Everyone keeps telling me that this loneliness that I’m experiencing is natural in a new city. And that it’s especially natural because during adulthood, the only way you meet people is at work and through your coworkers. I know they’re right, but I don’t have a job currently, so what do I do about that?
They say try Meetups. They say go to parties when the few friends you do know throw any. They say reach out to every single person you even kind of know and hope any of them replies.
But I’m experiencing a prisoner’s dilemma. Because every new person’s literal first question is, “What do you do?” and I’m too ashamed with how little I’ve accomplished thus far to try to navigate through those answers in my head, let alone with anyone else.
Do I clench my teeth and fake smile, “I quit my job, and I’m figuring out my life! Woo hoo! It’s scary and it’s exciting!” Do I paint them a pretty picture, so they don’t think I’m weak? I think most people would go for this approach, but it feels inauthentic as hell to me.
Or do I tell them the truth, “I quit my job, and I’m figuring it out, and you know what? It’s hard af.”
What if they think quitting my job was dumb? What if they assume that I sucked at my job (I didn’t) and that I was unhappy there simply because I’m broken.
Truth nugget: I oftentimes feel broken. I hate to say it, but this is a very real fear. Ugh.
Truth nugget: Rational me knows that everyone secretly wishes they were doing more with their life than just their good ol’ routine job.
What if they think I’m unambitious because I haven’t been able to make real headway on most of my dreams even with all this free-time after quitting?
Truth nugget: I’ve made headway, but I wish I was further than I am, and I irrationally assume others will expect the same.
What if they think I’m a weak, dreaming self-starter and think less of me when they come to know that I have all this traumatic baggage holding me back that I’m trying to work through, but it’s difficult af?
The tough truths
I know I don’t have to reveal every single one of my thoughts when they ask me that initial “What do you do?” question, but all of those “what ifs” come up bubbling, and it’s really difficult to confront them. It literally makes my skin CRAWL.
I mean, strangers innocently ask “What do you do?” and “How are you?”, and those questions feel pretty tough to navigate in this post-secure-job life, but it even makes my skin crawl with shame when my PARENTS ask me “How are you?” these days, people!
Truth nugget: At least I’m aware of this trigger now. It’s probably subconsciously been running my life for many years.
Because the truth behind the “How are you?” is that I’m really not great, you know? It’s hard. It’s tough when you wake up in the morning and the first person you talk to is no one because you have no roommates.
Truth Nugget: Maybe I need to start looking in the mirror and talk to myself. How would that feel? It is hashtag goals to feel AWESOME AS HELL getting to wake up to your own company every single day? Cue Soulmate by Lizzo.
It’s tough when you sit down to get work done and you and only you alone are holding you accountable.
It’s tough when you don’t know where to start and you don’t have a team or manager when you need help or a sounding board.
It’s tough when you have all these big ideas and you kind of know where to start, but you’re scared because it’s such a big undertaking. What if it turns out to be a bigger undertaking than you even initially planned? How will you pivot? How will you navigate?
And the big whammies
It’s tough when you set goals for yourself – because if you don’t meet them, you’re not letting down your team or your clients, you’re letting yourself down. And if you don’t cross items off your to-do list or finish whatever it is you were planning to, damn it, it’s no one else’s fault but yours because no one else was involved in any of it. That’s a lot of pressure. (I think maybe this pressure is exactly why no one quits their job.)
It’s tough when every single thing in your life including core friendships in your new city is a work in progress. It feels like everything is on shaky foundation. Including having faith in myself. It’s tough, you guys. But of course it’s tough. This would be tough for anyone.
Truth Nugget: I think that my structured job distracted me from the truth that I actually don’t have much faith in my ability when it’s just me against the world. And that I don’t have much love and grace for myself. I think maybe most of us try to distract ourselves from this truth every day.
I tried to think through how to navigate those potential meetups differently. Who am I really without my job? What do other people talk about when they’re not talking about work stuff? Maybe I can talk about something else.
First thought: People talk about their husbands and their babies.
Okay, but I’m not a wife, and I’m not a mom. Damn, it’d be so easy to navigate this problem if I had a kid. All the moms out there are so good at defaulting to talking about their babies.
So who am I without a job? Without a kid? Without a husband?
I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m a cousin. I’m a reader. I’m a board member. I’m a movie and TV watcher. I’m a delicious food eater. I’m a traveler. I’m a cook. I’m a best friend. Oh, and duh, I’m a writer.
But jeez, honestly after thinking all this through, I’m starting to feel really dependent on my interests. It’s like I need to have hobbies to have something to talk about. Like THANK GOD I went on a solo-trip to Peru because that seems to impress people enough to prevent them asking me about my current unemployed life. I’m seeing now how work was such a security blanket, but now everything kind of feels like a crutch.
Honestly, who am I without my organizations? Who am I without my books and favorite TV shows? Who am I without my love of philosophy? Who am I if I’m not a daughter or a sister or an aunt? Talking to people always felt so natural before; it feels pretty darn forced right now. I’ve never experienced this before.
So, I’ve got a bit of an identity crisis. If everything external to me ceased to exist, who am I? Who are any of us? If humans and humans alone still existed, but nothing else, what would we talk about? Would we have anything to talk about?
This is a big existential crisis, isn’t it? Oh, what a life. But I also feel like the chit-chat in my brain suddenly stopped. That feels nice. If everything external to me ceased to exist, my brain would have nothing to worry about. Is this what monks experience in their secluded ashrams?
I feel like I want to hammer this existential reality into my brain somehow.
One of my new friends is a dating coach. We’re not close enough at all for me to have even known his profession, and then, one day, I stumbled upon his stellar website. (That’s how I found out he’s a dating coach.) After reading one of his posts, it occurred to me that my whole “What do you do?” and “How are you?” dilemma is because my mind is too inwardly focused. Aka, ANNIE! WOMAN, it’s not all about you. There’s someone else in the conversation too!
Hooooly smokes – it’s not all about me. Wow, my mind was soooo consumed with myself for so long up there in my “what if” session. That was a good reality check.
Being reminded of this truth helped. A freakin’ lot.
Everyone wants to talk about themselves (except post-quitting-her-job Annie), and WELL, THAT’S JUST PERFECT because I’m GREAT at asking other people questions, and generally speaking, I love hearing about other people’s lives too.
SUH-WEEEET! So now, I’ve gotta go meet ALLLLL the people, old AND potential new friends, and mentally prepare to make it all about them. If I can remember this little nugget of truth, then I’m GOLDEN, people. WE ARE GOLDEN!
And that’s the trick.
To remember that it’s not all about you.
I think that’s the trick to life, but you know, baby steps.
P.S. THIS AN IMPORTANT POST SCRIPT. Read on:
For the record, I’ve now gone out and met people, and literally no one but like… parents worry for you when you tell them you quit your job. Every single old friend and new friend I’ve told has responded with genuine joy for me, true admiration because they wish they could do the same, and HUGE high-fives.
They proved all of my “what ifs” wrong. Which means, I’ve gotta trust people more.
Annie, why don’t you trust people more?
Every single time I’m afraid to let someone in, I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll love me anyway – that they’ll love me in spite of whatever it is I decide to share. But I guess this is because I also don’t give MYSELF the benefit of the doubt that, even in my most full-of-shame moments, I’ll love myself anyway.
Because now that I think about it, the truth is, when I’m at my worst, I DON’T love myself anyway.
When I’m sad, I want to stop being sad and start being happy. When I’ve failed at something, I wish I was smarter or better at planning. When I’ve gained weight, I look at myself and want to lose it. Can you relate? I’m so hard on myself. If I could love my every pound, my every mistake, my every teardrop, my every struggle – if I could love myself every moment of every day, no matter what the moment is, I think I could believe that others will as well. I think I could trust the love that others already freely give me.
Ah, there it is. We got to the root problem, didn’t we people? Self-love.
Do you love your every pound? Your every mistake? Each of your struggles? Do you love yourself when you cry? Do you love yourself when you fail? Do you love yourself when you don’t accomplish your goals?
If you do, AWESOME! Teeeeeach me your ways! If you don’t though… Why not? Why don’t you love yourself?
And if you don’t feel that love for yourself in each of those situations, even if others DO love you anyway, how could you EVER get yourself to believe them?
This is a big one, folks. This is a big one.
Anyway, I digress… when you tell people you quit, most everyone, even strangers, respond with high fives. They do. Trust me, I’m telling you from first-hand experience.
Get it? High five? First hand? Bahaha, I crack myself up.
Truth Nugget: I definitely wasn’t digressing in breakthrough #3 but I needed to SOMEHOW transition into that amazingly bad joke. I was dead set on including it in this post in some way shape or form. *Insert cheesin’ emoji here*