30 Days: Major Life Announcements

I wrote this piece on May 3rd 2018. Due to my travel schedule, it’s posted later.

It’s been thirty days since I was “let go” from my job. “Discharged” as the unemployment office calls it. My former employer called it “terminated”. But I was fired. That’s what it is and I have to call it by that to really deal with it.

For 30 days I’ve been debating if I should share this on social and/or the blog. Ultimately, I decided that if I’m claiming to write about ‘authentic living’, I had to share this ugly part of my life.

For thirty days I’ve been reflecting on what happened. I can say confidently that I only spent a handful of days upfront feeling bad about myself or being depressed. I honestly don’t think I was even angry. It wouldn’t be worth getting into all the details of what happened. Only because I think it would read like a boring soap opera set in an office.

What I will share is that I think a very small thing got blown out of proportion. While I don’t agree that I should have been fired, I’m not sure it was wrong. I know that last sentence doesn’t make any sense. It’s a major contradiction. That’s what I’ve been stewing over for the last thirty days.

I was content at my job. I spent a lot of time there trying to figure out where I fit in the organization and what I was good at. By the end, I started to feel like I wasn’t even good at the job, despite the fact that I had been there for two years and I didn’t find it extremely challenging. But I could never succeed. This is an objective observation; I know this because of the constant feedback I was given.

The organization has a huge feedback culture, which I think is problematic to say the least. There are some hilarious examples I can share with you another time. I do truly believe everyone there is doing their best and doing what they believe is right. I’ve just come to realize that I was never going to thrive in an environment with that much feedback. The last few months, it was coming after every meeting. Someone would call me after every meeting to share with me how something I did/said was wrong.

I just wasn’t going to thrive in this type of environment. I’m a firm believer that people need minimal feedback and they need a WHOLE LOT OF LOVE + CONNECTION. That’s what brings out the best in people. That’s how they improve at work. But enough about that. I want to share more about what I’ve been thinking about the past thirty days.

Again, I’m not angry at my former employer. I hold no grudges. I know this because I am the happiest I have ever been in my life, but it didn’t start this way. I had a few stages before this.

First Stage: Embarrassment + shame.

Duration: 2 days

As I mentioned above, I really struggled with that job. I realized why I was taking it so hard: my work and career is my only identity.

Before you get all “Awh, Steph, you have lots of friends and interests” – that’s not what I mean. I mean identity: a social group that I identify with.

I’m not religious. I’m close with some family members – like two – so I wouldn’t say family is a big part of my life. More than that, I don’t have a strong identity like mother or wife. All of my family lives far away. I have hobbies, but none that are a strong identity. I don’t have a cultural/ethnic group that I strongly identify with.

My whole life I’ve wanted to be a badass career woman. Whenever I failed in my career, I took it really hard and saw it as a loss of my identity.

Career = my identity. Failure + Career = I’m a failure.

What if this failure wasn’t a reflection of who I am though       ? What if my career wasn’t my identity? Or better yet, maybe this was all around the wrong career for me?

 

Second stage: Make your unemployed time count.

I decided quickly that I was not going to start looking for a job right away. I didn’t have the energy and I was going to be out of town for several weeks for previously planned trips. It didn’t seem wise to apply for jobs when I wouldn’t likely be around to go in for interviews.

The biggest reason I was not (and still not) applying for jobs is that 1) I have no idea what I want to do or even apply for and 2) I have terrible success rate with interviews.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be recruited for two of my four jobs post-college, so I didn’t have to send my resume around blindly and do a bunch of interviews. I have had three or four major job searches in my post-graduate life, all of which were hellish. This is not hyperbole, I think it takes me an average of 40 interviews to get a job – for job #1 and #4. This past winter, I was recruited to apply for two different jobs. I went through the whole long interview process. Both final interviews went really great, but I didn’t get either one. I was devastated after both. I sobbed. Not because I wanted the jobs that badly and I was unhappy where I was. I didn’t have an active job search going on. I sobbed because I truly and honestly believed that there was something wrong with me.

Remember: Career = my identity. Failure + Career = I’m a failure. Well, failing to get two jobs that I was more than qualified for, felt like a big personal failure, which reflected on me personally.

I didn’t want to apply for jobs. I was too vulnerable. I had no idea who I was.

Oh, I did apply for one job. Here was the response.

Thank you for your interest in because I said I would and the time you’ve invested in applying for our opening.  Your application has been reviewed and at this time we do not feel that you would be a fit for our organization. I was surprised by the content that I found on your personal blog and thought you should know how it reflects on you to future employers. I don't believe that it shines the best light on you as an HR professional to have inappropriate content and unprofessional language linked directly to your resume.  

We wish you good luck with your job search and professional future endeavors.

 

That was a fun read.

I decided to make my unemployment count. I had a little bit of cushion from tax refund and a car accident settlement that came just in time; I will receive unemployment as well. If I live frugally, I will be okay. I knew I wanted to make this time count. Do the things I’ve always wanted to.

In the past thirty days, I’ve written more than I ever have, redesigned my website and brand, submitted (and got accepted) my writing to an online magazine, learned about blogging and monetizing websites, redecorated and reorganized my entire house (to the point that I love hanging out it in), visited my brother in Boise, left for a two-week trip in Europe.  

Stage 3: Started to shift my thinking about needing a job

When it came to day thirty, I was surprised at how fast the time went. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have a 9-5 job for one whole month. I didn’t work 40 hours a week. How could that be? I was so busy. Granted, I don’t hustle every day and I do stay out drinking at the local watering hole 3-4 times a week (but I’ve downgraded from Tito’s to Stroh’s). But I have been incredibly productive and the time has flown. And I’m happy. I thought I would be bored. I mean my career was my identity, right? Nope.

I think I haven’t been bored yet because I’m happy. I’m doing what I love. I don’t have a constant sense of shame and worry. I’m not constantly disappointing people and I’m not stressed out all the time.

I’ve realized that I don’t fit into office culture. Every job I’ve had I’ve had to be talked to about my “professional presence” or being appropriate at least once. At my last two jobs, I think a lot of it was unnecessary but that is not my point. My point is, there’s still something I’m doing and saying to piss people off to the point where they have to tell me that. I think it’s my brutal honesty and authenticity. Those characteristics are not appreciated in the workplace. I know, I know, some organizations are cool and say they are not like that. Spoiler alert: all organizations hierarchy and politics and bullshit, by their very nature. Those will be in every organization, it’s just a part of working with a group of people. Which is fine, I’m just not good with that stuff.

This is not a judgment on anyone working in an office or any organization. They’re just facts. I’ve been told by multiple people in the last few weeks that to do well at work, you do in fact have to compartmentalize yourself or fake it. I’m not good at that. I’ve never been. From Kindergarten to college to all four of my professional jobs. I don’t thrive in that.

What I do thrive in is reflecting, writing, being myself, and inspiring others to be themselves too. I like autonomy and being creative. I love to travel and talk to my friends. I thrive when I am my most authentic self.

I graduated college in 2011, and I’ve never considered that I could do something different than the career treadmill. The career treadmill is what I call when you live your life from job to job. Sometimes you might get a promotion or change industries or roles, but you are always working for someone else. It never occurred to me that I could take time off or work for myself right now. I thought that was decades away.

It’s funny thinking back to that time when I had such tunnel vision for my career. Now I follow so many lifestyle bloggers and see how they make money. I could have done something like this long ago. Although, I don’t think I could be a lifestyle blogger; I’m not great with hair and makeup, my clothes and home décor are cheap and often messy. But I could have done something like that.

So…I think that’s what I am going to do. Something like that. I’m not sure what it will look like. It’s an uncertain path. Definitely scary. In the past, this kind of uncertainty would terrify me. Just thinking about it. I would never have actually considered not getting a full-time job immediately after losing one. I needed a full-time job so that I could pay my bills. I also believed that I needed to start succeeding more in my current professional life before I could jump into something on my own. My thought process was: “I can’t be a successful entrepreneur if I can’t be successful as an individual contributor working for someone else. I must work harder to get better. Then go on my own.” Besides I can blog and/or have a side hustle in addition to my 9am to 5pm job.

Well it turns out that working 40 – 60 hours a week is exhausting. Plus, the commute. Plus, the 5 – 10 days of travel per month travel to see clients. Plus, the emotional toll abusive coworkers leave on you. It didn’t leave much time for a side hustle. I know that a lot of other people do this and I’m so envious of these people. I feel ashamed when I read stories like the rapper Hoodie Allen, who is said to have gotten a job at google right out of college; he worked on his rhymes each night until 2am after work. Or someone like the amazing, wonderful Katie Kurtz, my soul coach. She has a full-time social work job, in addition she owns her own coaching business where she does individual sessions, events, programs, partners with other women business owners, her branding, blogging, and incredible social media presence. She’s incredible. But I’ve finally accepted that I can’t do that. My unemployment forced me to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to do what Hoodie Allen and Katie do. It’s not better or worse than Katie or Hoodie. It just is.

Now the thought of being unemployed doesn’t scare me. I cannot say for certain for that I’m never going to get a full-time job again but I’m seriously considering it or a version of it. The thought of moving back into my Mom’s house so I can be a full-time writer doesn’t make me sad or embarrassed. The thought of going on my own, whatever it looks like, fills my heart so much that the bullshit doesn’t sound bad. On the flip side, the thought of applying to jobs, doing the interview rounds, being rejected a hundred times to just end up getting a job where half the people hate me – that’s what drives me to panic attack level status.

I’m extremely happy. I’ve never been this happy before. That’s why I don’t want to get back on my old career treadmill. The little amount of writing I’ve ever submitted has been accepted. I have had rave reviews from friends, family, and some strangers. I don’t know what my exact plan is. I can’t answer any of your questions and can’t say anything for certain. It’s not a clearly defined career path. But I know that I want to pursue this feeling. I finally feel truly confident and happy for the first time in my life.

I’m okay making huge sacrifices to feel like this. All the stuff I will be missing is superficial; that shit is not worth losing this feeling I have when I write. When I share my thoughts, experiences, emotions, reflections with the world. When people tell me how much my essay means to them. When people reach out to say how much they feel exactly the same way and it felt so good for them to read my piece. When I know that I’ve made a positive impact in people’s lives, without dealing with the drama and the emotional toll of working in an office. Nothing is worth losing that feeling.

I love you. Don’t worry about me. I’m going to be just fine. I know this because I’m living my most authentic self. Making a living is something in my control and I’m living my most authentic self, so not much in my control can go wrong.