Do you feel as though your worth is tied to what you accomplish? Are you fighting feelings of guilt whenever you’re doing “nothing” or taking the time to rest? What do you do when your job has become your entire identity?
These are many of the questions I glimpsed during my most recent period of being unemployed. The double whammy of being unemployed, and being faced with a health crisis unlike anything in my lifetime, was such a lonely experience. In hindsight, it’s easy for me to happily reflect, but for those presently grappling with these complex emotions, please be patient with yourself. This article follows my experience with job applications and rejections, toxic work environments & expectations, and ultimately how self-acceptance can be the key.
Being a Diamond in the rough, is ROUGH
So, let me set the scene for you: I was 25 years old, freshly back in New York City and had just landed the dream job as PR Assistant at Tiffany & Co. At the beginning I was in heaven, constantly around Tiffany’s most expensive diamonds, hosting celebrity events, collaborating with the likes of Vogue Magazine, and more. In that present moment, I found myself fueled by gratitude; this was an opportunity I had prayed for, and something others would kill for. However, I knew that the nature of this job wasn’t sustainable for me – I was underpaid, overworked, and often felt like an outsider looking in, on my team. And by the end, I was worn, tattered, and quite literally sobbed once I’d concluded my last day in the office.
When I closed out this rollercoaster of an experience, I had no regrets. I’d broadened my network, beefed up my resume, checked goals off my list, and I’d done it all through hard work and ambition. Without getting too far into it, though they saw the value I added to the team, my superiors had no intention of me growing with them longterm. Our conversations were often cyclical and pointless, and it became clear that I was there to give, and would ultimately not receive in return, no matter how hard I worked. For the first time in my life, I spoke up for myself, and when it came down to it, I was willing to walk away from what had become an extremely toxic work environment for me. I came in, gave it my all, and I left when my time was overdue; and even down to my last day, I worked later than any other person on my team.
So that should be it, right?! Triumphant exit, fire resume, and the employers would be lining up, right?? In a way, yes, I had a plethora of opportunities at my finger tips – I was interviewing for some of the most incredible roles I’d ever been in the running for. And as I closed in on two opportunities, ready for my offers, March 2020 hit – the great lockdown. The job market shriveled up like my hair in humidity(🥴), and my life, along with nearly every other global citizen’s, came to a screeching halt. In all honesty, this was a dark period of time; I still remember hearing sirens nearly 24/7 from my window in the Bronx, NY, and watching the rising death toll, fearful of contracting and/or spreading the virus that had become deadly to us all.
The Best Way through Rejection is Reflection
I went from being in demand and on top of the world, to ultimately feeling useless, hopeless, and unable to see my way out of it. I have always been someone who can pivot, plan, and work my way out of any situation. But the pandemic felt like the rubix cube of my adulthood; each day I couldn’t tell if I was progressing, regressing, or standing tf still. On a whim, I took a one way flight to Florida to clear my mind, and spend time with family; if I was going to be depressed, figured I’d do it on the beach. I went there with the same mentality, and being that the job market had started to reopen, I kept on applying for jobs. You could liken me to a hamster in a wheel, or a rat in a race, constantly competing to be considered, without ever taking a moment to reflect.
Sparked by an especially scarring rejection, I did just that – I took a break from applying altogether. And despite what I believed would happen, the world kept right on spinning. For some reason, I thought that if I ever took a break, that if I stopped trying to find a job, I would be rendered completely useless in life. What I found was the opposite – when I took time away from the constant application to rejection pipeline, I fell back in love with my passions. The first thing that happened when I stopped actively job-searching was an eerie feeling of guilt; I felt like I “should” be researching, applying, and interviewing constantly. Though I saw what it was doing to me, I was addicted to the feeling of “doing” something. Committed to my period of reflection, I knew that I needed to work through the discomfort, and find my way to something different.
I started with what I knew best, journaling and meditation. I fought the feelings around not applying, and after a few days, I found myself finally able to think about my career from a place of calm. I felt peace for the first time in what felt like an eternity, and I quickly saw how far I’d moved the needle from my initial job criteria. I was ultimately forced to reconsider what I wanted in a role, and reconnect to my initial career objectives. I wrote it all out, asked close friends & family where they could see me, and played around with the idea that I can be anything I truly set my mind to. I was actually having fun thinking about my professional future for maybe the first time ever. And mind you, weeks are going by, I’m spending more time in nature, smiling more and spending more time being joyful. I was free of the dark cloud that’d been raining over me for months at this point, and I was ready for change!
Be Patient, Allow your “Full Circle Moment” to Come
In the months that would follow, I would complete a 225hr trauma informed yoga certification, I started writing for GROWN (!!! and would later go on to become Editor in Chief). I even found myself a part-time Personal Assistant gig assisting a local black business owner! The nontraditional path I’d taken, by embracing a reprieve from the job market, had landed me at the center of both my passions and potential streams of income. Later that year, I took on my first Social Media role, and now, several years after Tiffany & Co., I’m experiencing my full circle moment. Remember the roles I was closing in on pre-pandemic? Well now, in November 2021, I am back in the running for one of those exact positions. Not only that, but I’m a much better candidate than I was last year, because of my passion projects and my journey with rejection. Only God knows what the outcome will be, but I know that my worth is no longer wrapped up in my employment, and that truth is so powerful to me.
The lesson here is that sometimes your way through a challenge, is not by “doing,” but by “being.” Sometimes the way forward is to STOP trying, no matter how counterproductive that may seem. Take the time to learn your adult self, especially the innermost parts that need your love. Your inner work, though personal and unique to you, will have ripple effects in your life, just as it did mine. I hope you’ll feel less alone in finding that dream job of yours, and that you’ll be patient with the many emotions that come along for the ride. I believe in you, and your ability to call in the best opportunities for you – now do me a favor and believe in yourself too!
As a life-long media lover, GROWN Editor in Chief, Naomi Brooks has garnered years of experience across mediums: Digital & Print Publications, Social Media, Communications, and Television. As a proud Spelman graduate, she leads our writing team, feel free to send any pitches or requests to firstname.lastname@example.org