The seminal film and me. How can they possibly relate? This is an older post I wrote for End The Grind, an inspirational site about pursuing what makes you happy. I felt like sharing the post here, I don’t know why exactly, the timing just felt right.
When an Idea is Planted
“You create the world of the dream, you bring the subject into that dream, and they fill it with their subconscious.” – Cobb
I felt sick. Shaking with anger.
Kevin did it again. Accused me of not printing reports that he never asked for in the first place, practically called me stupid, demanded I drop everything to finish forms on his job. He refused to leave my desk, barking at me.
His previous job history entailed working at a steel mill, and his abrasive manners matched the profile. In the Kevin-employee-relation-handbook, you berate, harass and treat others in a condescending manner to get tasks done.
Rattled from that, I had to attend a meeting on an office building we were refurbishing downtown. When Kevin couldn’t produce an estimate, he blamed the misstep on me. In front of everyone. An estimate is his responsibility.
This was not the first incident between us. More like the fifth. And with an open office concept, I wasn’t the only person who saw it, felt it.
The worst, I was new to the department and undergoing training, and he knew this.
That’s when fluid rushed to my brain and I had to excuse myself. I couldn’t breathe.
Take it from an expert; the best location to have a meltdown at the office is the communal washroom. As I balanced on the toilet seat crying, two sentences kept popping in my brain. I’m tired of doing something I have no passion for whatsoever. What I do is not who I am.
It occurred to me if I keep this up, I would turn numb.
I came out of the stall, placed my hands on the sink, stared at myself in the mirror. What reflected back was debt. Paying for my apartment. Car Insurance. Amelie – my cat. Weren’t those things more important?
The blob spoke. You need this job. Stick with it.
That’s when I decided to file a complaint with HR.
A Dream Within a Dream
“Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.” – Cobb
Wanda’s expression was one of concern. Possibly pity. I faked calmness. This woman sitting in front of me wasn’t even a rep from human resources, but my team leader.
I had just splattered my guts onto the meeting table, relaying every incident with Kevin. I felt vulnerable, having never gone to HR for anything before. Not certain his behaviour could even be labelled abuse.
I had always trusted Wanda. She rooted for me in the past — rallying management to give me a raise. She even felt I could be a project manager someday. I feigned being flattered, knowing deep down being a PM was the last thing I desired.
Within five minutes, my respect for her evaporated.
“Well, truth is, you’re not the first to complain about Kevin. He’s already been talked to by HR, and right now it’s difficult to find a good project manager. If we talk to him again, we’re worried he might quit. So.. our suggestion is why not ask him for a friendly coffee and tell him how you feel? You know, get outside the office and see how that goes?”
An intense wave of vertigo came over me. Her face began wobbling, how a mirage might appear to a lost person hallucinating in the desert, a vaporous apparition that preys on one’s sanity. This all felt surreal, like it wasn’t happening, that she didn’t actually say this to me.
What I was hearing: we don’t give a crap that you’re treated badly. We actually condone some manic-depressive nutjob abusing people, because your needs don’t matter. YOU don’t matter.
When under stress, the brain sometimes splits and envisions two scenarios. In one, I imagined myself springing up from the table and yelling. Demanding they actually do what their department stands for, human effing resources! The other was a vision of me crumbling into a sobbing heap, begging her to talk to him.
I did neither. Instead, I calmly told her I wasn’t comfortable talking to him alone considering the fact that I vastly disliked him, but I might consider it. Oh, and thanks for your precious time.
We shook hands.
I felt small and alone. Even more lost than when I entered that room.
When the Subject Wakes Up
“Come back to reality, Dom.” – Professor
That night I couldn’t harp on what happened at work, for I had been leading a double life.
During the day, I played the dutiful cubicle worker, taking orders and operating office equipment, while at night I had been taking classes.
This particular class dredged up old longings, firing up the coals of a dormant passion. English. I wasn’t a small time admirer, but a fervent lover of literature. Voracious reader since age ten, crafter of words at age 37, I had been racing to catch up.
Initially reticent about the course work, eventually I learned to love it. Reading stories and analyzing meaning and language made my heart flutter.
The shining moments were when I could flow with my pen; even writing about literature excited me.
I lacked confidence though, sometimes remaining silent in class when inside I was bursting, always unsure if I had anything significant to say. I faltered a lot, feeling self-conscious about my grammar skills, how to express myself succinctly.
Even receiving A grades didn’t shake me from these insecurities.
This particular night was special, our professor, Reid, was officially retiring and we threw a bash for him.
He was a man I grew to respect. He had written numerous plays and critical essays, also a novel or two. His curiosity and vitality was infectious. It was easy to forget he is 61.
After cutting cake and downing refreshments, it was time to say our goodbyes.
A nervous flutter leapt in my throat, constricting it. I stood near Reid, unable to call out to him as he bid other students good night.
He finally turned, directing a wistful gaze my way. I expected him to talk about his years of teaching or discuss future plans.
Maybe he heard my silent plea.
“Jeannie, I just wanted to thank you for being here. It was enjoyable having you in class. You’re a great writer and a great woman.”
We shook hands.
An electric current ran up my arm. I saw the truth for the first time.
Reality vs. Dreams
“They come to be woken up. The dream has become their reality.” – Elderly Man
Just like Leonardo Dicaprio’s character in Inception, my reality and dreams were scrambled.
Somehow the idea that staying at a place where I wasn’t valued implanted in my brain and stuck. For far too long.
My dream of escaping and becoming the person I really am was put in the unreachable pile. The only way for my dreams to thrive was to be asleep in my waking life.
The Kevin situation brought to light what had been buried.
What I was doing was killing me. I did not want to die a bitter old woman, filled with regret.
It was time to join the two sides together. That writer. That great woman.
That’s when I started planning.
My Real Life
“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”- Eames
About three years ago, I sold everything I owned, strapped on a backpack to find adventure and live by my rules. When I peek back at the past few years, the main theme wasn’t just my love for travel. Nor is it about subscribers or SEO.
I have a gift – I get to write every single day.
What I do is who I am. I am finally awake in my dreams.
Remember that cinematic moment when Cobb explains to Saito what inception is?
“The seed that we plant in this man’s mind, will grow into an idea. This idea will define him. It may come to change everything about him.”
An idea can dig in. Earlier in the film, Cobb eerily compares an idea to a resilient virus.
The one mistake we make is allowing labels and circumstances to define us.
We allow someone else’s idea of us to set the course for our lives. Worse, we willingly accept ideas that keep us down and meek.
Am I always in control?
Of course not.
But once I asked myself what I really wanted, my dreams became the antidote to inception. They became real.