We spend most of our lives working, we hope that one day it will pay off for us, sometimes going through misery in pursuit of happiness. But what about enjoying your life now? I've known Cass for many years through working in the financial industry, and we've both taken similar paths. I've asked her to offer her unique perspective on something we've both done: shifting gears mid-stream and re-evaluating your priorities to focus on living a life you love living. Many ADHDers are unaware of how profound an impact it can make on their lives until they step out and realize -
"What was I waiting for?"
If my memory is correct, I wrote my first story at the age of three. It was about an infant who, after imbibing a carton of spoiled but powerful milk, gained the ability to speak and think like an intelligent adult. This literary masterpiece was very cleverly titled 'The Baby Who Could Talk', and it kicked off a lifelong love of the written word.
Throughout childhood, I discovered through my passion for music that I'd been fortunate enough to inherit my mom's vocal talent. I began to seriously work on my singing around age 10, two years before I started learning the guitar. This led to songwriting and to fronting a rock band for over thirteen years.
My twin loves of singing and performing naturally led to theatrical pursuits, and at age 17, I was in my first musical. Since then, I've been able to take part in several dream shows and to act off-Broadway.
I suppose the point of this exposition is to convey to you that from the beginning of my life, I set myself up for two career paths: a passionate, fulfilling, creative but unstable and financially dangerous path, or a lucrative, steady, societally respectable but monotonous and draining one. For the entirety of my adulthood, I'd opted for the latter.
At age 19, a friend of mine presented me with the choice of keeping my at-the-time job as a gas station attendant or leaving to join him in the financial industry as an investment professional. I knew nothing about investments nor had I ever had any desire to learn about them, but for a young woman with no college degree, it seemed an easy decision. I soon passed the exams and earned the licenses that would make me a fully fledged investment adviser representative.
This is how I survived the majority of my 20s. Financially, I was flourishing. I was making twice the money my friends who'd gone to college were making, and without the student debt, I was free to make whatever fun purchases I wanted... and with a dual diagnosis of bipolar 1 and ADHD, my poor impulse control meant I was making a hell of a lot of fun purchases. I never had to worry about health insurance. I had a substantial 401k. Attending my artistic performances and rehearsals required no logistical planning, as my predictable 9-5 schedule meant I was around every weekend and week night.
On the surface, I was wildly successful, a young queer woman with no higher education fearlessly making her way in an industry historically dominated by highly educated older heterosexual men.
On the inside, I was dying. Every year that passed had me feeling more and more trapped. I had two mental breakdowns that resulted in medical leaves. I dreaded every morning, and the energy I was spending just trying to feign interest in the office meant I had no energy to write or to practice. I felt I was wasting my life, but I didn't know how to live any other way. By choosing stability, I was compromising my well-being, and I was complicit in my own misery... and no matter how much money you make or how impressive your job title is, how successful can you really be if you're actively making yourself miserable every day?
I began envying the friends of mine in the arts scenes who'd had the courage to chase their dreams, financial and social implications be damned. I wanted to possess that kind of bravery.
In March of this year, I was fired. I bear the company no ill will; in all honesty, I can't believe it took them almost a decade to get rid of me. Let's just say I'd put the effort I spent on getting away with not working into the job itself, I'd have been making six-figures in commissions alone. The company gave me a decision: take the final written warning for my negligence, keep the cushy job, and give them the ability to fire me at a moment's notice the next time I screwed up, or accept the firing, get four weeks of severance pay, and have their cooperation in securing my unemployment benefits. Although it felt like ripping away my safety net, the choice was clear.
My plan was to ride out unemployment, to devote my time to my passions, and to embark on six months of self discovery. I'd lost my health insurance. I was making $250 less per week than I had been. I had generous standing job offers from other investment firms that I didn't take. For the first time since I was 19, I had no fallback, no security, and no semblance of a plan. I had no idea where life would take me. It was terrifying and exhilarating.
This free time enabled me to take the play I'd written off-Broadway in April. I went on a pirate-themed road trip with my dog. In my embracing the unknown, I finally found the courage to end a draining, harmful, toxic romantic relationship that had gone on far too long. I was living, making choices to improve my life.
Impulse control has still been a problem... for instance, withdrawing my 401k to both pay off debts and to simply have a fun summer. (That wasn't the smartest idea, but I'm adapting to the "what's done is done" philosophy, as harmful as this example will be for me come tax season.) But this year has vividly displayed how much energy I was putting into just showing up for work every day and how badly I'd been running on empty as a result. Since the end of that job, my ability to handle stress has improved exponentially.
Unemployment benefits have ended, and my era of pursuing my passions is far from glamorous. I now work several part time jobs, all of which will lead to a significantly lower yearly income than my investment career. My mental health care has been a battle to afford, and my health insurance situation is beyond convoluted and upsetting. I'm learning to navigate a lifestyle I've never before had to prepare for on the fly, and it's overwhelming.
And I've never been happier.
I understand how fortunate I am to have had the means to leave the old life behind and to begin living the life I never thought I'd be brave enough to live. Not everyone would be able to do that, and I'm privileged in that regard. But despite the re-budgeting and the expensive medical bills and the chaotic schedule (my Google calendar looks like a Twister board with the new onslaught of color-coded work shifts), I'm passionate again. I'm the energetic, ambitious, and vibrant artist I thought I'd lost. I'm suddenly scraping to survive, but the fact that I'm doing it while being able to successfully accomplish my creative goals while dictating my schedule means I'm not only surviving, but thriving.
I'm glad I'm finally rolling the dice on my talents and passions. No matter where this winding, pothole-laden road takes me, I've managed to find a bit of happiness and peace in this merciless, unforgiving, and avaricious world, and that, to me, is the very definition of success.
We all have to get out there and find our own definitions of success in the face of society's harsh definition. In this life, we have to find what meaning you can.
At almost 30 years old, I'm finding mine.
By Cass Caduto
Special thanks to Cass for contributing this blog post, thanks as always for reading!