A couple of weeks ago I lost my job.
For most people, myself even, losing a job is literally like losing your lifeline. Every aspect of your well being is tied to this one source of income- your rent, groceries, phone bill- your entire security as a human being comes into question the moment that flow of money is abruptly turned off.
In the past my reaction to being fired or laid off was the same as anyone else's. At first I would be angry because this faceless, soulless machine decided I was no longer of any value to it. Then, on the eerily quiet train ride home the panic would set in. How am I going to pay rent? All of my bills are past due as is! What the fuck am I going to do?
But this time it was different. In the months leading up to my eventual disconnect from the corporate black hole, I had often been contemplating an exit. I felt as if the essence of who I was as a person was slowly being sucked out of me little by little with every minute that I spent sitting in a cubicle staring at numbers cascading down a computer screen. The routine of middle class adult life was pounding down on me like a wild hammer slamming into my head as if I were the final nail in my own proverbial coffin.
Every week was the same- Monday's were brutal, Tuesday's were awful, Wednesday's brought hope, Thursday's were the beginning of the end and Friday's were the sweet sound of the single gunshot against my temple that signaled the end of another mundane routine.
Saturday's were my day to finally do what I loved most- make music. But by this time I was so exhausted that I would struggle to find the energy I so desperately needed. I knew how I wanted to sound but beneath the layers of frustration and anxiety my voice would wither away slowly as the recording sessions went on. I would find myself pacing around the microphone trying to fight through the haze of confusion as my mind searched for a creative pocket to lock into, and due to all of this, I ended up recording songs two and three times over trying to force myself into the music.
After the recording sessions I would immediately begin drinking. I'm not proud to say it, but alcohol has always been my escape. It has been a crutch that I lean on when I'm unhappy or unsure of the future, and during this 9-5 corporate period of my life, my drinking would often spiral out of control. I'm not a mean or angry drunk; in fact I am quite the opposite. I tell everybody the things that I don't have the courage to say when I'm sober. I hug my friends and tell them I love them, I talk openly about my hopes and dreams and I become an overwhelmingly positive person. But because of my underlying unhappiness, I would drink until my body could not handle anymore and would shut down. Generally, most Saturday nights I would fall asleep on my couch with a beer still in my hand.
Sunday's were always the worst day for me. I would lie on my couch as the hangover ripped through me and completely removed my ability to do even the simplest of tasks. I would stare blankly at the tv and try to make sense of the weird thoughts floating through my mind. Every Sunday I made promises to myself that I was done drinking once and for all, but deep down inside I knew it was bullshit. By Wednesday I would be dying to once again feel the warm embrace of alcohol that would gently whisk me away from the reality of what my life had become.
So as I sat in the tiny interview room at my office I smiled as the human resources girl walked me through the motions. It was over. My three and a half year corporate nightmare had come to an end. A quick handshake and a nervous "Thank you" from my boss and I was out of there. The human resources girl even commented that she had never seen somebody so happy to be laid off. I couldn't contain the elation. No, I would not be in need of any grief counseling. The magic bullet had finally connected and Jason the corporate robot was dead.
As I walked out of the building I was overcome with the feeling of liberation. It was as if I was Nelson Mandela walking out of a dark South African prison after 27 years. As gross of an overstatement as that is, in my mind it was how I felt. For three and a half years I had been running on fumes as I watched the light at the end of my tunnel slowly closing in front of me. I've never fooled myself into believing that I could someday reach a Kanye West level of success, but I'll be damned if I don't throw myself to the coals and try. My entire life has been dedicated to my creative output and now I can return to form.
A lot of people ask me why I'm so honest about myself when I write. Truth be told, I'm more comfortable revealing hidden truths about myself in my articles with a world full of people that I do not know than I am with my own mother. I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that you don't see the bigger picture- a man who is much less perfect and more somebody who is made of a collection of flaws. When I write I can zero in on certain aspects of myself and do it without the presence of my glaring contradictions.
But on the other hand, I want to share stories like these with you because I know the vast majority of us have similar experiences. We all have dreams but for most of us we abandon hope in exchange for security. Over time, our outlook on life becomes narrower as bills stack up and the pressures of adulthood push us into the perpetual cycle of earn, spend and repeat.
One of the most terrifying moments of my life came a few years ago as I walked past a co-worker in my office. As we smiled at each other she looked at me and said, "Ugh, can Friday just get here already?"
That's when it hit me; we are literally counting the hours and days off of our lives. We are churning away the one precious gift that has been bestowed upon us in order to reach some false sense of achievement. Day by day we cheapen the value of our own lives in order to buy further into the middle class lie. We purchase unnecessary products so we can feel temporarily fulfilled until the next bigger, better, useless hunk of plastic arrives and once again we will slowly kill ourselves trying to obtain them.
In closing, I will share with you something a good friend of mine said a week ago; it's not about how much money you can make but how much you can live without.
To me, this statement reflects the thoughts of a truly free man and to you I want to say this: dream. Dream so big that your goal is beyond impossible by every day standards. Find hope and hold onto it with every ounce of your strength. We are only here once and we should appreciate each passing moment. Throw caution to the wind and dream until the vision becomes your reality.
Put simply; just be who or what you believe you were meant to be. Or in other words: follow the lights, they lead to something.
[Jason James is an artist, freelance columnist and writer for DJBooth.net. You can read/download his free eBook, "This Is My Rifle" and listen/download his most recent album, "Pyramids in Stereo." You can also contact him here and here.]