“You called us a family; we were in love,” I shouted down the halls at Greg: my friend, former colleague, and in this moment, videographer. My slightly loose leather loafers squeaked while I ran away from the recording cell phone. We held back giggles while I tried to maintain the composure of a broken ex being escorted out by office security.
It was the first day of winter in LA, marked by the launch of Spotify Wrapped 2023 (this is definitely how winter works, I don’t make the rules). I left the company in July and had weaseled my way back into the office to make one last social media joke featuring me and Spotify.
After nearly four years, thousands of zoom calls, hundreds of spreadsheets, dozens of projects, and innumerable Slack messages, I developed kinship with the people I worked with. Whether it was operating a sandwich line, serving sushi, working in an office, or closing sales in a fully remote environment, I’ve struggled leaving every role in my career because of the connections developed with colleagues. As my experience developed, the projects I worked on became more aligned with my interests, and letting go of initiatives I brought to life also tugged at my heart. These observations led to exploring how the stages of leaving this work environment—a place of stability, comfort, joy; a place where time and energy have been devoted—felt strikingly similar to a romantic breakup. While my moment screaming down the office halls was a parodic metaphor about breaking up with my former employer, I experienced various stages of a breakup over the four months following my departure… and maybe even participated in some unhealthy post-breakup behavior.
TOXIC MOMENTS (I’m joking. Unless…)
Jokes aside, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional toll and time it would take to process quitting, despite the privilege of making the decision for myself. As I write this, we’re in a market where thousands of employees are getting laid off, and former colleagues are left in the dust of instability and chaos. A few have described scrambling to find themselves a new role to fulfill at the mercy of the competitive hiring pool, almost with indifference to narrowing down roles that would actually be aligned with their personal values or professional interests. Others have admitted guilt and shame around not having any motivation to pursue things at all.
There are people whose responsibilities don’t allow for anything other than securing income immediately. The urgency to find a source of income is totally valid. There are also many folks I’ve spoken to (including myself), who carry a pressure to move onto the next thing, even with the privilege of slowing down, afforded by savings/severance/etc. We’re so prepared to jump into the next thing for work. We’re so scared of the discomfort of not knowing what’s next; feeling like we’ll get left behind and not survive. I pause to think about what I’d say to a friend who recently separated from a partner. It’s more likely to be encouragement to find some time and space to process, rather than to push someone into a new commitment right away. In the world of romance, there are friends who might say, 'the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else,' but this has only ever served me as a short-term band-aid. It offers comfort and stabilizes things in the immediate moment, but jumping into anything unaligned only leads to more unfulfillment down the line, with the wound underneath festering until given air to breathe. How can someone find satisfaction if they don’t take the time to explore what would satisfy them?
I’m inclined to believe that it’s the same with career shifts. So much of myself went into the work and it became a part of my identity. The people I interacted with on a daily basis were an integral part of my life. Processing that loss was unsettling and it took me time to regain my footing in a new routine. It seems obvious to grieve a romance, but conversations around job loss don’t come up as naturally. Exiting a cycle provides an opportunity to realign. Why not take the time to process what was working, and what was not? For anyone who feels lost, exhausted, or disappointed by where they’re at professionally, I hope you can find the grace to give yourself space. Despondency is part of the process. Rest is mandatory. Trust your ability to figure it out. Maybe instead of lamenting a dismal market or accepting whatever comes to you, take the time to find a creative third option.
As a newly “single” girly, I’m exploring independence by doing all of the things I didn’t have the time for while in the corporate relationship. Things like focusing on developing my creative skillset, pursuing creative projects, and prioritizing work projects that inspire me as a freelancer—AKA the “focus on myself” post-breakup strategy. TBD on how it’ll end up, but it’s been pretty solid so far. :)
I might have control issues.
I whipped my eyes left to right, and back again across the screen, scrolling down as I absorbed details about the implications of the tarot cards drawn before me. My lack of self-trust and surrender sometimes leads me to seek comfort and a sense of control through the occult (false or not, I don't think it really matters if things are just gonna go how they're gonna go—but it's basically a xanax substitute). Last year I was going through various crises and began integrating tarot into my morning routine. One morning, I observed that in all of the resources (blogs/readings/etc), the explanations were broken down into two categories: love and career. It made me wonder, "is that all we're reduced to? Is this what life is; an obsession with being loved and making money?" I guess the trend could be attributed to both experiences impacting our chances of survival, and having elements outside of our control (read: other humans). As a result, people feel a stronger need to understand what the heck is happening with that fuckboi/hiring manager who hasn't replied. You're probably not going to ask the Universe if you're going to win next week's pickleball match against your neighbors. Or maybe you would, IDK. Tell me in the comments.
We're gonna focus on the career bit. There's a preoccupation with finding our "purpose," or vocation in life. There's so much pressure to figure this out ASAP so that you can go on to maximize your time in this world and realize the most fulfilled version of your life. The ideal is finding something that puts you into a state of flow, which comes from an activity with the right proportions of skill and challenge. The skill piece comes back to your natural talents, and the challenge piece relates to the skills that you're motivated to develop (I'm not sure if it has to be intrinsically motivated, but I'm sure it helps to already be drawn to a skillset). Both of these pieces are directly tied to who you are as an individual. So then, in a society where you have to trade time for money and make a "living," your identity is deeply embedded into how you earn your money. On top of this, we've decided your earning potential is an indicator of status, and thus another aspect of your identity in this lifetime.
Yet, "what do you do for work?" is usually one of the most boring points of conversation when I'm out on a date or meeting new people, despite my earnest interest in exploring the person in front of me. Somewhere along the timeline of human history we created a discrepancy between the activities that bring us the most enjoyment, how we spend our time, and how we earn money. For better or worse, we've collectively prioritized certain skillsets and challenges to solve, over others.
If you're a westerner like myself, you might've heard of Marc Winn's popularized mistranslation of ikigai, which assigns the Japanese concept to a theory for finding one's purpose by Andres Zuzunaga, a Spanish astrologer (lol leave it to a yt fella to confuse and appropriate a concept about finding joy into a capitalist program). The mistranslation looks like this:
What disrupts the original flow formula (skills/challenge = flow state) is the presence of two new factors: what the world needs, and what you can get paid for. Now that payment is a necessity for survival, people start to prioritize the needs and preferences of others, creating an imbalance in how we invest our energy. Unless you have financial privilege and self awareness, it's unlikely that you'll be able to operate from the original formula for flow. We'd have to operate from the new formula: skills/challenge + economic demand = occupation or identity (I'm not a math person, please don't come at me for this made up formula, but you're welcome to share a better formula to illustrate the point 😇).
So now we're at my identity crisis.
To much frustration, I give a shit about what other people think.
This results in the majority of my career decisions centering a projection of what I think would satisfy other people's opinions of me positively. Of course I took my own projections as reality (surprise: they're not) and operate inauthentically when I don't have the space to zoom out and process things more clearly (AKA everything leading up to turning 31 years old). I was—and sometimes still am—afraid of what it would mean to not be someone who excels at a trade society rewards. I was—and sometimes still am—stressed about ensuring that I realize the full potential of the skills that I identify with, in this lifelong pursuit of a "fulfilled" life. I've found these objectives at odds, leaving myself confused and stressed.
Maybe the resolution is to separate career from a fulfilled life?
I don't mean to give up aspirations for aligning career and life fulfillment, because I still believe finding the right balance of skill, passion, and demand is possible. What I mean is to release the need to attain this balance in order to feel satisfied in life during the process of finding it.
Let's return to the history of "ikigai" as a concept. Before it was misinterpreted by a guy who watched a TED talk, ikigai had a much more simple definition: a reason to live. This could be as profound as your "purpose," or it could be a small joy, like finding pleasure in a slice of cheese or taking a walk outside. Returning to this original definition releases a lot of the weight associated with occupying your one "true" purpose to enjoy life. In the journey of finding where we fit in the world, we can still have these smaller pleasures along the way. Without the heaviness of "WHO AM I SUPPOSED TO BE IN SOCIETY," or, "AM I DOING THIS RIGHT," to live an enjoyable life, there's more room for play and exploration. There's wiggle room to be a sell-out in the pursuit of finding out what brings you joy. There's wiggle room to test out different careers before you find one that clicks, and even if you don't find THE ONE, life was still good along the way.
TL;DR—let's meet up in fun places around the world, you tell me I'm pretty, I'll listen to your life story, and when we separate I occasionally send you memes, songs, or articles that remind me of you.
I've always been a lover girl. When MySpace was a popular way to spend time, I'd decorate my profile with sparkling GIF quotes, black and white stock-images of a couple's intimate embrace, and self-proclamations of being a "hopeless romantic" 🥴. Now looking back I wonder, what did I really know about love at twelve? I cringe fondly at this cheesy young version throwing herself into that digital space; a little virtual window where I shared my most intimate emotions and explored expressing who I was openly (and in some ways, for the first time). Despite how public it was, there wasn't an algorithm that surfaced my content to "people who you might know" automatically. Somehow it felt less vulnerable if someone might see me by chance. The format wasn't set up for direct engagement. There isn't a fear of rejection if you're just shouting into the internet void with no built in reaction tools. I was able to straddle the line of anonymity and being witnessed. Amusingly, I'm realizing as I write this, the whole expression of myself within social media then (and probably even now) was a bid for love.
Exploring love and loneliness through life, I'm finding that love isn't the same as commitment, and loneliness doesn't necessarily come from solitude or the absence of physical companionship. This plays out in every story of an unhappy marriage, or the heavy stillness of loneliness in a crowded room. Feeling fulfilled in love is feeling seen and understood. So the little romantic in me went after that fulfillment for years. There were ups and downs like in anyone's romantic journey, but after several years of serial monogamy, in 2023 I paused the search for romance and sought fulfillment in single-dom. This has led to conversations like:
I've learned that casual to me is not always casual for other people. At parties, I'm found either shoveling food into my face, or asking about the memories you have with your parents. A friend laughed at me recently when a girl quickly left our circle after introductions, because she made the mistake of reciprocating my question: "What's on your mind?" (it was the military-industrial complex).
I've had moments of casual encounters in between the periods of long term relationships. None were very fulfilling, or we'd immediately jump into a relationship (and thus, the monogamy cycle continues). I didn't understand what I was missing in these moments because 1) I'm not in a space where I want to be committed to someone, and 2) I've become less insecure and possessive with age. However, I'd observe close friends enjoying the freedom and fun of dating multiple people casually—so I knew it was possible! To unwrap why I couldn't enjoy it, I had to define what being casual is and what love is.
The way I was approaching casual, was by withholding my full engagement. I didn't want to be inappropriately invested in something casual. To do so would be embarrassing (or so it seemed from social expectations). I didn't want to share pieces of myself with someone uninterested in receiving me or sharing themselves. I thought giving attention and care (read: love) freely in casual was wrong. Withholding meant restricting enthusiasm. This is what was unfulfilling. I was conflating casual with indifference; intimacy with expectation or commitment. What I'm realizing is that even if I know there isn't a romantic future with someone, I still love learning the ins-and-outs of who they are and what makes them human. I love making people feel seen and cared about, and this doesn't have to be thrown out for the sake of casual, so long as I don't have an expectation of monogamy or anything in return. There can still be playfulness, intimacy, and respect within the container of casual.
At the time of writing, I've just past the one year mark of being single by a few days. Over the last year I've spent more time giving myself the energy that I put into my relationships. I think I was so pressed to receive care and attention from another person, I overlooked that I could fill my own cup. Turns out there's an abundance of that energy to fill my own cup and more. Now, I see offering love less like an exchange and more like a regenerative gift. I don't need to withhold in order to feel safe or avoid embarrassment from rejection. I'm not embarrassed to care anymore. It's my prerogative to decide if I have the space to offer it (or not). Not everyone has to receive it just because I offer it, and that's also totally okay.
There's a projection in cis-het relationships that women need to get married to feel fulfilled, and that men are obligated to provide financially. I suspect that this creates an environment where offering or receiving attention might feel like a trap into monogamy. On the flipside, it would be unsurprising if people felt exposing their full selves or investing time in being present was deserving of some longterm commitment. It's scary to be vulnerable, even with those that we know are committed to us, let alone those who don't have the designation.
I try to operate with a mindset that no one is entitled to anything from anyone else other than a foundation of transparency to make choices for themselves. What attracts me is authenticity and vulnerability. Given my comfort in ~laying it all out there~, it's been a learning curve to find patience for those who aren't able to do the same. It was frustrating to drive conversations that went straight into the brick wall I was talking to. But I'm working on it! Releasing the attachment to making every dynamic "work" has offered a lot of relief and saved a lot of time. These days catch and release of the proverbial romantic fish comes a lot easier because I know I can fill my own tank. Either way, I'll always choose to love freely.
This morning, I realized it has been three months since I became homeless.
Circumstances led me to move around a lot growing up. Always the new kid, always making new friends. It is/was sad losing connections with the friends from each place but I was still in elementary school so it was easier to let go and look ahead. My sense of attachment to a home didn't really exist. Eventually I ended up in the Valley - a suburb of LA notorious for pornography and girls like the Kardashians.
The Valley isn't really all that bad. It's lined with palm trees and wide streets with two-story tract homes. I get nostalgia looking back on hot summer days, lurking like lions with neighborhood kids in the tall grassy savannah that was an abandoned lot across the street from my house. I learned how to swim here, spent quiet nights lamenting my teenage angst on rooftops, and threw parties when my parents weren't around. But with all of these memories, it still never really felt like home, or what I thought home was supposed to feel like. It always seemed like I was the odd person out in groups of friends. I floated around in social circles just enough before I started feeling uncomfortable. This was probably the fault of my own insecurities (#teenagelife) more than anything else, but it just didn't feel right.
Enter: San Francisco.
After high school I left Los Angeles and went further up the coast to find myself in the Bay Area. College can be such a formative experience because you're removed from relationships that you make out of circumstance (growing up in the same area, being in the same school, etc.) and are surrounded by people who, for the most part, are there for similar interests. You have the opportunity to figure out what you do and do not like and have more freedom with who you spend time with. I spent the next seven years connecting with incredible people who were involved in the arts, who value progress, who prioritize brunch and waiting in really long lines (jk, sorta, not really). I love San Francisco: its smelly streets, its eclectic businesses, the graffiti on the walls. For me, San Francisco was late night dancing at F8 and early morning sunrises on the balcony. It was drinking wine with Nicole while watching (edit: sleeping through) Chewing Gum, drawing butts with Sonia, and crafting with Lizzie. I finally felt at home. Then...
Enter: Remote Year.
A gnawing emptiness had grown in my gut. In true quarter-life crisis form, I quit my jobs and moved out of my apartment to #findmyself2017. Being in a rut deserves its own dedicated reflection piece, so we'll fast forward to driving through the Olympic National Forest with Tyler one day and then hopping on a plane to Croatia two weeks later.
No lease, no apartment, no physical home-- again. Context: I joined a company called Remote Year, which had doubled their Admissions Team in a matter of weeks. All of the new hires threw ourselves into an unknown environment days after signing our contracts.
It was toward the second leg of our time in Croatia during a balmy evening sunset when I was sitting with another RY newb, Connor, while he played guitar.
"All of my friends back home are telling me how brave I am, how they wouldn't be able to do what we did. Did you have to think about this?"
"Not at all."
Apparently, it takes a certain kind of psycho to leave everything behind at the drop of a hat. We were all that kind of psycho. Even though these psychos come from all different backgrounds, have different stories and friends, we smashed into each other's realities and connected on impact. I love them and all their psycho-ness (translate: openness). Each person is uniquely and brilliantly him/herself, acting as one crucial piece to the Admissions family puzzle. I've never felt so at home without being "at home." Then, it smacked me in the face as I tripped running downstairs. Getting up from the cold, granite landing, reaching for my phone to report about my idiocy with my fellow psychos, I realized: home isn't where you are, or a physical place at all. Home is a state of being. Home is the warm comfort of being surrounded by your people, the freedom of being yourself, and being present in that feeling to enjoy it. I'm such a friggin' ding dong because I've always heard the phrase, "home is where the heart is," but it's an entirely different story experiencing it. These people have my heart. Being with them is being at home. In San Francisco I was comfortable, but my purpose was missing. It took taking a step off the ledge to find the home I was looking for (har har get it, step, falling, stairs, ha, okay).
This morning, I realized it has been three months since I first found my home.
The Barney-mobile. Bugslayer. JUCY Van.
Our chariot/shelter for the road trip was a Dodge Grand Caravan converted into a campervan. Bakpak Dave (aka BakPak Travel Guide) helped us secure this bright, lime green/purple "Trailblazer" for a pretty legit rate- his whole thing is "no hidden costs"- so it's fixed going through him vs. the RV company directly, and it came with a bonus set of bedding ($50 savings, woo) that I used the entire trip. Since I was floating around homelessly until I leave the country, I didn't have bedding to carry with me.
We probably would've preferred the "Mavericks," which is an artsy Ford E-150 convert from Escape Campervans. Surprise! Don't book things last minute. The early bird gets the Mavericks.
BM = for burners/festival goers
So now for the nitty gritty...
Like most ideas, it all started with a $5 margarita at one of my favorite San Francisco dive bars, Uptown. I was sitting with two of the best folks and hashing out plans for the ultimate Southwest road trip. But also like most ideas, life got in the way (breakups, workaholism, etc.) and my dream died... UNTIL NOW, fast forward two years: a good pal of mine coincidentally had enough of his job and decided to quit at the same time I burned out from mine! So naturally, I tricked him into spending two weeks straight with me. After a month of sort of hashing plans out, we hit the road in the Barney-mobile (Jucy Van).
Tyler and I are parks and rec people. We majored in it, he worked for the National Parks System, we like trees. My funemployment plans included seeing as many national parks as possible before running off to Southeast Asia (because who knows when we wake up one day and we're watering plants with Gatorade, or the world is on fire). We decided to even out the trip by soaking up some forest and ending in the desert, so it transitioned from the ultimate Southwest road trip, to an aggressive Pacific Northwest/Rocky Mountain escapade. We had more of an overview of where we wanted to go, instead of secured plans. It would be hard and stressful to commit to destinations.
PROTIP: NPS offers an "America the Beautiful" annual pass for $80, that allows one car/two person entrance to any national parks. Some places were $20pp, so it's worth it if you're visiting more than one spot!
*underlined are places we actually made it to*
Crater Lake, Terwilliger (Cougar) Hot Springs, Portland, John Day Fossil Beds/Painted Hills, Agate Beach
Olympic National Park, Seattle, Puget Sound
Hells Canyon and (the inescapable) Snake River, Shoshone Falls, Boise, Craters of the Moon
Yellowstone, Grand Teton,
Salt Lake City, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, Havasu Falls
Antelope Canyon (you need to book a tour for this), Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend
BACK 2 CALI
Joshua Tree, Salvation Mountain, home
NEVADA (substituted for CA destinations)
Las Vegas, Hoover Dam