Are We Allowed To Want More?
On cabin fever, monotony, and constantly raising the bar for fulfillment
My annual cabin fever comes like clockwork.
A week or so after the new year, everything starts to feel bland, the days bleed together, and I get antsy to shake things up. The daily and weekly patterns that feel monotonous in the best of times (laundry, kid drop off/pick up, cooking and cleaning, dreaded recurring meetings) start to feel suffocating when combined with being trapped inside and surrounded by a dark, monotone landscape.
I start to entertain outlandish plans such as selling everything and living off-grid in a shipping container, turning my backyard into a boutique flower farm, and taking the rest of the year off to travel the world.
Constraints prevent me from acting on these ideas, such as my mortgage, contractually obligated client work, and our benefits from my husband’s 9-5 job. But these constraints barely hold me back.
The older I get, the more I feel trapped between two extremes. On the one hand, I have a lot more to lose if I make a risky decision that doesn’t pan out, and other people depend on me for our shared livelihood. On the other hand, I increasingly feel that retirement is wasted on the elderly as I watch people age around me who are too old to enjoy the life of leisure that they worked a lifetime for.
The meaningless daily grind is one of the main reasons I went out on my own. I couldn’t bring myself to get up, put on my business casual attire, and sit one more day in a cubicle while life passed me by outside the office window.
And so, I leapt
Before I worked for myself, my cabin fever also manifested as a two-ish year cycle when I would get a new job.
I’ve had amazing jobs—jobs that truly allowed me to make a difference in the lives of others. I’ve worked for amazing people—people who pushed me to grow my skills as an employee and a human. Most of these amazing people are still my close friends to this day.
The thing is, I wasn’t satisfied, and I never felt fully challenged or fulfilled. I thought I would eventually find the right thing, climb the corporate (or, in my case, nonprofit) ladder, and be content.
Turns out, I’m not alone in this cycle. Research shows that millennials are more likely than previous generations to switch jobs regularly, earning them the title of “The Job-Hopping Generation.” Often this is attributed to millennials being apathetic, disconnected, and lazy; a generation that wants things handed to them instead of working for what they want. There could be some truth there, but I also think that millennials are a generation that hopes for more and isn’t content settling for a mediocre job when there could be something better out there.
When my semi-annual cabin fever struck, I dreamt about a career that would make me feel more fulfilled. I took a freelance writing class, researched Ph.D. programs, tried writing a novel, and took the GRE. I also applied for new jobs, hoping that something I was already qualified for would scratch the itch…be the job.
I kept defining things I thought would make me happy and eventually checked those things off.
More autonomy over my work
More flexibility in where and when I worked
I checked those boxes while working for other people. I still wasn’t fulfilled.
And so, I leapt. I quit what, on paper, was the best job I had ever had.
I started doing contract work as a stop-gap as I tried to figure out my next thing. After a few career attempts, partnerships, and other ventures, I realized I couldn’t work for someone else. Not that I couldn’t have made it work; I had plenty of opportunities to partner with great people on what would have been lucrative and exciting work, but I had tasted true freedom and knew I could never go back.
The bar rises
Working for myself checked boxes that I never even knew existed and I’ve achieved a level of success that I didn’t know was possible.
After eight years, on paper, I’m at the pinnacle of my career. But I think my fulfillment is slipping. Projects, clients, and achievements that would have made me overjoyed a few years ago feel stale. Once again, I’m dreaming of new things on the horizon.
At first, this made me feel guilty. I’m 100% living the dream as I defined it for myself. I have a level of financial stability, flexibility, and freedom that most people don’t have. I also work with amazing people every day. Shouldn’t that be enough?
I could say yes, as I think many people do in my position and stick with what works, what’s stable. Once you get to wherever you’ve defined as the top, you don’t risk it for something as trivial as fulfillment. A lot of people work so-so jobs their whole lives and find fulfillment in other places.
My happiness and freedom bar increases as I get more of it. Should I settle for less just because the bar is lower for others?
We are what we want
I think a lot about desire, what we want for ourselves out of life. Desire is like a teeter-totter; we chase something we want until we have it (or our circumstances change and it becomes meaningless) and then the chase is over, and we have to find something else to want—it is the desire that is constantly moving us forward. When you stop wanting more, you stop progressing.
There are a lot of reasons why we aren’t good at defining what we really want or are constrained by paradigms that make us ashamed of wanting in the first place. I’ve learned over the years that what I do for work is deeply connected to my meaning as a human. I can’t just work and find fulfillment elsewhere, I have to have work that makes me excited to be alive, or it isn’t worth it.
It took me a long time to own that about myself and not be ashamed of it. But that shame is rearing its ugly head as I once again find myself wanting more and telling myself that what I have is enough.
I definitely have more to lose now than I ever have, but I also have someone watching me decide to either push forward for something extraordinary or settle for what’s comfortable. I want my daughter to know that she deserves to be thrilled about what she does and not just satisfied, even if that means reinventing things and taking new risks. I also want her to know that her wants don’t have to be the same as mine—she doesn’t have to be an entrepreneur to be fulfilled. It is about modeling the way to think about the problem, not the way to solve it.
I refuse to wait for retirement to live the good life, even if that means redefining what the good life means every few years. Life is too short to get lost in the monotony. I give myself permission to want more.
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© Sarah Duran 2022
Image by kate.sade via Unsplash
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This information is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as, and shall not be understood or construed as, professional advice. What you decide to do with this information is up to you and all repercussions are on you.