For many years, I had a very well-paid and stable career. My work was fast-paced and demanding and I gave it my all and kept progressing. I was recently terminated for poor performance from my role, with a cordial severance package. Even though I could see some complex office politics at play and understood it wasn't entirely about my performance, this experience and being unemployed has sure done a number on my self-esteem! I am second-guessing myself left and right, and find it hard not to feel like a huge loser some days.
On the other hand, after many years of workaholism, this period of unemployment, and a chance to figure out what God really wants me to do with my life rather than chasing the biggest paycheck, feels like a gift, and a wake-up call. Sleeping in without an alarm clock, exercising, slowly having a morning coffee, seeing friends often, being free to see people at the drop of a hat or go enjoy nature just by walking right out the door. Just let an hour pass by. It's been heavenly . . .
Here's what been most interesting to me. There's been a lot of spiritual whiplash going on. I find myself having very harsh thoughts like:
-You haven't earned this so you don't deserve this.
-Life isn't about having fun - it's about work and effort and hardship.
-You're wasting precious time. You're laughing now, but this frivolity will come back to haunt you.
-You ruined your chance to have a real career. They're right about you and found out how stupid you are.
-You were lucky to have such a high-paying job but you're too spoiled to see it.
-You're single, overweight, have no family, jobless, and spending your day hiking by yourself? Wow, something must be really wrong and off about you.
-You're going to die broke and alone.
-Sure, you could date right now, but you better lose 15 pounds first. Eh, better make it 20 pounds if you want the boys to ask you out on a second date. And definitely don't let them see you naked!
-If you date again, something horrifically painful will happen - just hang out with a book, and forget about it.
-You didn't even put on mascara or earrings today - you're a mess!
-You're a naive idiot who's following "God's guidance" right off a cliff. Way to go, moron!
As you can see, super healthy inner thoughts. :) Focused on appearance and certain qualifying milestones like marriage, kids, weight, beauty, and a high salary.
But then I'll also think to myself:
-Let yourself enjoy this - when you're old you'll be glad you did.
-Notice how you're less lonely and isolated feeling - you talk with people in person - not over rushed texts while in traffic.
-God wants you to be happy - follow God's lead.
-See how you still exist joyfully even when you're not "accomplishing" things -- maybe even a little more joyfully?
-Why would having a boyfriend really change anything? What does a boyfriend have to do with any of this?
-Don't stay in a job you hate - it's hell.
-Go do something artistic and outside.
-Get a dog. Go for a hike. Enjoy the dog. Enjoy the hike.
-Meet a kind man who likes plump, funny women who know how to cook and enjoy some damn good food, laughter and sex.
-Have children when you're ready to teach them self-love. Learn it for yourself first, Mama.
-Have faith and listen to God - it will work out just fine, and for the better.
Just watching these thoughts pass through my mind has been interesting, and tells me some things. Why have I been doing certain things that feel horrible to me? What terms do I set for my own happiness and success? How do I love someone, and also let them be unhappy with me without falling all over myself trying to please them?
I know it will all be okay, and today is a beautiful day I will go enjoy. But damn, does the mind play horrible tricks on a person, Theo.
Love, Workaholic with a Hangover
Dear Workaholic with a Hangover,
Anne Lamott once said “my mind is a bad neighborhood I won't go into alone at night.” When in doubt, when your mind is taking you in two directions, always believe the kinder voice: it's God's.
Probably you hear this already for yourself, but it struck me that in your "bad mind" comments:
1) how little logical sense those comments made and
2) because they make so little sense, they are clearly messages that need a LOT of reinforcing to become believable, and that begs the question:
3) who benefits from your believing such messages? The answer: The Commerce Machine, as well as The Sexism Machine, which often work together, to sell us more stuff we don't need. Those messages keep the whole engine of human civilization and workaholism and poverty and affluenza going, because we've been taught to believe that without it we'd have anarchy.
Those machines have been hard at work on us for a LONG time, trying to get us to behave in a way that will be of most use to them and their profiteering and their hegemony.
Their subconscious work on you won't be undone overnight. But you are fighting them! You are fighting them with your weapons of prayer and friendship, sabbath-taking and holy discernment! You are talking back in a big way, and half your mind is listening, and maybe someday soon it will be a heavy majority of brain cells buying in to the kinder voice.
The apostle Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “don't be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Keep going, and show us how it's done, sister!
Bless you, and may you be a blessing,
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"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds—one main writer and two respite writers. We welcome questions spanning all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas...and everything in between.