“I've learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life.’” ~Maya Angelou
When I started working toward a life of freedom a year ago and dared to set my sights on my dreams, I never imagined I’d be where I am today.
However, if you took a snap shot of my life three years ago, you’d have seen a different person. I was a career woman, a high flyer, rising quickly from an office manager to the head of human resources for a fast growing, successful business, going from strength to strength.
I was living the dream, earning more than enough money to make sure I could buy whatever, and I’d finally become a success at long last!
Yet today, the story is the complete opposite. I am a cleaner. I work part-time seven days a week, cleaning and clearing up after other people. I work for minimum wage and I work physically hard every single day.
Who I Thought I Was
I thought I couldn’t get a better job, a better position in life, or a better chance to show the world that I had finally made it. I was earning substantial amounts of money, getting to travel the world, and buying whatever I wanted.
I thought that if I could just make it somehow, and prove it to everyone because I was working in London fifty hours a week, that I’d get the respect I’d always deserved. I was completely and utterly defined by my career. Without the job, the status, and money I’d be nothing a nobody, and who wants to be that?
So, what happened?
I quit. One day I just decided that it wasn’t for me. It was too stressful; it was life-numbing work, killing me from the inside out. I knew I no longer wanted to work for someone else’s dreams. I was tired of working hard, on the verge of becoming mentally unstable and feeling utterly miserable.
I realized that what I did as a job wasn’t what mattered. What mattered was the fact that I was happy, that my purpose went a lot deeper than sitting behind a desk, with my head in my hands wondering what the hell I was doing and why.
The Journey Began
Once I’d started on this journey, I knew there was no going back because I’d never be satisfied. So I began searching for what really made me happy, what I loved to do, and how I could use that to serve the world.
I wanted to contribute, to make a difference, and inspire others to do the same. It was like a light had finally been switched on in my brain. I realized that life was what I made it and I didn’t have to do what everyone else was doing. I could try something new, step out of the ordinary, and live an extraordinary life.
The thing was, however, I had no money. When I’d quit my job, I’d mounted up a lot of debt. My credit cards were maxed out, and the money I did have I had to use for bills, rental payments, and to pay off those debts.
I became very scared and anxious, as I wanted to follow my dreams and search for what mattered; yet, I still needed to live. I wasn’t about to go backward, so I had to admit defeat; I had to get a job, a menial one, something that required little attention or time that would still paid the bills.
So I became a cleaner.
I won’t lie to you; it wasn’t easy. For so long I’d been a high flyer. I was proud of being known as a success and loved being able to afford anything I wanted. Then here I was, a failure, the type of person I felt sorry for and could never imagine being.
I had become someone I never wanted to be. I was embarrassed to admit it to people, but at the same time I knew I had to do it. Financially, it took the pressure off. It also gave me the freedom to do what I loved during the day, and most of all, it allowed me to rediscover my dreams and work toward them.
Your Work Doesn’t Have to Define You
It took me a long time to realize that my work didn’t have to define me. All that mattered was that I could pay my bills, which was the only reason for doing this. The fact that everyone else saw me as just a cleaner didn’t mean a thing; they could think what they wanted.
I was the only one who knew the truth. I didn’t have to justify myself to anyone anymore.
It was so liberating.
Of course, there are down sides. I have days where I get so exasperated, so frustrated that I have to do this job. I get a little down and disheartened, but each time those doubts pop into my head I instantly turn them into something positive.
So how can you deal with these down times when you’re doing something that isn’t your dream?
Realize it serves a purpose.
Remind yourself why you are here, why you are doing this job, and what you are getting out of it. Remember there is a reason for it, and that reason is to pay the bills, the rent, or buy food, and that’s it.
It’s not that you are a cleaner, or a garbage collector, or whatever you decide to do while you work on your dreams. You are a planner, an achiever, and you are courageous enough to do what has to be done to make sure your dreams happen.
Seriously, this is the most important thing you can do. When I get down I remember that I am so lucky and grateful for the fact that I can do a job, get paid for it, and still work on my dreams.
If I had a nine-to-five job, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today because I’d be too tired. I’d be too comfortable with the money, the work, and the easiness of it all, so I’d probably stay stuck.
Sometimes it’s good to be doing this kind of work, as there’s something you really want to get out of. It will motivate you so much more in that way. So always be grateful for having this opportunity.
Whenever I go into work, I see all the office staff looking down and depressed. I remember what it felt like to be stuck behind a desk all day doing work that did little for me. So I make sure I am cheerful.
I spread a little bit of light around me because I feel so lucky to have gotten out of the rat race. If I can make other people see that cleaning isn’t who I am, it’s what I make of it that matters, then perhaps I can inspire others to do the same.
I hope these will inspire you and keep you on the journey toward your dreams and purpose in life. It’s so important not to let what you do affect who you are. Some people will only see you for what you do, but those people don’t know what you know.
Always feel blessed and honored to be able to follow your heart and have the courage to go after what makes you happy.
If you are like me, you are very lucky indeed—and if you want to follow your dreams, begin today before it’s too late!
Photo by Xiaojun Deng