The Much More Dramatic Title: How I Moved Forward During One of The Worst Years of My Life
A year and a half ago, the topic of failure and setbacks seemed like all I could think about. I was reading all the books on self-improvement, listening to all the podcasts on overcoming challenges (thank you, Oprah, for SuperSoul), and drinking all the wine while I unpacked the baggage of depression and inadequacy I was carrying everywhere. In order to keep myself busy and creative, I resurrected my blog. While I looked for light and fluffy topics to write about, my friends encouraged me to write about bouncing back during a trying time. The only problem was, I didn’t feel like I had bounced back. Not yet, at least.
Let me start at the beginning of this whole ordeal. After many sleepless nights, skipped meals, and a few mental breakdowns, I made the scariest decision I’d ever made — I quit my job. I decided to leave a toxic work environment without any real plan, other than “get out.”
Prior to this job, I had spent seven years at a place where I was increasingly unhappy but stayed longer than I should have because I was ultimately afraid of change. I vowed I would not make that mistake again and even pleaded to my younger coworkers to follow their dreams/passions as soon as they could. Preaching the importance of courage and bravery sure is a lot easier when you’re not immediately faced with a decision that will change the course of your life. Fun!
As soon as I made the decision to leave, I felt a literal weight lifted from my chest. While I had the support of my family and friends (and most of my coworkers), I was also scared out of my mind. Sure, the timing could have been better, but I knew I was making the right decision.
If you’re considering being unemployed, I would suggest leaving your job in the spring or summer for the simple fact that working on resumes and lining up interviews is much more bearable when in the sunshine with an iced coffee in hand. And when the process of finding a job takes a lot longer than you had anticipated, you can slightly postpone your restlessness by distracting yourself with all the chirping birds on the lawn and listening to the gossiping yoga moms before they need to pick up their kids from school.
I cannot stress this enough: quitting your job without anything lined up is not for the faint of heart. The months that followed were some of the lowest points I had experienced in my life. I was networking, sending out resumes, going to interviews, and nothing was coming back to me. Getting an email/call after the second or third round of interviews to tell me they had gone in a different direction became my new normal — and yet every “no” I received made it more and more difficult to pick myself up and try again. Severe depression and anxiety paralyzed me and quickly deteriorated my sense of hope.
While there were a handful of freelance projects I worked on during the summer, I was still looking for something permanent by the time the holidays rolled around. Six months of being unemployed and I was running out stamina and running out of money. It was time to change my game plan.
A former coworker who had also left the aforementioned toxic company was hired at a country club-style gym and told me they were always hiring people to work the front desk. I told her I would think about it, which is code for “I reeeeeaaally don’t want to.” That job was not part of my plan, but as I said, I was running out of options and bills were piling up — so I applied.
Because the universe is funny, I got calls from two companies in the same week asking me to come in for interviews. One was for an amazing content marketing position where I would be telling stories for a living. The other was for the front desk job at the gym. Obviously, I was psyched for the marketing job and after THREE rounds of interviews with them, I thought my hard work and determination had finally paid off.
But you know who did hire me? The gym.
While I was grateful to have some sort of income and a schedule again, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely miserable about where I had landed. This is the golden age of comparison and I was not feeling up for the Instagram competition. It doesn’t help that many of the members of this swanky gym are around my age, and some I knew from high school and college.
This is how those interactions would go:
“Oh my god, hiiiiii! What are you doing here? How’ve you been? What are you up to??”
Your guess is as good as mine because I have literally no idea.
I was depressed and felt like a failure. But years ago, I started telling myself I can either change my circumstance or change my attitude. That mentality moved me forward before, and it was time to put it into practice. I had to allow myself the space and time to get back on my feet.
I started praying a lot before bed, as people tend to do when they think their life is garbage. Every night, I would ask God, “When are you going to provide what I need? When are you going give me the break I so desperately need?” I was so focused on what I wanted that I couldn’t see the gift He laid out in front of me. I was listening to a podcast (which for the life of me I can’t remember, probably Oprah’s SuperSoul) and they were speaking directly to this type of prayer and its effect. They encouraged people to instead ask God, “Where do You need me today?” Pretty humbling. Be a servant for the bigger plan because the universe does not want you to fail.
The more I talked to my fellow front desk mates, the more I realized so many of us were in the same state of transition — without really knowing what the next step was. While we stood for hours greeting the members, many of our conversations were wrapped up in literal nonsense and jokes about the different characters who came in every day. I wasn’t in my ideal job, but I started having fun again — commiserating with a healthy dose of humor. We’re all in this together, might as well laugh about it!
I did not realize it until later, but I was slowly gaining confidence in myself again. Many of my coworkers were either in college or freshly graduated and looking everywhere for guidance. So many times I heard one or more of them say they wanted to apply for another job, but feared it would be the same or worse than their current situation. They were scared and that was certainly something I could relate to and speak on. I told them how I regretted waiting so long to move on from my first job and how, even though I was scared out of my mind, I quit my last job to run from a toxic environment and never looked back. Even though I was going through a rough time, I was never sorry I left and knew I made the right call in leaving. I urged all of them to continue moving forward and to never give up. It might not be ideal, but forward is forward.
I was giving them the exact advice I needed to hear.
My friend sent me the incredible commencement speech Abby Wambach gave in May 2018 at Barnard College about making “failure your fuel.” If you have not watched this video, I HIGHLY recommend you stop reading and watch. I’ll wait.
She spoke about the importance of finding your wolf pack, the people who build you up and push you to be your best. Her rules were: make failure your fuel, lead from the bench, champion each other, and demand the ball.
The entire speech reinvigorated me and put into perspective my last few months. But here’s the quote that still gives me chills: “If you’re not a leader from the bench, don’t call yourself a leader on the field. You’re either a leader everywhere or nowhere.” Before working at the gym, I never would have characterized myself as a leader. It wasn’t until other people pointed it out to me that I was consistently leading my fellow coworkers to strive for better and demand better while they were figuring out their next steps. I realized I was already leading from the bench and it felt good — really good. And as the saying goes, when you feel better you do better. On top of that, I had new aspirations of leading my own team someday.
Other people started to take notice of this positive change as well. After a few months of working odd hours and weekends at the front desk, I was offered a promotion to work in membership — full-time status, working a normal 9-5, Monday through Friday. At the same time, I was offered a job to do consistent freelance marketing work for a recruiting company whose president and CEO is a member at the gym. I came in to interview for a different company and when he recognized me, he asked if I would interview for an internal role that would be opening up soon. He offered me the job and after the anxiety of working two jobs subsided (that’ll be a separate post), I accepted and I was feeling okay again… maybe even great. I gotta say, not drowning is a pretty great feeling!
What started out as a disappointing reality I was literally dragging my feet to accept, turned into one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. As I’ve said many times, I’m a firm believer everything happens for a reason and I was supposed start working there when I did. It provided me a group of lifelong friends and gave me my self-confidence back and the fuel to continue moving forward.
Now, no one has asked me to deliver a commencement speech (yet), but here are my takeaways from getting yourself out of a rut:
- Recognize and acknowledge you’re in a rut. It’s okay, we’ve all been there.
- Get your ego out of the way and do what you have to do. Stay humble.
- Move forward. Be relentless in your pursuit of better. Keep moving forward, even if it’s a little bit and in a slightly different direction than you had planned.
- Lead from where you’re placed, whether that’s on the bench or on the field (thank you, Abby).
- Surround yourself with people who give you energy and continuous support. It’s really hard/draining to be the security blanket who takes care of others when you are still sorting through your own mess. You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can help others.
- Try to have fun while you’re doing all the tough personal growth stuff. It’s okay to let the light in while you’re wading through the darkness.
- Lastly, be patient and be kind to yourself. I promise it’ll be worth it in the end.