Updated: Sep 17
“The difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention.”-Sharon Salzberg, LovingKindness
Sit down a spell while I tell you about the time I wrote my way out of a truly miserable career in commercial property management...
It was 2007, and a multi-million dollar sale of the 700,000 square foot high rise building I assistant managed was afoot. I, and my theater degree, were put in charge of collecting the tenant estoppels so that the purchase could go through. What is an estoppel you ask? I don’t fucking know. But a Burberry clad real estate broker would constantly call and ask me, “Where are WE with the estoppels?! WE NEED THE ESTOPPELS SHANNA!.” We? You gotta frog in your pocket Burberry Man? I didn’t need their estoppel. I needed to get out of work on time so I could make it to improv rehearsal. HE needed their estoppel so he could get his cut of a $152 million dollar sale. I was making around $46k at the time and couldn’t turn my head because my neck was, as my dad would say, wound tighter than a tick from stress. I would have nightmares where the word 'estoppel' would just be repeated over and over again. I suffered from tension headaches constantly. My doctor prescribed me Valium. I was 25 years old.
How the fuck had I gotten here? Why was I in charge of something so “important” when all I wanted to do at the time was make comedy, get stoned, and french a comedy dude that would treat me like trash and make me cry? I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was supposed to be at the front desk poppin my gum and answering the phone, not begging some tenant contact for a piece of paper so everyone else could get paid chunks of $152 mill. Looking back on it now I realize I had two problems:
1. I was a very capable person.
2. I never said no.
I was a toxic working environment’s WET FUCKING DREAM. Need an event planned? I would do it. Got rid of the building accountant and took 700 years to hire a new one but still need the accounting done? I did it. Accounts payable AND receivable! Did I mention I hate math? It’s true. Biggest Tenant (read most $$$) in the Building upset because there was a “funny smell” on their floor that they thought was the building’s fault but actually ended up being the hazelnut coffee their employee would brew? I put on my smoothest customer service agent voice and handled it. Did I mention I hated people at the time? I did.
And guess what? Nobody ever tried to stop me, pick up the slack, or give me a break. Why would they? It didn’t serve them or the bottom line. So I just kept going until I couldn’t turn my head and the late night anxiety attacks began. It was around this time that I started The Artist’s Way, I still don’t remember who told me about it. I wish I did, I owe them several hundred thank you cards. Inside The Artist’s Way is the concept of Morning Pages. Three pages of unedited unfiltered stream of conscious writing. I took to that shit like a duck to water.
I put it all down. The anxiety, the overwork, the dread, my shitty relationship with that comedy boy, how I got kicked out of my improv group (more on that in another post ;-) All of it went out of me and onto the pages. The pages were a place I could sift through everything. Where I learned that despite how great my job looked on paper and how fast I was moving up the ladder, I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. That I was doing too much of what I hated and too little of what I loved. And what did I love? The pages pointed me towards that too. I would spend my commute to my panic-inducing workplace writing over and over, “I can do this.” “I am a great writer.” “I can leave this job.” And you know what? I fucking did. It took me two years but in 2009, shortly after I was nominated and won Employee of the Year, in which the only thing I won was a clear plaque thingy and NOTHING else, I slid my notice across my boss’s desk and said: I. Quit. In the middle of the Great Recession. Because, I was leaving Chicago to tour the solo show I had written and produced. A lovely byproduct of completing The Artist’s Way.
I will never forget my last few weeks at that job. By that time I had an office WITH A DOOR no big D. And folks would come and sit across from me at my desk and tell me about the dreams they wished they had pursued. One man broke my heart when he told me he wanted to become a teacher so he could coach football, but now he had a big house with a big mortgage and a wife that would not take kindly to a pay cut. Another coworker looked at me and said, “You’re young. Now is the time to do this.” But I actually think he was wrong. Any time is the time to do this. Waking up to the truth of who you are is available to all of us despite age or status. We all have the capability to come to fully know ourselves. To say no to what we hate and yes to what we love. It doesn’t have to look like quitting your job in the middle of what would become the first of two global financial meltdowns. (Lolz!) It can look like trying glass blowing for the first time. Taking an online script writing course. It can be as simple as to fill three pages every day with your most honest thoughts. To feel seen and known, even if it is just by your own eyes. I learned that the right time to do that is any time you please. And that, dear reader, is the power of putting it down. Take it from me, I was after all, Employee of the Year.
If you would like to journal with me, head on over to my Instagram where I'll be posting daily Pahty Prompts Monday-Friday through June 12, 2020. If you miss a day, don't fret, they're saved in my Highlights under Prompts! Happy writing! -Shanna