The Warning Signs

photo of a row of sphinxes

You’re not stupid. Your heart and your body and your brain – they know what to do. And they know when you’ve gone wrong. When you are out of alignment with your true self – when you have lost your brave, you know it. Even if you don’t want to know it, you know. Sometimes you’re too deep in fear, denial, or the joy of finally earning a living wage, but you still know.

Once, I was doing a job I thought I loved. A job that energized me and did something useful for the world. Sure, my office was a constant warren of interpersonal politics that degraded the quality of our programs, but I was handling that. The VP to whom I reported once yelled at me for so long that someone else quit over it, but I knew it was a sign of his respect for me. The CEO’s boyfriend had a mysteriously powerful and well-salaried role in the organization, even though his actual job title was something junior in IT. But we were saving lives! And I loved my colleagues, and I was making a lot of money at a time when my family really needed it.

I ate and slept and dreamed my job. My mom actually asked me to stop talking about it. At night, after my baby son went to sleep, I’d happily go back to my computer and work some more.

Then the acne started. Cystic acne, all over my face. I was 31; well past the age age for it, but I was sore and pizza faced like everybody’s adolescent nightmare. I saw a dermatologist, who told me she couldn’t prescribe anything unless I weaned my baby. I bought better quality makeup and kept going to work.

Finally, one night, alone with my laptop, editing a report, I admitted it. I loved my job but I also hated it. I loved the concept of my job. I loved the brilliant people I worked with. But I hated everything else – our poorly designed programs, the erratic management, our corporate culture of shame. I loved how demanding my job was – and it was also eating me alive. I had ignored my intuition for so long that my body was waving a desperate red flag in the form of pustules.

This story has a happy ending. Once I admitted that I wanted to leave, I had a new job in a couple of months. My acne cleared up in my first two weeks of work. The entire story I had built up about the old job was just that – a story I had written in my own head. All I had to do was step out of the fiction I’d built.

Not every change is so easy. Sometimes – mostly – your intuition is telling you to do something much harder than change jobs. But you ignore it at your peril.