People often ask me “have you always been productive?” and for the most part the answer is yes and that’s mostly because I have a nerdy interest in the topic. But when I’m asked if I’ve always been optimistic, I can’t say yes. In fact, my attitude used to be downright crappy.

You see for a long time I had my head in the future. I’d be happy when… I got the promotion. I’d be happy when… I got a raise. You get the idea.

I also thought there was one way to get there. I would have to work the super long hours, sometimes do thankless stuff, play the game, get on the train at 6am and work until 10pm for the next 40 years.

I felt trapped. And miserable too.

The thing is, it was really all in my head. I was doing this to myself but you couldn’t have told me that then. I mean really:

  • I had bills to pay;

  • We needed to save for a house;

  • I had to move up the corporate ladder;

  • We hadn’t gone on a vacation for years because we didn’t have the money (we did have the money, we were just spending it on stuff we thought we had to spend it on);

  • This is just the way it is for crying out loud!

Have you ever felt like you just have no choice? I did too.

And of course I told myself this all the time. But here’s the thing. I was hiding behind my crummy attitude because that was easier than:

  1. Saying no and looking like the bad guy

  2. Risking what my co-workers would think when I walked out the door at 5pm

  3. Taking responsibility for my own attitude (it’s so much easier to blame your spouse!)

  4. Figuring out what it was that I really wanted

  5. Making the choice to be happy

Finally, I had enough.

Ironically, I had just been promoted to Director when it happened. Now, cue to the beginning of this post, this was supposed to make me happy, right? But I wasn’t. I felt like I dug myself into a deeper hole. So I did something radical.

I decided to put my ambition on hold.

My best friend had recently done a triathlon. I’ll never forget the look on my husband John’s face when she explained it was a 1/2 mile swim, 12 mile bike ride and 3 mile run. He said, “all together, one the same day?! Can you at least stop and have a martini in between?”

But I was kinda intrigued and Mary convinced me to do it. Conveniently, she was pregnant at this point, so instead of doing it with me, she said she’d be my coach. Since I didn’t know how to swim, she had a big job ahead of her.

The moral of the story is this…

I had set my focus on something totally different and irrelevant to my career and that’s when things started to change pretty dramatically:

  • I realized it wasn’t all about work all the time;

  • I could leave the office at 5pm a few times a week and the world would not fall apart (and I still had friends at work too!);

  • I inspired co-workers… in fact I wound up doing a triathlon with a co-worker (and close friend) the following year;

  • I realized I could do anything I put my mind to, even swim (thanks Mary!);

  • I had a much better attitude.

Did you see the last point? I HAD A MUCH BETTER ATTITUDE.

Truly, that was the game changer.

What I realized is that the feeing of being trapped was a story (a really boring one) that I was telling myself. As a result, I was then taking action that supported that sh*t story and of course getting results that proved the story right.

When I did the triathlon I proved the story false. Now this wasn’t my intent when I signed up to do it. I’m sure I really just wanted to loose a few pounds and have a reason to buy a new bike.

So when you think you have no choice…

Think again. I’m not asking you to sign up for a triathlon. I’m not even asking you to get off your butt. I’m just asking you to consider what other options you may have. Give yourself just the teeniest bit of wiggle room in your thinking. Dream about what it could be like if you did things slightly differently. And then try it. It may just change your entire life.