How Quitting My Job Turned Me Into a Compulsive Liar (Temporarily)
“So what are your New Year’s Resolutions?” My friend had just finished telling me hers. They were solid, admirable, albeit predictable. Along the lines of being healthier and doing better financially. I hadn’t reflected on mine much yet and so started to share a loosely disguised version of hers.
And then I added, surprising us both, “And I want to stop lying.”
This was December 2017. Over the course of 2017, I had gone from being a fairly honest non-lying person to an amorphous shape shifting version of myself that could barely keep her latest persona straight. To one person I was a freelance writer. To another, a budding web developer. Or I was working on a library science degree. I was living with my sister. No, with a roommate. But in actuality, I was absolutely none of these things. The reality was that I was living with my parents and unemployed. And I ground my teeth at night and had trouble sleeping.
My whole life I’d shaped my identity around how I looked on paper. I made straight A’s all the way through school -I never made even one single B. I went to a well-ranked and competitive university. When I graduated I got a job with a large Fortune 500 company that gave me glamorous sounding assignments in places like Shanghai, Ecuador, and Denmark. I quickly worked my way through bigger and grander job titles. At work, I enjoyed the reputation of being the youngest among my peers as well as one with some of the best results. I basked in what I had built for myself. In how my life sounded, in how I looked on paper, and in how I appeared to others. I had learned to measure my worth by these facts. And I found myself valuating others by the same standards.
Then in January of 2017 I quit my job, sold my things, and moved myself from Denmark where I was working to Oklahoma City — where I’d never lived before — to be closer to family and to try to determine a new future for myself. Somewhere along the course of 2016 I’d realized that I was living a life that sounded good to others but in practice wasn’t actually good for me. I’d based each and every life decision on how it would be esteemed by my peers, family, and future employers. And somehow each of these decisions had added up into a life that was very far away from what I actually liked. And so I had what I’ll call a ‘Fuck it’ Moment. I decided to drop it all. To abandon everything. I wanted a blank slate and time to think and figure myself out.
And so I took myself off — heck I plunged off — the relatively safe, scenic, not to mention financially sound trail I’d been walking along and into a big empty nothing with no road map. Going into it, I knew it’d be hard and that there’d be times when I’d doubt myself. That was fine. That was the point. I’d wanted to force myself into figuring out what I wanted. After all, I’d always worked best under pressure.
What I hadn’t anticipated as much was how challenging the process would be to my ego and sense of self.
One aspect of moving to a new place where you know no one is that you find yourself pretty much in a non stop never ending parade of introductions. And everybody asks you, “So what do you do?” I learned to dread and to hate that question. I was in a perpetual state of rehearsing different answers in my head. I served a different variation to every crowd. With each answer I was trying to buoy my sense of self. Impress them. Make them like you. I would observe and gauge their reactions — Do they believe me? Are they dismissing me? Do they look down on me? Do they think I’m crazy?
At times, it could get messy.
I’ve been caught. I tried to hide the fact that I was living with my parents by telling people I lived with my sister. Well it sucks when someone lives near where you say you live and starts talking about basic landmarks/streets and it becomes blazingly obvious that either you have the geographical intelligence of a three year old — or you’re a big liar, or actually (and this is probably what they ultimately decided) you’re just plain crazy.
Then there was my dentist. I’m not sure why I felt like I had to prove anything to my dentist. I was working part time at the library and told him so. Then he asked, somewhat excitedly, “Oh, so are you working on your library science degree then?!” And something about the excitedness with which he asked the question combined with the fact that I was actually considering applying to school prompted me to tell him that yes indeed I was. By the way, I did not end up going to library school. But for the next million follow up appointments, he asked me about how school was going. I made stuff up.
The dangerous part of all this is that once you start lying, I think it becomes easy to continue. I was at a training the library had sent me to. As part of our introductions, we all had to share an interesting fact. I still do not entirely understand why but something dark within me compelled me to lie and say that I was in the process of learning of how to be a yoga teacher. That came right back and spat in my face as a couple of the girls there were actually certified and started asking me about what program I was in and all sorts of really specific details and it got weird.
At the end of the day, looking back at all this, I kind of want to shake myself. What in the world is wrong with you?
It really comes down to the fact that I was so incredibly insecure about my lack of direction, stability, and credentials. I had previously equated worth with status and prestige. With that now gone and feeling inadequate, I was trying to disguise myself in ways that I felt would present myself as more adequate and more worthy to others. Which is sad. Because one’s worth isn’t tied to those things. And one’s worth doesn’t rest in how others perceive you.
But there’s a lot of pressure out there and around us. I used to not be able to bear to log into LinkedIn and see how far along everyone I once worked with had progressed. And while many don’t, a lot of the people you meet do judge you by what you do and by who you are according to your resume. It’s a world of egos and if you’re not careful, yours can take a beating.
I now am much more back into the slip and flow of the real world. I have a normal full time job. I no longer live with my parents — or with my sister for that matter. I still probably rest much of my worth in what others think. I still puff up my chest and proudly tell people of all the places I’ve been when given the opportunity. In rereading what I wrote above of my life before quitting, I can see I may have done some of that with you here. But I’m making progress. I’m learning to judge my life according to my standards and not those of others. I’m learning (slowly) to abandon the concept of even trying to measure my worth at all and to stop asking myself if I’m good enough. Because I’m just fine.
And I also no longer lie (for the most part).