"I’ve always been one to pride myself on having all the answers."
I was the high school overachiever bouncing effortlessly between honors classes and track meets. I was the college student who buckled down with 19 credits a semester so I could graduate a year early. I was the co-worker who seemingly always knew what answer the boss was looking for. I was the direct report who was always eerily self-aware when it came to my work performance. In other words, I was probably that guy you hated that made you look bad. I found a great sense of achievement in being needed. I could never be too prepared or too knowledgeable or too organized. I loved being the person that everyone could come to for the right answer or to be pointed in the right direction. But, after developing a sense of self worth largely dependent on knowing all the answers for other people, I found myself in quite the predicament when I needed to know the answers for myself.
After writing professionally during high school and earning a Bachelor’s in Communication, I did what most of us do: I got a job in a completely different field. I spent most of my professional life working in retail management. It started out as a placeholder job while I dreamed of busting into the hallways of GQ. Then after I realized I might never make it in the magazine world, retail became my career. Despite resolving to make the best of it, there was always that nagging voice in the back of my head: ‘What the hell are you doing? You’re a writer’. After I crossed the 10-year mark hawking t-shirts and jeans, I was unsure if the company or the industry as a whole was somewhere I still wanted to be. I ignored that voice in my head a little longer and decided to test the waters at a much smaller company in a role I thought I could ace with no problem.
"From day one at the new job, that voice in my head kept getting louder and louder."
It was so loud that I couldn’t focus. I knew something had to give. 90 days in, my bosses told me I wasn’t a good fit for the company. I knew what that meant. It was like telling someone their ugly dress is unique. ‘Not a good fit’ was a poorly disguised euphemism. I agreed that this job and company weren’t the right place for me to call home, but I couldn’t help feeling like I’d failed. The overachieving student and know-it-all employee now had a tarnished record. The only thing that was certain was my last day of employment. My ego was severely wounded. And I wasn’t sure how I was going to recover.
The following is the journey I embarked on to get back on my feet, and hopefully these steps can help you too if you ever find yourself in this position:
1. Only allow yourself to be sad for 24 hours
It’s okay to cry for a few minutes. It’s okay to panic and imagine the worst case scenario. In reality, a door is opening for you to try something new. But in your mind, you’re entering the professional apocalypse. There’s a big sign on your forehead that says ‘Don’t Hire Me’. You think you’re blacklisted and you’ll never work again in this town. At least that’s I how I felt. But the next morning, I woke up with my game face on ready to exhaust my network to find a new opportunity. I had a job interview scheduled two days later.
2. Be honest with yourself about what you want
For me, I’d found myself in this situation because I’d ignored a strong impulse that’d been banging around my noggin for years. It makes sense to sometimes ignore other people when you don’t agree with their advice. But why ignore yourself? The world around me knew I was a writer, and the universe forced me to realize it.
3. Change your mindset
In the beginning of my new freelance journey, I kept saying I was unemployed. ‘I’m out of work.’ ‘I don’t have a job.’ ‘I’m not working right now.’ We become what we believe we are. If you think you’re a bum, you’ll be a bum. If you view yourself as a boss, you’ll be a boss. Sure I wasn’t managing a store anymore, but that was because I didn’t want to. I started to call myself a writer. Then I felt sparks of inspiration igniting within me. I started writing some of my best work and making tremendous progress toward my goals. All because of a shift in how I viewed my situation. I wasn’t a failure because I hadn’t succeeded at my last job. I’d failed because I’d been dishonest with myself before starting that job.
4. Take action
A vision is nothing without taking the first steps toward it. It’s one thing to call myself a writer. It’s another to start writing for my own site, making my business official, pitching ideas to magazines, and frantically searching for freelance opportunities. Calling myself a writer changed my outlook. But putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard in this case) is what really made me a writer.
5. Stop listening to everyone else’s advice (unless they’re super successful at what you’re trying to do).
Hopefully the people you surround yourself with love you dearly. And people who love you dearly will always recommend what they feel is the best course of action for you. Because they ultimately have your best interests at heart. But if you’ve followed steps 1-4, then you’re really the only one who knows the answer.
You see that. I went from having the answers to being clueless to then having the answers again. If anything, hitting a massive roadblock in life is a profound and powerful occurrence. Through this experience, I felt empowered to believe in my dreams again. I felt the courage to be honest with myself and everyone around me. And I’ve never been happier or more fulfilled in my everyday life. I’m not a runaway success yet by any means, but I get a little closer every day. And I never would have gotten here if I hadn’t failed and cried for a few minutes.