Eric Karjaluoto

How to Escape Your Shitty Job

Our office is located two blocks from the Church of Scientology. Their minions stand on the front steps and offer stress tests to passers-by. I have a running joke. Upon walking past, I thank them and explain, “No need for a test—I have plenty of stress.”

Work could dry up, and force me to lay people off. My health could fail, leaving family in a tough position. Loved ones are getting older; meaning relationships that matter to me won’t always be there. These fears lead me to act old. I worry about eating badly, regret my lack of exercise, and work obscene hours to prevent slow-downs.

Eventually stress creeps in. When it does, it sneaks around my spine and then tightens like a vice. I can make it audible, by shifting my neck from side to side. This results in snaps and cracks that release the pressure—a reprieve lasting only moments. A day of stress is fine, but when my body nags at me like this for weeks, or months, I know that something’s not as it should be.

Our business always came with pressure, but this rarely resulted in lasting stress. There were ups and downs; the company got bigger, and then smaller. One opportunity slipped away, only to have another appear. We made good calls and bad ones. All of this is part of the gig.

This changed over the past last three years. Our agency grew a lot, clients were happy, and we were doing good work; nevertheless, I was experiencing a persistent stress that seemed inescapable. In spite of our success, I wasn’t having any fun at all. The work I loved had turned in to a job—with really shitty hours.

In January, I had an opportunity to hit pause. It wasn’t planned, but it did provide an insight into what my work-life could be like. I relaxed a little, and had time to think. I stopped pushing so hard for the things I had been, and my days became less frantic. This left me with more opportunities to just make design. The joy I used to find in my work returned. And the nagging in my back? Gone.

I think young and old are states of mind, affected heavily by how stuck you feel. I first got old in my early twenties, when I was stuck in a secure but pointless job. So, in spite of having no prospects or savings, I started smashLAB with Eric Shelkie. In spite of all the hard work it required, the opportunity proved enormously liberating. I soon regained a sense of joy and excitement I thought had long passed. In fact, I felt younger at 30 than I did at 20.

Some people are old in grade school; others are vibrant even as their lives come to an end. I think whether we feel one way or the other involves how stuck we are to a single direction. We expect our lives to follow a path, to be cumulative, or to at least afford the same opportunities previously available to us.

Life isn’t like that, though. It’s perpetually changing. We drive ourselves crazy by trying to hold on to old ideas of what our lives should be like. This gets in the way of the experiences we’re having right now. Meanwhile, even the best situations can turn into prisons if you let them. It’s up to you to change your circumstances when you feel this way. Sometimes all this takes is letting go of a few old ideas.

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