I was twenty-one years old. I had been working on a part-time freelance basis for a few different people for several years. One of them had offered me a full-time job several times. I had turned it down.
But now it seemed like that might be the sensible course to take. I just… wasn’t sure.
In the end, I took the job. And lots of good things came of it. I met some of my best friends there; I learned how to manage a team (and how not to); I went through various professional training courses that were equally useful in my personal life.
So, do I regret it? Not entirely.
Except that, for about five years of my life, I forgot who I was. And I’m not sure that’s the kind of price you want to pay for anything.
There was this little niggling doubt, you see. It was at the back of my mind when I increased my hours, and it stepped forward a little bit further when I went full-time.
I fed it sushi and told it to shut up.
The doubt got larger and larger the longer I stayed. The more things happened that I disagreed with. The more signs appeared that I was working in an industry with which my personality was completely at odds.
I fed it pizza and told it to shut up.
To make it even quieter, I tired it out by working longer and longer days. “I will be good at my job,” I told it, “and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is our life now. We don’t really have a choice. We’re supporting other people, and that means we can’t just jack everything in.”
By the time I left, the little nagging doubt had become a huge, screaming, hammering taskforce. It had joined up with several friends and they can-canned across my brain, yelling in my ears every day. “You know you don’t want your life to look like this,” they told me again and again. “You know you hate it.”
It was a horrible way to live.
By the time the catalyst happened that made me hand in my notice, I had been sure I didn’t want to be in this job for at least two and a half years.
That’s two and a half years of my life that I spent doing something I not only didn’t enjoy, but often actively disagreed with.
Then recently, as I’ve written about before, the company was bought by one of the worst people in the world.
I had dual emotions about this: firstly, I was really, really happy I’d gotten out. I was also happy that I’d managed to find the me I felt I’d lost years ago.
Secondly, however, I was stunned that I’d ever changed my personality so drastically that I’d ended up there in the first place. Sure, I could never have guessed that they’d be bought by such an awful magnate. But I’d known for ages that I hadn’t agreed with what was happening. Why hadn’t I left sooner?
At nineteen, I got married. Standing in my study in my wedding dress, with my best friend pulling the corset laces shut behind me, and my other friend handing me a vacuum-packed dahlia to wear down the aisle, my little doubt started jumping up and down and screaming in my head.
Now, cold feet at a wedding isn’t unusual. But this doubt had been there long before that, and I should have listened to it.
Do I regret being with my ex? No.
Do I regret getting married? Well, let’s just say that if I’d known how long divorce proceedings take when we’d decided to get married, I almost certainly wouldn’t have done it.
And yet it was quite easy to shut my little doubt up. To tell it it’d be OK, to remind it of all the wonderful times I’d had with this man. To convince it that, even though marriage was something I absolutely hadn’t ever planned for, it was OK to go along with it. After all, everyone around me seemed happy, so I must be. Right? RIGHT?
The thing with little niggling doubts is that it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart from just your average freak-out. We all get those from time to time, I think it’s part of the human condition. Am I doing the right thing? This is a big life decision, should I really be making it? What if it goes wrong?
I’ve had those, too. But there is a difference. And it has something to do with how it makes you feel.
When I quit my job, I was terrified. I didn’t have enough savings. What if it all went wrong? But the feeling was, at base, nervous excitement. I didn’t want it to fail. I wanted to do the amazing thing I was thinking about.
When I stayed at my job, I wasn’t terrified. I was angry with myself. The feeling, at base, was disappointment with where my chosen life path was leading me. In many ways, I wanted to fail. I wanted everything to fall apart, or something to give me a big enough excuse to leave.
And therein lies the difference: are you nervous-excited, scared of making the leap but wanting to do it anyway?
Or are you lying awake at night, thinking When did I let my life become like this?
Only you can answer that question. But if your little niggling doubt seems suspiciously like it might be the second of those options, you should probably GFTO of whatever situation is making it whisper in your ear.
Otherwise you might well wake up when you’re forty and find yourself surrounded by an entire lifestyle that you actively dislike.
And since we only get one shot at this life thing… well, do you really want that to happen?
So stop being a wuss. Pull all your strength together. Gather every tiny scrap of courage you possess. Get your doubt-whisper onside.
And make the leap into a future that doesn’t make you hate yourself.