Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care
Leave but don’t leave me
Look around, choose your own ground

I’ve been struggling with my depression lately. A lot, actually. My retail therapy sessions are on the rise, my wine intake is up, and I’m having a hard time just being happy.

I think a lot of factors are contributing to this: I’m “celebrating” a milestone birthday next month and am dealing with the mental and physical ramifications of that, both within and outside of my control; I decided that the house needed to be redecorated from top to bottom; and I’m struggling to find my fit and place at work.

Since starting at my job 10 years ago, I personally have had three different direct-report supervisors, four different department directors, and three different deans (including a brand spanking new one) with an interim dean thrown in there for good measure. It’s been tumultuous and turbulent. I don’t know that I’ve had a single day where I’ve felt at ease coming to work. If there has been one, it’s been long enough ago that I don’t remember it. Most days I wake up with an oogie feeling in the pit of my stomach and struggle to get ready to head out the door. Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely love what I do. My career choice was a solid one, and I can’t imagine doing anything other than what I do. But I do imagine doing it in an environment that isn’t so … bumpy.

Complicating matters is the fact that I feel unimportant right now. Originally, I went to college to be a teacher. It was a career path intended to make my parents happy, but it never felt right to me. Becoming a graphic designer was my dream — and one that I’m glad I was able to achieve — but it was also something I didn’t accomplish until the age of 30. So, I was competing for success and advancement with people who were younger than I was, which meant that I had to work harder and longer hours to be taken seriously and to get ahead. It was not uncommon for me to spend weekends toiling away on projects, or to leave work only to launch a design program at home and crank out some layouts. I remember not getting to come home on time for Thanksgiving one year because I had to make edits to a catalog that needed to go to print. Work was, quite simply, my life.

Now? I don’t have that same fire. That same hunger. My priorities have shifted and I’m struggling to come to grips with this realization. I no longer see my job as my identity. I’m not a graphic designer, something I have self-identified as for 20 years. Rather, I am a fun, dog-owning, homeowning woman of a certain age with a runner-teacher boyfriend who is employed as a graphic designer. There’s a difference. One thinks that they can and should try to influence everything at work, and the other one recognizes that they can only influence things within their own sphere (which is actually pretty small).

As I mentioned above, we have a new dean. She’s really great. She’s enthusiastic and passionate about the mission of our college. One of her first big initiatives is a rebranding campaign. But we just rebranded the entire university and I have spent the past four years as an essential wrangler of cats getting everyone on board with the new approach. I have endured nasty emails from people unhappy about the brand guidelines and templates I put hours of blood and sweat into. I have had people storm into my office demanding to know why I would not approve a plaque they had created using the old logo. Now, it appears as though I will have to do it again. The new materials, created by a young designer new to our department, reverse everything we have spent years building. I could get upset. I could explain why this is a problematic approach, but it is out of the range of my sphere of influence. Why waste time or breath?

I saw Roger Waters in concert a couple of weeks ago (it was totally dope, by the way) and he asked us, is this the life we really want? He asked it on a more global level with respect to the perpetual state of war we seem to be in, but I’ve been thinking about it on a more personal level. Is it? Is this the life I want? And, if not, what do I really want?

In the grand scheme of things, life is so very short. Just ask Tom Petty. In an ideal world, I would be home right now painting walls or ripping up ugly green dining room carpet. Or, maybe I would be sitting in my comfy IKEA Poang chair with Beezy on my lap, sipping a green tea latte, while reading the latest Kate White mystery. Either option sounds delightful, but in the real world, I first have to put in the time at my job. My job affords me the ability to buy the latte, the dog, the chair, and the house. But it doesn’t have to be my life.

Run, rabbit run
Dig that hole, forget the sun
And when at last the work is done
Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one

I don’t want to be the rabbit, always running and digging another hole. That is up to the new girl who is fighting to establish herself in the design world. Me? I want to look around and choose my ground. The ground that’s in my sphere of influence.

I want to breathe.


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