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  • Writer's picturejmcsperitt

Cubicle Quarantine

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

The coronavirus isn't the only culprit to put me into captivity. I once suffered through another type of quarantine called banking, because long before I came to be with a beautiful daughter named Aurora in Italy, I was a typical American citizen chasing another dream, which was that of success, money, and stability. I was wild by nature and I loved adventure, but there I found myself, like many, in a place I hadn’t intended on being. I was trapped in corporate control and I continuously stared at a world map in my cubicle. I wondered how I got there and I wondered how to get out of there. I looked at all of the countries awaiting my presence, the vastness of the world outside that box, and I contemplated when it was exactly that I had stopped thinking big and decided instead that it was acceptable to toss my dreams aside and settle for what paid the bills or became convenient. Where’s that spark I possessed as a kid? I thought. The one who wanted to be an airplane pilot, psychologist, or travel agent.

Supposedly, everyone has a gift to give. We all have a special talent to be shared and treasured by others, so where is it? How do you find it and why is it so difficult to do so? Was I not looking hard enough or had it just not presented itself yet? Because in a world swimming with unlimited possibilities, I was just sitting there blankly wondering what to be.

You can be anything you want to be. I’ve been told this repetitively. I’m American. It’s what we believe and what we preach. It seems inspiring, but is it really? Because now I feel pressure more than ever “to be something.” Just living isn’t enough for me. There’s a sky out there with infinite opportunities expecting me. There are options just waiting for me to grab hold of and fly off with happily. A corporate recruiter is apparently not one of them as I had hoped it to be.

When I was in 2nd grade, I won a young author award for a fictional children’s book I had written and I went to a writers’ conference, so perhaps writing was my destiny all along. However, I also wanted to be a professional basketball player - the next “Pistol” Pete Maravich - until it got too competitive in middle school and then I decided to quit sports, so maybe you shouldn’t read too much into childhood dreams. I’ve always wished though to be one of those lucky few who has an amazing talent or knows when they’re a kid exactly what they want to do when they grow up. They have no question about it. They’re going to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a teacher, and they do. They graduate high school, go to college, and do just that. I know these people. They’re practical people, there are lots of them, and they seem to be everywhere. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who’s not one of them. I even knew one in particular who wanted to take over his family's company, so he went to school, studied business, and true to form, did just that. His life seems to be blue skies and clear sailing, and I imagine it will stay that way as he’s one of those doer types lucky enough to live without questions. The annoying part for me isn’t that he had a goal and reached it. It’s that he’s content without questioning the life path he set out for himself and yet, I’m not only jealous, but grateful, for people like him because we need them to help balance out those like me who are searching, seeking, and living blindly in a way that looks to be never-ending unsatisfied wandering.

Sure, I had a list of childhood dreams, none of which made the cut, so since then my list has continued to grow. It’s possible I’ve considered every job in the book to do. I’ve pulled crazy ideas out of thin air and I’ve run through lists and websites searching for my purpose. Should I be a camp counselor? River raft guide? Interior designer? Join the Peace Corps? Any interest I’ve ever had has become a job prospect. At one point, I decided that since I like yoga, I should be a yoga teacher. I signed up for Deepak Chopra’s yoga/meditation/Ayurvedic medicine program and flew myself off to Colorado to begin training. Once there, I slept through the 7:00 am yoga lessons and I realized I prefer sleep over pranayama practice, so I flew myself, albeit $3000 in the hole, back home to continue the quest. It was the quest of how to escape confinement. I was trapped within three boring beige walls and locked into a routine and a method of working which could be compared to robotic functioning. It was a job into which I had joyfully skipped high with hope and soaring with possibility like the powerful skyscraper in which it stood.

I wanted to work in corporate human resources because I thought I would help make the work lives of employees more enjoyable. I thought I would do something that would affect people positively and that would matter to someone. I thought I would do something that mattered to me. What I didn’t know was that when you work in human resources for a company that has 50,000 employees, you are just a number to them and I was a random set of six digits in fact. I didn’t have a name because I didn’t need one. I was one of 50,000. I was nobody. My job could have been completed by any of the other 49,999 people or hired off the street for that matter. The title made it sound professional, complicated, and successful, but the job was none of those things. Unfortunately, all of this was learned later, much later, after the box had me concealed within its confines, protected by the security of medical and dental benefits, but with my soul left out in the cold.

I had a very specific set of job functions that I performed daily, which was really only about five tasks done every day in the same order. The morning consisted of several hours checking, cross-checking, and calculating as many final paychecks for outgoing employees across the country as I could manage; while the afternoon was passed sending out these checks to the recipients. This followed the next day, the next month, and the next years until three years of my life had passed and I had seriously become dumber in the process. I had now trained my brain to perform and think in a monotonous and routine manner as there was no deviation from their systematic procedure. Because the company was so large, I was only responsible for one small piece of the pie and like an assembly line job, I did it over and over and over again until I wanted to throw myself out of the 28th floor window of a Seattle high-rise.

I wasn’t helping anyone. No one even knew who I was. I was just a backend payroll processor trapped in a corner, working alone. Is this what I imagined for my life? When I was a kid and I thought of all the wonderful possibilities that awaited me, was this on the list? What turn had I made that got me so off track? How could I get back on track? Where was the track? My body was beginning to feel physically ill from forcing myself to do something that my soul was shunning, but this is how they got me. The bank sucked me in with a decent wage and the security of benefits and retirement so that it was difficult to find a replacement. It was hard to find something else with the same level of compensation, but with a more fulfilling purpose.

At this point, I had spent five years to get to this box. I had worked in banking as a teller up through the ranks only to find out that I hated what I'd spent years striving for and I couldn’t just quit because I had no idea what to do next. Like everyone, I had rent, a car payment,

and bills to pay. I was in no position to run off and leave, but that didn't stop me from thinking about it. Every day as I rode the bus downtown and walked through those immense dominant doors, I would pause by the elevator before pushing the button to go up. I wondered if I should turn around and run, just job abandon. Instead, I convinced myself that I was being ridiculous. I mean it wasn’t like I was in prison. I worked at 1111 3rd Avenue in a welcoming and orderly office building with an incredible view of the Seattle waterfront. What was I complaining about?

I soldiered on applying and interviewing for months at various companies. I told myself that changing the environment would help even if the job type was the same. I applied internally as well, but the competition was fierce and nothing panned out until eventually, only through the help of a close friend in another department, I got a break. She referred me to her manager for an open position and I was more or less a shoo-in. They didn't even interview anyone else. I was excited to at least do something new and something different. I finished out the next few weeks in payroll and then I moved on to another sizable skyscraper and a new role in recruiting. It was a bit more exciting, a lot more varied, interactive, and engaging, so my enthusiasm extended this time, however, it didn’t take but more than a few months before I was back to looking at the map and contemplating what I’d rather be doing.

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