching a sense of shame to the feeling of joy. Maybe it was because my mother suffered from crippling depression. We kind of tip-toed around, trying to keep the confusion at a minimum. Maybe it was the energy placed on productivity and success. I’m not sure. But what I now know is that joy is allowed. Joy matters. And I’m not going to dim my pursuit of it to make anyone else feel better.
Because I’m choosing to find it in the smallest of things. Like my hot oatmeal this morning. How incredible was that first taste—the crunch of the green apple, the punch of the cinnamon I added. A small moment; just for me.
How lovely is it to sit in that one sliver of sunshine that beams in your house first thing in the morning? Or to notice the squirrels chasing each other? These seemingly silly observations which at one point in my life would have gone completely unnoticed are now part of my ongoing quest.
Where can I find joy? Is it in the smile of the barista who made my latte? Is it in this parking space I lucked out on? And I don’t just look for it, I want to dish it out. Because it matters. We all deserve joy.
Get real with yourself. And calm the F down.
My tendency in life is to live in the extremes. When things are bad, I assume the worst. When the going is good, my rose-tinted glasses convince me that only the best possible outcome is reserved for me.
Well, I’ve spent the last year getting real with myself. This has involved challenging the absolute worst-case scenario that lives in my head.
I quit my career to lead women on these gorgeous, global walking adventures. I’m oversimplifying, but it’s what I did. It seems so obviously like a pipedream, it’s not even funny. The truth is nothing is as simple as the idea. I’m learning this. (She says while popping a Tums!)
With the pandemic stalling my plans for this new business, I’ve found myself twisted up in even more fear. But I’ve looked it square in the eye and decided I can live with the worst-case scenario: instead of getting this thing off the ground, what if it plummets into cold water like some sloppy cannonball?
What will that mean? I’ll have spent time and money chasing a dream that didn’t work out. Will I say it was wasted? No way. Because I’ve always believed we can’t know until we try. Will we end up in the streets? I mean, I guess, that’s always a possibility. But unlikely. I have skills, and I’m fairly certain I can just go out and get another J-O-B.
Which brings me to my next point.
Stop asking people what they do for a living. Ask them what they’re about, instead.
A part of me has had to face some ugly bits of my ego. I used to feel good about myself when I answered that famous question, “What do you do for a living?” I’d pretend to stammer around, but secretly would be full of pride that I owned a company and worked in finance. I thought (foolishly) this gave me credibility. I thought, somehow, I was worthy. Because I flat-out defined myself as Sam, the career woman.
I’m here to tell you it’s all rubbish.
Thanks in part to walking the Camino, I figured out that I am not that. The “Sam I Am” is not what I do for a living. Nor does anyone give a rat’s ass what I do for a living, unlike what we’re led to believe. I could be perfectly content living a simple life, under the radar, away from regulations and scrutiny and incessant pressure.
Like my new part-time gig of waiting tables. I live in a small town with a handful of nice restaurants. I knew it would mean the inevitable bump into past clients. But it doesn’t faze me—not even a noodle. And it will happen one day. I imagine a conversation going like this: “Oh hello, Mr. Former VIP Client! Yes, I do work here now. Any questions about the pasta selection?”
Let’s redefine that annoying question, “What do you do for a living?” Why do we feel the need to put people in boxes? Why does it matter how someone earns money these days? As though their job somehow defines them. Hypocrisy moment: it used to define me. Or so I thought, until it didn’t anymore.
And I’m a little frustrated that we start as young as we do, even with kids. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’m all for having dreams and a path to work toward. But are we not setting ourselves up for a future that has far too much emphasis on what we do and how that relates to our worth in the world?
I think it would be more interesting to answer the question, “What are you about these days?” or “What matters to you in life?” Next time you find yourself in that classic situation, why not switch things up?
I’m just now figuring out what matters to me in life. It’s not the job. Not the house. The car. The clothes I wear. It’s not the likes. The comments. Or the number of holiday cards I receive. It’s not even the hikes I go on.
What matters to me are the same things that truly matter to you. Your family. Your sense of self-worth. Trying to stay on a path that feels like your own.
So throw out the rules that aren’t working for you. Nobody said you had to follow them anyways.