If you’re questioning your commitment to something, then it’s time to let go – This was a realisation I came to when confronted with a recent dilemma. After 6 years, I decided to call time on my first job, it was nothing special and I’d already lined up my next career path, so why did I find it harder than it should have been. Because I was blinded by my experience and didn’t realise that no matter how good we think we are, there’s only so much you can do. Be objective, because by focusing on one commitment you are choosing to ignore another.
Letting go is a funny topic, it can mean so many different things to so many people and have an array of consequences that another person couldn’t even imagine. The story I want to tell today is one of my personal, almost comedic, experience of letting go of something that shouldn’t be significant enough to validate a blog post. But that’s the thing about letting go… the value is so intrinsic that to anyone else, it is nonsensical. You may or may not find it relatable, but I imagine there’s someone out there reading who knows exactly what I’m saying.
We all have that potential in us to grow attached to certain things too easily… in this case for me was a job. My first job actually. A job I’ve been working for nearly 6 years, since I was old enough to work. A job that probably kick started my social life and, potentially, opened the door to every decision I’ve made since. If you believe destiny as consequential?
This job was monotonous. It was unrewarding. It was unengaging. But I loved it… at first anyway. I loved the sense of ownership it gave me – over the first big independent decision I had made in my life. The first step towards growing up. The fact it gave me a kind of financial freedom that allowed me to live at a level I’d never imagined before. I loved the people I worked with and I loved a lot of what the company stood for. It wasn’t just the love either, I was good at it too! I was young, energetic, starry-eyed, and I worked my arse off.
But that strange mix of love and excitement meant I gave that job all I could give. I’ve worked thousands of hours there and gave it hundreds more unpaid to “finish that one last thing”. But I didn’t see it as a sunken cost because I generally got recognition for it, not too much but just enough to keep me engaged. I was respected and at my peak I began to take on responsibility that was traditionally reserved to those in positions much higher than my own, and with much higher salaries too. For me it wasn’t a cost, it was a sense of duty. When things began to go wrong, it was my responsibility to prove the system itself wrong – to, against all odds, fix the problem. Can you relate?
But ultimately, and I think this is true for us all at some point or another, I fell out of love. The company lost its meaning, it lost its values and, more importantly, it lost its importance in my life. People left, stopped caring and moved on. I moved on, I just didn’t realise it. By this point I had started university, I was 90 miles away and had began working freelance to kick start my career. I returned on weekends, which was eventually reduced to every other weekend, and by then the whole business itself had moved on without me. Things move on. There were times I felt betrayed, times I thought I had wasted my time. I had gone out of my way so often for them but they wouldn’t consider it for me. But the truth is, it was just time to move on.
The Unsustainable Unicorn Mentality and Blindness
To this day, the day of my final shift, I don’t know what that mysterious driving force that kept me going for so long is. I imagine if it were transferable and there was a version of it in the energy industry, then it’d probably be some form of free, infinite, sustainable, green energy. – a unicorn.
A unicorn is a metaphor for something that is so amazingly and unquestionably perfect that it can’t possibly exist. So there it is laid bare… Whatever I was suffering from… It couldn’t possibly be real.
Dan Simons is a psychologist who specialises in selective attention and is famous for the invisible gorilla experiment. His experiments illustrated how humans are by design, incredibly ignorant of the world around them. The high resolution area of our peripheral vision is roughly the size of your thumb, outstretched in front of you. Anything outside of that area is incomplete and rarely noticed by the brain. This effect is not limited to vision either, but every human sense and the mind itself.
Remember that time you had a word on the tip of your tongue that you couldn’t quite remember. Chances are you gave up trying to remember it and then, in a random outburst, shouted it aloud in a unrelated conversation. This is selective attention. You were probably at least sure you remembered what letter it began with…. But the word you shouted out almost certainly didn’t begin with the same letter. This is because when you focus on a single letter of the alphabet, you ignore all the others without even realising. Otherwise you would have remembered it as and when you needed it. By moving the conversation on, your brain’s focus widened again and allowed you to consider things outside of your attention.
Be aware and be proactive
The takeaway is, you physically cannot focus on everything. Your brain will make sure you don’t by stopping what it considers irrelevant information from even entering your conscious mind. By choosing to focus on something… anything, you are choosing not to focus on something else.
This is relevant to my story for two reasons. Firstly, in a practical sense, by choosing to continue working on something with no future pay off, I’m choosing not to work towards something that will. Secondly, I’m blind. I’ve grown so attached that I’m blinded by experience and exposure, focusing on things that aren’t important.
Ask a friend
It took a friend to simply say these positives and negatives back to me, for me to be able to have an objective view of them. Even then I would have ignored them had it not been for their insistence on insulting me for being so ‘stubborn’. Cheers Woodrow. But they were right, so ask a friend.
Don’t think short term
Humans naturally overvalue the short term, this is known as Myopic Loss Aversion. Try to look ahead of your decisions at which will be more beneficial to your life in the long term. Can you forgo that extra money for a couple months if it means you get that job that will pay more in the long term?
Don’t become attached
There is something to say about investing yourself in obligations and other people’s needs. You should value what you’ve done and use it to motivate you. But also, and we can be selfish here, you should try to rinse it for all its benefits – after all, you give and you get. But, you need to recognise when you’re giving more than you get with no sight of that improving. Nostalgia can be our biggest inhibitor.
Well, I’ve finally quit that job. I’m focusing on the future and I’m yet to look back. I have more time to spend on my own projects (Such as this blog!), on projects that will be more beneficial to my career and on actually enjoying life. And ultimately this means I’m more effective at what I am doing. It turns out I was holding onto something that was holding me back and by letting go I can finally move on.
Also published on Medium.