I told my boss I just wanted to get to a place with my project where it would feel comfortable and he said that may never happen, you might just have to get used to it, and he was right — I got glazed over from it so that I couldn’t act, it felt like a knot I’d gotten myself into where I couldn’t tell which end was which, where it started or ended.
But I had an annual bonus for the first time and was getting paid well, even though I never spent anything on the bonus other than a decent bottle of Scotch — and quickly another year came and went, I went in and out of thinking I was content, sometimes happy, most times not, but convinced myself it wasn’t that important, and don’t overthink it.
But coming up on four years of feeling this way, I kind of came undone one week, kind of folded over a process decomposition exercise — in what became more than a hundred pages of documented processes, sub-processes, Visio diagrams with decision trees and swim-lanes — I kind of snapped from it, had to ask for someone else to help me but didn’t go about it right, and it was like I’d caused a stir in the fish tank and it seemed they were all huddled together in one corner in conference rooms talking about me, and I started losing sleep.
It was two years ago now this May we were having a 10-year wedding anniversary party in the mountains outside of Seattle in a place called Goldbar: Eberhard came out with my mom from Germany and went home with a used electric guitar, pictures of himself at Jimi Hendrix’s grave — he was like a dog with his head out the car window driving down the highway taking it all in, about to turn 60 but seemed so much younger then.
We took beers in ceramic Starbucks mugs on our walk to the lake by our house and sat on the shore with bald eagles above, and he squinted while shooting them with his camera phone, and we sat there sharing cigarettes, not saying anything.
I watched him at the party once we got the keg tapped using a hatchet to chop the firewood into impossibly small pieces while balancing a cigarette between his lips and wincing from the smoke and it seemed he did that for hours, the chopping and smoking, and never once sat down.
In the morning mom asked what he was doing all night and he was in the hot tub with Anthony he said eating mais, which means corn in German and sounds the same as saying I was eating mice.
And though the weather was pretty good and all our friends were there I couldn’t for the life of me stop thinking about work.
We took our big vacation that year to Germany, a couple weeks in July, and I read a book by Paul Auster and decided then I would have to leave my job if I was ever going to write the way I wanted to, and maybe we could relocate to Europe and take some time in about a year to start a clean slate, to figure out what to do next.
And maybe it was “meant to be” some people said, that I wound up leaving work that December, when a fight-or-flight instinct kicked in and I chose the latter. Our German friend Benny says it’s like that with him at his work too, where he teaches, that you can go up the ladder or down the ladder — there’s even a German word for going off the ladder, which is what you’re doing, he said.
As I kick it around and write about it, and try to find the humor in my life I find it funny and telling that I kept getting assigned really complex, high-profile projects, and thought at the time it must mean they know something more about me and my capabilities than I do but of course they didn’t, no one does.
When I started working with Starbucks we learned about the importance of getting the right type of grind depending on how you’re making the coffee: like, a fine grind for an espresso or a coarse grind for a French Press — and if you don’t use the correct grind, it won’t taste right. Then, they came out with something called a Universal Grind used to pre-grind packaged coffee sold around the holidays in December, and somehow you could use coffee ground like that in any brewing method, and I never understood why.
Maybe work is its own universal grind we all share and have to get back to, and my boss was right when he said I could never expect to get comfortable with it. And though I did it for good money and the idea of security, the security is like the comfort, it’s temporary too. You should do it for something you think will last forever, like love, and the only place we know that for sure is in our hearts.