“Why are you a product manager in tech?”
“After hearing your role models and aspirations in life, my question is, why are you a product manager in tech?”
I stared at my new mentor at work and laughed.
“Wow it took her no time to reflect this back to me.” I thought to myself.
There is some bitterness in my laugh. I know I have been denying something in myself for the longest time. I have felt that I had one foot in, one foot out this entire time. I know there is something not resonating about my career in tech, something suffocating, but I asked myself repeatedly to optimize for the next promotion.
I work 10am-6pm, with meetings from 11am-5p. I run meetings as a PM and meetings also run me. They are put on my calendar each day. Every day I get online and hop from one to the other like following a script.
Most days after 3pm, I would enter into zombie mode, mindlessly pushing through the last few meetings. I am just so tired of talking, making sense of complicated situations that seem pointless, and making progress on things I don’t care about. I could feel my Qi leaving my body and at 6pm I would be sinking into my chair senselessly staring at the ceiling. A day had just passed and I don’t remember what happened. I feel too tired to start my actual life and all I want is to “reward myself” with food and entertainment that don’t require a mind.
I have been going on repeat for the past 2 years — roll over five days, on Friday 5pm say “thank god it’s Friday” and spend Friday nights and Saturdays diving into activities that show me that I had a life, and on Sundays spend the day in solitude and rest up. Then there comes Sunday nights and I would feel a nervousness in my stomach that another week is going to start. I have just started to feel alive again and now it’s going away. It feels suffocating.
I wish I was alone in this. Too many people — immigrants and non-immigrants alike, black and white, 20-something and 50-something, men and women — got stuck in this dead loop. How is it even possible that we have created so many meaningless jobs that pay so much? How come we allow ourselves to be dead for 5 days to earn enough money and status to feel alive the rest of the 2 days?
I sometimes wonder, what if I let myself simply live and experience this beautiful human life?
“Do you care about promotion, raise, all that fun stuff?” my mentor asked.
“How do you feel if your peers get promoted because they continue to grind but you don’t because you decided you don’t care.”
I am feeling we are getting to the core of the matter.
“I would feel terrible because I know I could if I tried.”
Distress rose up in me.
That distress is a signal, a signal of fear — fear of being “left behind”, “not good enough”, “not talented”. I was told 20s are for grinding, to establish my career, to create options, to build a foundation for the rest of my life.
But honestly, grind for what if I don’t know what I want?
Out of fear, I push myself to keep going — taking on another challenging project that I know doesn’t contribute positively to the world in any way, just to prove that I can do it; nervously evaluating myself against the promotion criteria and improving myself ceaselessly hoping I could measure up some day. I know these actions don’t serve me anymore, but I am more afraid of the alternative.
Considering an alternative means I am “on my own”. I would have the external “self worth” benchmark taken away and have to build my own foundation from the ground up. It means to firmly embrace “I am already enough” and “I am unapologetically worthy of love”. It means to provide enough space to let my inner child speak up and not always be told what to do and feel.
If I love myself, I would let myself live authentically from the heart. To me, this is what it means to be a full human. The world doesn’t need more people who are mindlessly going after promotions or people who aim to “change the world” from a place of hatred and control. The world needs more of us to come alive and to celebrate life.
As for my next steps, I don’t know yet. My immigration status needs me to keep a job. With the possibility to work fully remote, I don’t know where I would be and what else I would be doing. What I do know is I will start intentionally setting aside “creative time”, “play time” and “reflection time” from each day and preserve my energy so that I can invest it into what matters the most.
May we all find the sacred alignment essential to a lively life.