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This is a guest submission by Kelly from CordeliaCallsItQuits.com

If you’d asked me when I was 10 what things would be like when I grew up, I would never have said I hoped I’d be frazzled, dissatisfied, and vaguely resentful most of the time.

I didn’t dream about learning to sync my boss’s iPhone to his BMW, holding my own in rush hour traffic, or keeping a cool smile on my face while secretly clenching my jaw till I gave myself tension headaches.

If you’d told me when I was 10 that this was how things would turn out, I would have promptly packed up my hot pink Jansport backpack and run away to avoid ever having such a fate.  But fast-forward 18 years, and that’s exactly where I found myself.

My road to get there may be a little different than most 9-5ers’, but the end result was the same:  I was stuck in the grind, and I was miserable in it.

What I Was Supposed to Be

Growing up, I always knew I’d be a writer.  Not “thought” I’d be a writer or “hoped” I’d be a writer—knew it.  Because writing was just what I did.

While other kids were playing outside (or whatever it is normal kids do), I was up in my room, writing mini novellas that mimicked the style of whatever book I’d just finished reading.  I was always working on a dozen different stories at any given time.

In school, I took AP English classes, poetry classes, creative writing classes, journalism classes, and I loved them all.  I wrote for and edited the school newspaper, published poems in district anthologies, composed copious journal entries nightly–and continued to write my stories in the evenings.

Looking back on it now, it seems absolutely exhausting to me.  But that’s just because I’ve gone all dull and squishy from too much TV and too many hours spent sitting at a desk.  Somewhere inside of me, the girl for whom writing was like breathing has just been biding her time.  She’s only been sidetracked.

What Happened?

I like to think that if I’d kept on the track I was on, I might have been bold and dream-filled enough to call bullshit when the “real world” advice started coming at me.

When I got to college and people started telling me I needed to think of more “realistic” job options, something to fall back on when I learned a life of art doesn’t pay the bills.  I like to think I would have smiled indulgently at these people and continued merrily on my way.

Maybe I would have.  Or maybe I would have started to get more “responsible” and “reasonable” like the rest of my classmates.  I don’t know.  Because when I hit college, everything changed.

I’m bipolar.  It’s something I’ve learned to manage in the years since I was diagnosed, and most days now I don’t even think about it.  But when my symptoms first started showing in college, I had no idea what was going on.

All I knew was that suddenly my grades were slipping, my extracurricular activities trickled to nothing, and my writing dried up altogether.  I could barely drag myself to class each day or get my assignments in on time.  I’m kind of amazed I actually graduated.

It was a bad four years, and at the end of it, I found myself with none of the groundwork laid for the future I’d always assumed I’d have.  No internships lined up, no grad schools applied to, nothing on my college resumé to even indicate I had much interest in anything.

I was facing a gaping void with no plans for the future and nothing to recommend me to anyone.  I was petrified.

So when I was offered a salaried position at the law firm I’d been clerking for part-time, I was relieved.  It wasn’t at all the kind of job I was interested in, but it was familiar, and it was a paycheck.  And I’d avoid all the embarrassment of having to explain to the world why I’d never turned out to be anything.

Sure, I hadn’t turned out to be a writer, but maybe everyone had been right all along.  Maybe it really was just a childish dream that never would’ve held up in the real world.

I’d actually turned out just like I was supposed to: a responsible, 9-5 adult, resigning herself to a life that was less than perfect.  That’s what happens when you grow up, right?

Waking Up

Six years later, the realization gradually dawned on me that I was living someone else’s life.  And I didn’t like it one bit.

As I got my bipolar disorder under control and started feeling more like “myself” again, it became gut-droppingly clear that I was absolutely miserable in a 9-5 lifestyle.

I woke up every morning dreading the day to come and went to bed every night drained and depressed.  I sat at a desk for eight hours a day wishing I had the freedom to do the things that actually mattered to me, but when I got home, I hardly ever had the energy to do anything.  I watched a lot of TV.  I wrote nothing.

I started to resent bad drivers and inanimate objects and long lines way more than they warranted.  I was irritable, grumpy, lackluster—and I hated it.  I hated who I’d become.

But I didn’t see any way out of it.

There were just too many bills to pay.  It was another way I gave in to the “way things are” in the real world:  I’d soothed my depression and frustration by buying tons of stuff I didn’t need and couldn’t afford, and now I was under a mountain of debt that would take the rest of my life to pay off.

The numbers had me stuck.  I hadn’t meant to pledge myself to my job; it was just something to do until I figured my life out.  But now I was in it for the long haul.  I’d signed away my future without even realizing it.

And it was that thought—the thought of 40 more years of this soul-sapping, meaningless lifestyle with no way out, that finally did it for me.  Scared me shitless, actually.  And in that instant, I made a resolution.  I didn’t care how hard it would be or what consequence would come from it—I knew that I needed to Get Out.  And I needed to do it NOW.

Calling It Quits

My first step was to enroll myself in a credit counseling program.  I felt awful admitting how deep I’d gotten myself by the age of 28, but you know what?  In approximately 2 ½ years, I will be 100% credit card debt free.

That’s something most Americans can’t even dream of.  From there, I can start paying down my loans, cutting back my work hours, and focusing on what has always been the one thing that really matters to me:  my writing.  I’m fighting hard for financial freedom because it will give me the freedom to live life on my own terms.

In the meantime, I’m focusing on undoing all the damage that’s been done by my years in the grind. There’s so much more to it than just the 9-5 job.  There’s the more/bigger/faster mentality that has us stressed out and multitasking to the point of meltdown.

There’s the siren call of stuff that only makes you feel more empty.  There’s the resignation, the conformity, and a million other sorry mentalities that keep us from living the lives we’re meant to live.

Breaking free from the grind is so much more than just quitting your job.  It’s reclaiming your mind, your energy, your outlook on the world.

And slowly, day by day, I am working to get myself a little closer to that.  It’s frustrating sometimes that the progress isn’t faster, but just knowing that I’m on my way helps.  I’m not entirely sure what the future will hold for me a few years, but I know it will be better.  And I know it will be mine.

Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. Cordelia, runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her efforts to break free of the 9-5 and make her life a little better one day at a time.  She no longer has a dozen projects going at once, but she’s got almost half a dozen percolating, which she takes to mean that things are getting back on the right track.

You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or drop her an e-mail at kelly@cordeliacallsitquits.com.

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