Jump into the Unknown
Monday, February 15, 2016, the day has finally come.
My heart is beating furiously in my chest. I played this scene in my head so many times: I can see myself stepping into my boss’ office, H., and sit quietly on the chair placed in front of her desk, which benefits from the daylight coming from the large windows. She would come and sit next to me, as she does every time we meet to discuss a work-related issue.
However, this time, our discussion would not tackle price negotiation for a service partner or the adequate strategy to use for this or that client. No, this time, our discussion would address a totally different matter. Indeed, today, I have an announcement to make: I will quit my job in 6 months. She does not expect that. To tell the truth, nobody in my company expects that. How could they?
On the professional level, I consider myself a privileged person: I have a permanent contract as translator and account manager in a growing company located near Munich and have been working there for nearly 2 years. Furthermore, my work environment and colleagues are really nice, I earn a decent salary and work on interesting projects. Worst of all, I am well-liked among my colleagues and members of management and I am lucky enough to work for a company that genuinely cares for its employees’ well-being and continuous professional development.
In these economically troubled times, why on earth would I want to jeopardize this more-than-enviable situation?
Is this going to be my life?
The answer to this question can be found in an event, which, in all honesty, I cannot bring myself to ignore.
Around a year ago, so a few months after I started working in Bavaria, I was walking back home when suddenly, I was hit head-on by an unexpected thought. To be more accurate, it is a simple question that had on me the same effect as a train hitting a kitten at full speed: is this going to be my life?
Somehow, I had always imagined that once I would have successfully completed my translation studies, I would live an intrepid life made up of unforgettable travels, amazing encounters and incredible adventures! But now that I had a job and that I had settled down, I was becoming worried that my life would actually consist of a 9-to-5 job in an office with a future career all mapped out.
I could already see what the coming years had in store for me: waking up at 7 a.m. and taking a shower, breakfasting, going to work, spending an entire day sitting behind a computer sending emails, translating a few words and reading over a few translations from time to time and patiently waiting for the clock to hit 5 p.m. so that I can finally enjoy the rest of my day doing things that would really contribute to make me happy, if I still have enough energy and motivation left. And this would go on and on until I reach the Holy Grail awaited by so many people: retirement age!
Of course, this dreary and somewhat pessimistic description would probably be brightened up by beautiful encounters on both a professional and personal level, and by joyful moments spent with friends and family. With a little bit of luck, I would even hit the jackpot and meet an interesting and pretty woman. We would fall madly in love, would get married, go into debt for the next 50 generations to buy a house and would populate Bavaria with our brats (… well, basically, we would just have two kids).
What if I aspired to something more
To be honest, this is exactly the life I was predestined to live by our society since I was a little boy: study diligently at school and university, get a degree, get a job, buy a house, start a family and consume absent-mindedly until you kick the bucket. For a great deal of people, this life could seem perfectly satisfying, and I understand them.
However, I knew that this life would never be satisfying for me because a fundamental ingredient was missing to the recipe: the sensation that I was useful to humanity, that I was taking part in something greater than myself, a project in which I could make a real and profound difference in other people’s life.
Obviously, I was making a daily difference for the clients I was working with and the company I was working for. But was that really the kind of difference that I wanted to make? What if I aspired to something greater than what society had intended for me? What if I aspired to something more … fulfilling?
Deep down in me, a little voice that I could not keep quiet kept repeating: “This comfortable and ordinary life in the middle of the herd is the easy way, but it will never bring you the personal enrichment you are looking for! Follow your intuition, wander outside of the well-beaten path and jump into the unknown! This life will be full of obstacles, but it will be a life worth living.”
The Golden Cage Dilemma
Self-fulfillment! Even though it is the 5th level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this need, that I would personally define as living an enriching life in accordance with one’s core values and aspirations, had become in the last months the cornerstone of my reflections on what the next years of my life would look like.
However, I was facing a major dilemma: How could I achieve a sense of self-fulfillment as a human being while sitting behind a computer most of my time and watching life go by through my office’s window? Even by being incredibly imaginative, it just seemed impossible!
At that moment, an image that perfectly depicted my situation popped into my head, I called it the golden cage dilemma: Should I accept my actual situation with all its benefits, my golden cage, knowing perfectly well that I would probably never feel a sense of true fulfillment? Or should I step out of my cage, go into the unknown and take the risk to lose my desirable professional situation but knowing that if I succeed, I will most certainly live a life that is so much more gratifying? Should I limit my unhappiness or create my happiness?
A small Outlook window comes popping on my screen and wakes me up from my daydreams: 15 minutes left before the meeting. Damn!
I start to rehearse in my head all the sentences that I have prepared to explain in the most diplomatic way possible to my boss why I want to quit. My heart beats stronger and stronger as the minutes are ticking away. I can nearly feel my blood running through my whole body as I try to calm down by deeply breathing in and out.
11 a.m.! The time as come. I stand up and step into the unknown.
“An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and build a plane on the way down”
Reid Hoffman, Linkedin’s co-founder