How I nearly missed this deadline to prove I was not ready to publish this article (nor quit my job)
“Think of the life you have and the life you want to have. Then think of a job that can pay for it. Writing does not pay your bills. Also, one day you will have to take care of your mom, and that costs money.”
I was 15, maybe 16 years old and these were my dad’s words, just after I told him I wanted to be a writer, words that have been travelling with me throughout life, and that have shaped massively how I see work and how I integrate it into my life. I am now a grown-up woman and, I never became a writer per se, even though I write every damn day, and that all the jobs I had in the past 14 years have included not some but a lot of writing.
So why did I never become a writer? The answer is simple: cash. Born and raised in Portugal, a traditionally Catholic country, I grew up listening that creative jobs are not real jobs; that you need to work hard if you want to be someone in life; that you have to do long hours and always be available to work and, last but not least, you should never turn down a job offer even when money sucks as one job is better than no job. “Think of how many people wanted to be in your privileged position”.
In my country all the above are taken as universal truths you should never challenge. So, after studying Communications at Uni, I took my first job at an Advertising agency, the best in class in Lisbon and I never looked back.
LOL. My career path, similar to my life, has been everything but linear. Maybe because I am not a linear person myself, maybe because the world is not a linear place. From my very first week in a creative department at an Ad agency, I knew that it was not for me. However, quitting was totally not an option, especially after getting the job everyone wanted to have: copywriter at the best agency in the country.
Who on earth would want to let go of that?
Even though I was being underpaid, I was getting a salary, which we all know is a luxury when you start. “You have so much to learn, you should be grateful for having a job in the first place”. Also, changing jobs too often does not look good on the CV so I was committed to making it work. I’ve followed the rules.
I said yes to my boss, the boss of his boss and any other person I was working with.
I’ve stayed long hours, even when I didn’t know what I was doing. I wrote, re-wrote and tetra-wrote words, sentences and copy in all the formats and shapes for some of the biggest brands out there. I’ve smiled all the time (super important, especially if you are a woman) and I never showed any sort of vulnerability, even when anxiety was my lunch’s side dish. I was a good kid, one to keep.
(Not exactly a happy one).
The sacrifice layer is the perfect add-on to the scarcity mentality we have in Portugal, where there were never that many good jobs available. However, I’ve learnt very quickly that the Ad industry was not for me. The long work hours (early yoga-bunny here), the politics, the power games, the immaturity of the peer pressure and, above all, the amount of time, passion and energy we put into the stuff we do. That no one cares about but us.
The hard truth is, I knew from the very beginning I had to go after something more aligned with my values and the footprint I wanted to leave in the world. But I was always scared of leaving agencies. Till I was made redundant for the first time and I realised I was not the one in control. It was 2008, the financial crisis has just hit Portugal and I did not have a clue where to go. So I took a big leap, left the country, and never looked back.
Ok I did look back, actually many many times, but what I wanted to share with you today is what I have learnt throughout my career, that has consisted in agency-losing job-UN fellow-agency-quiting job-barista-freelance writer-agency-quiting job-yoga teacher-freelance writer-agency-not sure yet. And that is that you should have a work that works for you.
Here’s my personal take on it but please take it only as a benchmark, not a set-in stone as it changes all the time and what works for me may not work for you.
I’ve learnt I am not suited to be at an office in front of my computer the whole day, pushed to overperform and say yes to all that is thrown at me. I truly believe this is not healthy. Not for the body, nor for the mind. I respect that this can work for some of us who are less self-motivated and need more discipline but personally I found myself happier when I have the flexibility to be myself at work, showing up even on bad hair days.
When I am in a comfortable environment, I am able to respect my energy levels throughout the day and take regular breaks and strolls, especially after Zoom meetings — I swear to God… Also, I don’t like working after 5pm, especially when I start at 9. I truly need to be aligned with the company values, the real ones, not the ones stated on the website. I work better when I am surrounded by people (vs the romanticised quiet environments). In those environments I get distracted by my own head and thoughts. I love working in a team setting.
I’ve also learnt we cannot always be at our best and be super productive all the time. To be super productive we need to be well-rested, fed, hydrated and loved. This is actually the key to a good life. Last but not least: we should not take things personally, there is always a way out, after the tension, there will be a catharsis and then a release. There are good people everywhere, there are no pure dualities, and, above all, it’s ok not to know ALL the answers immediately.
Take time to have an opinion and it’s ok to quit and move one, but only when you are ready.
Are you ready?
I was totally not ready but I eventually quit my agency job, whilst writing this article.
And here I am, panicking about my decision as I know writing does not pay my bills. But it will.
I am all eyes to read what you have to say.
This article was first published on Medium.
p.s: I went back and it's been 6 months in. That's another whole post.