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Are You TOO Comfortable?

ComfortableHave you ever slumped down in your chair, felt an overwhelming sense of nothingness and thought to yourself…

What’s the point? What am I doing?

Well that’s exactly what happened to me in early 2014.

Before we go into that though, I’ll tell you a little about how I got there…

The Road To Comfortable

Growing up as a child, I discovered a fascination with computers and technology. I fondly remember programming a Roamer Robot to wander the school halls; creating a radio with my Science Fair Electronic Project Lab; cooking virtual beans on toast using an Acorn BBC Micro; and teaching the rest of my school (including teachers) how to use KidPix on the only colour screen Mac they had. Those were the days.

It was obvious that computers were going to be a huge part of my life, so I set my sights on a job in the amazing world of IT. Not knowing any different at the time, I followed a typical path to get there.
GCSE IT, done. A-level IT, done. Computing degree, done.

Whilst at Leeds University, I worked a year as a Technical Support Analyst for two global IT service companies on the NHS IT Project. The September after finishing Uni in 2008, I went straight on to the graduate scheme to start my career in IT. This was it; I’d done what I set out to do all those years ago. I was living the dream. Or so I thought…

Fast forward a few years and I’d tried out a few roles before finding one I enjoyed as a Business Manager for a team of about 50 people. Amongst other things, this involved business planning, strategy work and copious amounts of Excel. Not exactly what I expected but I was learning new things that interested me so wasn’t thinking too much about it. Oh, and I got to work from home all the time too, bonus!

During this time, the company brought in a new CEO who started shaking things up. As time went on, people above and around me started to get fired, made redundant or leave of their own behalf. Our team got split into 3 different areas and because I had a leveraged role I ended up in no-man’s land.

For a few weeks I went without a manager. I was unsure of what was happening but confident that things would work themselves out in the re-org. A few weeks turned into a few months, and I was still none the wiser. This is one of the drawbacks of working for a global organisation with 90,000 other people; change takes a long time.

Every day that went by, I was feeling more and more like this wasn’t for me. Outside the day job, I was discovering material from people like Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferriss. Reading The 4-Hour Work Week opened my eyes. Maybe there was more to life than going through the motions in a mind-numbing nine-to-five. Maybe things could be different…

I tried implementing some of the 4-HWW concepts, but no matter what I did, I still felt chained to my desk for seven and a half hours a day. It was mentally exhausting. If I did something non-work related for a few hours I felt guilty, so I made sure to do some extra busywork* on my work laptop to make up for it.
*Reading emails, work forums, pointless tasks, Facebook etc. – walk around an office and it’s what a lot of employees spend most of their time on.

I felt disconnected. As time went on, I felt like no one cared about who I was and what I was doing. I was holding out for some kind of change that would make it all better. A new manager and a new team. Maybe if that happened, things would go back to normal and I’d be happy again.

I spoke to my old manager and started doing some work for him. There was talk of him creating a role for me. A glimmer of hope. Maybe things would get better from here I thought.

Then again, maybe not. He was having problems too. Internal politics, change taking too long, work-creation schemes. All the usual suspects in a corporate environment.

It was dawning on me that something needed to change. Then, one morning in early 2014… BAM! It hit me (not literally – thankfully this story isn’t about me getting hit by a bus).

Waking up on that typical Monday morning, I expected another normal, boring day. I got washed and dressed as usual, then wandered down to the lounge where my desk was set up. This time though, as I slumped down in my desk chair and stared into the blank screen, I felt a complete sense of nothingness…

What’s the point of switching my laptop on today?

What good am I contributing to the world?

What the hell am I doing with my life?

When you start asking yourself questions like these, it’s a pretty good sign that it’s time to make a change in your life.

Changing Things Up

In the Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau says:

“we generally resist change until the pain of making a switch becomes less than the pain of remaining in our current situation”

On first read, some people will assume this means to remain in the current situation until the pain increases so much that it forces the issue and makes us take action. I was on this path, but I was still too comfortable. I had a decent salary coming in each month along with benefits. I could work from home. People would tell me I was lucky to have my job. To have any job.

I knew that being relatively comfortable meant I still had months, or years to wait until the pain reached the threshold that forced me to take action. Thankfully, I was getting frustrated with waiting, so I looked at the situation a different way…

What if I could lower the pain of making a switch so it wasn’t as big a jump?

This was an interesting concept to me so I explored my options…
How long could I live off savings for if I had to?
What if I took a sabbatical?
What else could I do to make money?

One of the best tips I’ve come across for situations like this is to ask yourself:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is dying, what’s the worst that could realistically happen if you do x?”

Most of the time, we’ve built up whatever x is (leaving your job, approaching a girl/guy at a bar etc.) into a huge deal and think the world will end if we try it and fail. The best thing about this question is it quickly pulls you back to reality. Rather than a 9 or 10, for a lot of situations you’ll realise that at worst you’re looking at a 5 or 6, and most of the time you’re looking at a 4 or less.

As I started answering all these questions, I realised that I had ways to cut the risk of trying something new. The biggest risk was running out of money. But I had some savings, I could use interest free credit cards if needed, I was living rent free and had minimal other expenses.

I then looked into getting a sabbatical from work. After a bit of searching around I came across a three year old scheme that offered a sabbatical paid at 20%. Hmm… too good to be true? I wasn’t sure if it even existed anymore, never mind whether I could even do it, but I figured it was worth a try.

To my amazement, HR told me it still existed, so I spent the next few weeks getting my request processed and approved. I won’t go into the details but it was a lot easier to get my request approved than I thought it would be.

A few weeks later, I’d handed my responsibilities over to a couple of colleagues. Shutting down my laptop felt like unshackling the chains holding me at my desk.

I was free.

I was also scared. Very scared. But I’ll leave that for another post.

For now, I’d love for you to reflect for five minutes and ask yourself a few questions.

Are you in a situation where you’re not totally happy and things are steadily getting worse?

Are you resisting making a change in your life?

Are you TOO comfortable?

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