I understand your pain. Let me be clear from the beginning — I know what it feels like when the only thought going through your head all day is : “I feel trapped in my job but I can’t quit because I need the money!” I have lived that life and it caused me great anxiety, eventually leading to depression and ending with me being laid off. It’s all true. I’m here to give you a plan and pass on what I learned about being stuck in a job you hate.
You Are Not A Victim
At the moment you feel like a victim but I’m here to show you the other side of the curtain and make you realize that you have an option to take your power back and get control of your life again. The loss of control of your current situation is the primary cause of your distress and pain. Your situation is not as hopeless as you feel it is in this very moment — but right now I need you to put some faith in me because I’ve been so far down the rabbit hole that I wanted to die every single day; just like the movie, Groundhog Day.
I’ve been so lost I never thought I’d find myself again — BUT I was wrong. I learned to see the world differently and worked tirelessly towards change — every day.
I had nobody to guide me on this journey so no matter how horrible and trapped you feel, I assure you, I’ve felt the same and likely worse. But this isn’t a competition. Whatever you feel is rightfully justified and a signal that you need to make changes in your life. The entire reason I created this site, Pivot or Die, is because I was driven to share, with completely strangers, what I learned through my struggles and pain; often wondering why these universal truths were taught in school. My sole intention here is to help others avoid the pain of feeling trapped in their life. Let me know if I succeed.
Your feeling of being trapped will begin to disintegrate the moment you decide to change your life and commit to it.
I Feel Trapped in My Job…
Alright, you hate your job. You feel stuck. I get it. Now what? I know, it feels hopeless, but keep reading because I’m here to get you on the right path to live the life you know you were meant to live.
First, just take a slow deep breath. Breathe fully and know that you’re not the only person in the world experiencing what you’re feeling. Your situation is quite common — but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have the right to feel how you feel. You have legitimate reasons to feel trapped in your job. In fact, your feelings are a clear signal from your subconscious that you’re meant to be doing a different type of work, or you’re in a toxic working environment, or perhaps, you’re somebody who is an entrepreneur at heart.
What’s the source of your discontent? Let me tell you about my story and then I’ll tell you what I’ve learned about navigating a job you hate.
My Career at Electronic Arts
In 1996 I landed my first job out of college. I went to university for 5 years with the sole intent of working as an artist/designer in the video game industry. I think I was twenty years old when I started university and I absolutely loved video games at the time. The thought of working in the video game industry seemed like a million miles away when I first stepped into my first design class. Luckily, being young and naive buffered me from the truth about the amount of work I would eventually do over those university years — but I loved it. I’ve always been creative at heart and in fact, I never felt so alive in my entire life.
I was on the road to somewhere and I was not going to be stopped from achieving my dream job of working in the video game industry. I made a decision to pursue something I loved and as a result I felt pure joy and empowered. This was the first time in my life that I felt that I was in control and that I had the potential to change my life. Prior to going to university I lived from second to second. I never realized that I could plan my life. I know it sounds ridiculous but I was a late bloomer. My parents were absent and were of no guidance to me — but that’s another story for another time.
After four years at Kwantlen Polytechnic University I decided to go to Emily Carr College of Art & Design to begin their Electronic Communication Design program. The only reason I made that decision is because I found out they had a co-op program with Electronic Arts and I was committed to being the guy to get into that co-op program with the hope of getting in the door and staying there, with no intention of ever returning back to school. This was my plan and hope. Failure was not an option.
It’s funny looking back today, in 2021 because I was so single-minded back then and never considered a different path forward. I was like like a hungry lion who catches a glimpse of a gazelle in the distance. Upon seeing the cure for its hunger, it locks on with a ferocity and tenacity that doesn’t relent until it catches and kills. I was the lion back then in the nineties. Clueless as to what was awaiting me on the road to my dream career. It seems like a lifetime ago as I write these words during a global pandemic; and having recently turned fifty years old. Time really does fly fast. Don’t take your life for granted, but that’s an aside. I’ll reserve some of these topics for my book, which is in the planning stage.
Congratulations, You’re Hired…
In January of 1996 I was contacted by Electronic Arts Canada (EAC) and was told that both teams I interviewed with for the co-op program wanted to bring me on to their team and I was given the option to choose which team I wanted to be on. I guess I impressed everyone in those interviews. Passion truly is contagious. This was one of the happiest moments of my life. Remember, working in the video game industry was exactly what I wanted to do with my life at the time and I was convinced that I would work in the industry for the rest of my life.
I was incredibly naive. I was 25 years old in January of 1996. Just a baby.
Sorry, this story has a lot of layers to but I feel it’s essential to lay the foundation for the advice I’m about to give you about your frustration and pain in regards to feeling trapped in your job. There are few things more stifling and debilitating than having to wake up every morning to a job you hate and the money is the only reason why you keep doing it. Most people don’t have the privilege to choose their job or to quit their job if they are harassed by their boss or feel taken advantage of at work.
Feeling disempowered at work with limited control on how you do your job because the majority of your job is dictated by other people — these are the main factors contributing to people hating their job.
The truth is, most people hate their job and their life because the two go hand-in-hand. You can’t hate your job and love your life. Work is an integral part of our mental health — it either feeds us and contributes to our well-being or if we hate our job, it robs us of our joy, saps our energy, causes anxiety and even worse, if this continues for a long period of time, it can lead to depression, pushing us farther away from our healthy self.
It’s pathetic that most managers are incompetent and don’t understand what employee’s need to feel valued in the workplace. Most companies hire managers who only care about power, profit and productivity, rarely taking the time to listen to the needs of their employee’s and then finding ways to allow individual employee’s to work in a manner that is both empowering and beneficial to the organization. What a concept! Imagine working for an organization that cares about your well-being. Yes, I know such companies exist but that’s not typical. Just talk to anyone about how they feel about their job and you’ll quickly realize that the majority of people hate their job.
The workplace of today is not much different than the workplace of the 1950’s. It’s infuriating to me when I think about how much silent pain occurs in the workplace, and even more painful is knowing that most managers and CEO’s don’t care about the mental health of their employee’s; even though they may pay lip service to it in the media, especially big companies such as : Google, Facebook and Tesla.
The Toxic Workplace of the Video Game Industry
All of this is just the setup so you can understand my story and where I’ve been. The video game industry was starting to explode around the time I started and Electronic Arts was one of the big players who grew quickly with their domination of video games based on sports, like the NFL, NHL, Fifa and NBA.
I loved the first three years working in the video game industry. I truly thought I had a career for life and never thought I’d feel differently. Oh, I forgot to mention, I never returned to university after landing that co-op job. I was offered a full-time position at EA and never looked back. My strategy was to do exactly what I did. I never planned to finish another four years of university for design. I won that battle. It was one of the few times in my life when everything I expected to happen actually happened. Well, I made it happen.
I had a passion for the video game industry and it was obvious that I should be working in the industry as I knew more about video games at the time than most people. I devoured video game magazines for years before interviewing at Electronic Arts Canada. I walked into those co-op interviews with unbound excitement and enthusiasm. I still remember how passionate I was. I was unstoppable. Not even a hint of failure floated through my neurons.
From Love to Hate — What Happened?
I had a noticeable mental shift after about three of working in my dream career as an artist/designer in the video game industry. Something happened that woke me up from my idealist thinking. I was on a small team working on a unlikely game focused on snowmobile racing for the PlayStation one. It was actually a great experience. I loved working with the people on the team. We were basically left alone by corporate because we were a small game and the expectations were low.
The game was called Sled Storm and it received good reviews when it was released. I remember how the team enjoyed working together and most of us assumed that we’d either make a sequel or develop another product together. I certainly assumed we’d continue on as a team. After all, we were a good team, why would you break up a good team? That possibility was not part of my thinking at the time so I was surprised when our team was essentially disbanded and moved around throughout the company.
This very moment was the beginning of my waking up to the way the corporate world worked. It didn’t take long for the bitterness and anger to wash away all of my eternal optimism and passion.
Control at Work & Mental Health
I remember feeling confused and angry at the time because I had no control over how I would use my talents; I had no voice in the type of game I would work on. I felt like a pawn in the hands of a corporation — and that’s exactly what I was. We all were. This was the beginning of my awakening.
Working for a corporation, or any company where you’re simply an employee — your feeling of lack of control erodes your soul and creates stress, anxiety and eventually depression if your feeling of powerlessness continues for extended periods of time. Scientific studies have proven the role of control in the workplace has a direct impact on our mental health. The connection is profound and evident to anyone who feels powerless in the workplace. Your feelings of hopelessness are very real. Don’t make the mistake of trying to talk yourself out how you are feeling.
Acknowledge your feelings. Take the time to write in a physical journal every day. Put your feelings down on paper. This seemingly simple act will help give you perspective and within a short period of time you will begin to find some clarity in the confusion. Writing will give your emotions shape. As you know, it’s impossible to separate yourself from your feelings. You want to use your pain to guide you toward your best life. Expressing yourself in as many ways possible will speed up your ability to make rational decisions.
Never hesitate to reach out to good friends you can trust to talk through your feelings and hopefully get some practical advice, alongside compassion.
Frustration turned to hate
Eventually I was moved back on the Sled Storm team and we were given the green light to make a sequel. I was quite excited but the small team we had for the original game had now grown and executives had much higher expectations on this game. All eyes were on us because as it turns out the company needed this game to be released before the fiscal year to fulfill the obligation to shareholders to make a certain amount of games for the year — and X amount of money. Now I really felt like a pawn in game.
And if all of that wasn’t stressful enough, we had about 6 or 7 months to make the game from start to finish, which is ridiculous. Most games at the team require 12 to 18 months, especially when your starting with all new technology, as we were. We were starting everything from scratch.
This was the moment my passion for this industry turned into hate, which for me was tragic. I started this project hopeful and excited. I gave this game my all. Pouring my creativity and time into designing and building one of the tracks for the game. Unfortunately, in order for me to pull off this feat I had to work 60 to 100 hour weeks for about six months, and these type of hours are not sustainable as they begin to take its toll on your body.
The Price Paid Was Too High
In the end, we finished the game and the track I created turned out great but the price I paid was depression. My tank was empty. I was a shell of a man compared to who I was a year prior. I recall my giddy manager who loved to play the phone would see me walking down the aisle and tell me to smile and then she’d cackle as she walked passed me. I wasn’t fully aware as to the toll working all of these hours did to me but I realized that extended stress leads to depression. It was clear as day. Even if you enjoy what you do, it’s impossible to work 100 hour weeks doing one thing under duress; like having a shotgun to your head. That’s how it felt. The senior executive was a jerk and couldn’t care less about our mental health. It was sickening.
I remember having a conversation with my manager and she said something like this : “How much of the work you did and the hours you worked have to do with you wanting to do all of that. Did you have to work that much?” In essence, she was blaming me for all the hours I worked when they only gave us six months to make a game that should have been done in a minimum of 12 to 18 months by the time I came on to the team. It was such an insult. I couldn’t believe my ears.
Yes, of course I had to work all of those hours if that track was going to be any good. Shipping a sub-par game wasn’t really the modus operandi of the company. Maybe they should have told us that the quality didn’t matter. To be honest, I don’t even think they expected us to ship the game. Everyone was surprised when we actually finished the game in time to ship by the end of the fiscal year.
Burned Out / Empty Tank
I don’t remember everything. I just remember the sheer tonnage of work I did and then how horrible I felt when it was all done. I think I had a couple weeks off and then was put on a snowboarding game (SSX). I remember when I came back I didn’t want to be there. I was so burned out. I needed months off to recover and there I was wondering — How did this thing that I loved so much turn into something I hate? It was killing me. I had to drag myself through the next game just to get the work done. It was a massive chore.
Not only that, they hired an Art Director from Hollywood who ended up being a micro manager. He would watch me work and then proceed to tell me exactly where to plant the trees on the track, one by one. I had no control over my work and I began to challenge those in authority. Who the hell were they to tell me how to do my job. I knew what I had to do. I didn’t need them holding my hand. I know they didn’t appreciate it when I challenged them.
Oh, and there was a new assistant producer who was a totally idiot. He didn’t have a clue about anything but that didn’t stop him from telling me how to do my job. I was ramming heads throughout this entire production. I hated it. These idiots were ruining what I thought was my dream job. I had to continually process what was happening but it was overwhelming.
HR is Not your Friend
I remember that by the end of this game I had accumulated a long list of complaints as I felt I had been treated badly to the point of abuse. I was in a state of mind where I didn’t care about what would happen next. All I knew is that I couldn’t continue down this road.
I remember I had reached my breaking point and knew I had to attempt to do something about the harmful treatment I was getting and the toxic environment I was working under. I made an appointment with the woman in HR and I had a long list of complaints that I had to get off of my mind. I think I still have them. I will try to dig them up and share them here with you.
I walked into that HR office a broken man, depressed and beaten by working relentless hours for the past two years. I didn’t care about anything but the truth. I was on a mission to lay down the law with the hope that this woman would care about my well-being. I went in to her office with the naive hope that she cared about her employee’s and wanted to do the right thing, by putting in place new systems for employee’s so they wouldn’t be run into the ground and then kicked out the door when they were broken beyond repair. I thought. I was such an idiot for expecting anything humane from her, or anybody else their.
So, I went through my list one by one. Sad and angry as I read them all. I was then told to give her a couple of days to figure out what to do. And so I left knowing that they would lay me off. Within a couple days I was laid off, let go; kicked out on the curb a broken man. I had no more value for them. EA was a company that would use employee’s up until they were no longer able to function and they would lay them off. It’s pathetic. An organization without a hint of compassion or care for their employee’s.
It’s no secret that the video game industry has a lot of ongoing problems with relentless ‘crunch time,’ which means that employee’s work for months and years in overtime in order to make the game on time. The problem runs deep and the blame needs to be placed with the people on top who don’t know how to develop a game within a certain time frame. Designers and producers continually cram more features into the game throughout the development process. It’s called “feature creep,” and it happens on almost every game. The reason is that people are incompetent at their jobs and don’t know how to say NO.
I absolutely hate the video game industry now. I would never recommend that anyone work in the video game industry. In fact, I think anyone who pursues a career in the video game industry is a fool because the toxic development process has been written about countless times and the complaints from employee’s are there for anyone to read. It’s an industry designed for robots, not thinking, feeling, compassionate human beings.
Having said that, there are some companies that treat their workers well and don’t impose overtime on their employee’s. I can’t list those companies because I haven’t done the research on which video game companies value human beings as people, not as human resources. Big difference. If you know of any companies that treat their “employee’s” like humans, please let me know.
Back to : Feeling Trapped in Your Job
Now that you have some of my backstory we can get to formulating a plan for you to land on the other side of your frustration toward a career that gives your life purpose and pays you well for the work you do. It’s very possible and necessary for you live a good life.
Don’t Quit Your Job
Most people who find themselves trapped in a career or job they hate want to quit immediately. Of course you do. I know I wanted to quit but I needed the money. Money is always the driving force that keeps us stuck in a job we hate. Unless you’re wealthy and have enough money to live for at least a year without a job, then don’t quit. Money goes fast when you don’t have an income coming in to replenish it. Two years worth of savings would be a much safer way to quit. Ultimately, you have to weigh your situation. It’s impossible for me to touch upon what you should do for every set of circumstances people find themselves in.
Learning how to make intelligent decisions is another topic I intend to delve deep into on this site, especially my Podcast (Pivot or Die). I’ve realized that problem solving and learning to predict the future accurately are two of the most valuable skills anyone should develop.
Find out What Your Ideal Job Is
Stop chasing money and prestige. Maybe your in the wrong field and you have to own up to that. Maybe you’re not a good employee like me and you need to work for yourself; start your own company or brand. If you find yourself needing and wanting control then it’s highly likely you have the soul of an entrepreneur. Perhaps you’re too smart for the menial work you find yourself doing which makes it imperative that you find a career that demands you use your brain. If you want to help people then working in a bank is not your calling; perhaps being a psychologist, nurse or lawyer is more inline with who you are.
There are so many variables, making it impossible for me to cover every possible solution. Ideally, I’d talk with you, find out who you are and what makes you tick then provide a range of ideas that you may have never thought of. I do plan to do one-on-one consulting work, so if you’re interested in getting my perspective then reach out and contact me. I’d love to apply my own experiences to help the lives of others. This was the impetus for beginning this site. I want to use everything I’ve learned and all of the suffering I’ve endured to pass down to others in need; who are stuck, lost and afraid of the future.
To be continued…more coming soon. I have much more to say.