Oh, 2017. You dirty little rascal. This week, we dive into June, marking the halfway point in the year and my sixth month in the city of Chicago. I’m literally sitting here with a smirk on my face as I write this, thinking about all the things I thought I would have accomplished in my first six months here. When I arrived in Chicago, I had no job, one friend and a LOT of hope. Today in Chicago, I have no full-time job, friends whose names I can count on one hand, a solid amount of hope but also more doubts and uncertainty than I would prefer.
I am an incredibly lucky woman. I have had abundant opportunities come my way and plenty of open doors to walk through my entire life. I grew up with parents who taught me and more importantly, allowed me, to dream big. In many, many ways, I am presently very lucky and very #blessed. I am also currently wading through a huge pond of molasses. My head is above water but man, making forward progress is a S T R U G G L E.
I’ll be real honest. When I quit my job and career in entertainment, left LA, and moved back to the Midwest to work in fitness, I honest to God thought I would have it easy finding a job. I was armed with an ego the size of Lake Michigan. I had actual thoughts like, I’ve worked on three major network television shows and spent over a year at Disney, companies are going to want to hire me so quickly. I am now physically cringing because guess what? I’ve interviewed, as in legitimately have spoken with, 24 different companies that have all rejected me. I’ve sent out hundreds of applications and filled out a minimum of 300 “Forgot My Password” forms for company.taleo.net sites. Recently, after a few promising rounds of interviews for my dream job, I lost out to another candidate and a few days later, I found out that the business that has provided my main source of income since January was closing immediately.
We’ve all had setbacks in our careers and in our abilities to provide for ourselves financially. As they say, everything is temporary, what goes up must come down, when one door closes another door opens, etc, etc, etc. When people say everything happens for a reason, we typically find out that reason a few months or years down the road. I have no idea why this particular job hunt has been more challenging than others. I have no idea where my next source of income will come from. Even though I can’t yet know the reason why I’ve been rejected by so many jobs, I can tell you that I’ve learned two big lessons from being stuck in this molasses pond.
First, a piece of my identity died the day I left Los Angeles and that piece was replaced by shame. Whether we are conscious of it or not, for many of us, our self-worth is tied to our careers. I never wanted an ordinary life. I grew up wanting to get the heck out of my hometown, so I did, and I chased the biggest, shiniest, least ordinary dream of all time: show biz. I used to love talking about what I did for a living because I was a narcissist and because it was a “cool” job, so I was “cool” by association. Now, I could not feel less connected to that version of myself. I absolutely hate telling strangers what I used to do for a living, because my current life and unemployed status, by comparison, is a pile of trash. (This is my ego speaking, btw. Ego aside, I have absolutely zero regrets jumping ship on that career and I’m 500 times happier to be chasing a dream I believe in).
I find the idea of meeting new people to be a bit torturous right now because I am ashamed to tell them that I’m between careers. Because I’m ashamed, I feel inclined to over-compensate by telling them how I used to be impressive and cool in my old life. I found myself doing this a lot on dates. I wanted the guys I was out with to know that I’m not just some average loser who can’t get a job, I’m a loser with an EMMY in her bedroom who can’t get a job. Self-deprecation aside, I never realized how deep my need for external validation is when it comes to my career. It’s apparently extremely important to me that other people think that what I’m doing is impressive and important and enviable, and that’s kind of a gross thing to realize. This is also a problem when it comes to the job search. Bottom line, I need to find a job and I do not think any job is beneath me… AS LONG AS it’s for a company that I believe in and that people have heard of. This is obviously not one of my finer qualities and trust that it’s something I’ll be working on.
The second thing I’ve realized in my molasses pond is this: I am HORRIBLE at sitting in the uncomfortable and allowing myself to just feel an emotion. I am a solution-oriented person by nature. I can stay cool and calm in stressful situations because I am a problem solver. This is a great asset for a work environment, but not the best for a period of major life transition. I got 99 problems and 90 of them are things I can’t control. But OHHHH NO, that doesn’t stop me from trying! Single and lonely? That’s a problem I can fix. Here, let me date half of Chicago. Need to lose weight? Cool, I’ll join 6 different studios that I can’t afford and will likely never make it to because I’m so stressed out about not being able to afford them. No time to make friends? That’s okay, I’ve gotten pretty good at entertaining myself, I don’t actually need the company.
There is so much to be learned from taking the time to really feel your emotions. For years, I would turn to food to numb my feelings. Other people distract themselves with alcohol, drugs, sex, exercise when they feel like avoiding their issues and their feelings. It’s a quick fix that isn’t a fix at all. To take a step back and find out what emotion it is you’re avoiding is a tough thing to do. To take it a step further and identify the emotion without taking steps to “solve” the problem is even more difficult. My ego tends to go down the scarcity route. If I don’t get this job, I don’t know what I’m going to do. There will never be another opportunity like this one. If this guy doesn’t work out, then I’m doomed and no one will show interest again. This is a very real pattern in my brain, and it’s something I numbed out for years. Right now, I’m sitting in the uncomfortable and I’m feeling these feelings without immediately jumping into jobs that would make me miserable or dates that would be a waste of time. Giving yourself permission to feel emotions without burdening yourself to also immediately find a solution for them is one of the most liberating things you can do.
Arguably the biggest thing I’ve learned this year is that throwing myself headfirst into all of my problems at the same time is a great way to make sure that none of them get solved. This is something I’m actively working on with my therapist. The weeks that I spend time on myself and force myself to relax are the weeks when I am the happiest, when I can sleep through the night, and when I can approach the next day with a grateful heart and a hopeful attitude. My need for instant gratification combined with my propensity for solving problems is a lethal combination. I’m doing more harm than good when I try to fix the things that I think are wrong with my life. I’ve learned that the hands-off approach not only delivers better results but also provides a great sense of relief and freedom. It’s like I’ve been running headfirst into a concrete wall trying to make it budge. Instead of getting answers, all I’m getting is frustrated. And hurt. In the past, my periods of discomfort were never this long, so my quick fix approaches never really grew legs. This time, I’ve had to learn to control my knee-jerk reaction to Wonder Woman my entire life, and instead just kind of sit and wait and see what happens. Even writing that sentence made me uneasy because I am a control freak and so not the trusting type. But hey, concrete wall isn’t working for me anymore.
The ego can be a dangerous thing. Mine is riddled with insecurity and self-doubt and selfishness. Some of us also consider emotions to be dangerous, but I think they’re just misunderstood. We’re hardwired to protect ourselves from getting hurt. We can’t get hurt if we don’t allow ourselves to feel, right? So, so wrong. Masking or numbing feelings feeds the insecurity and self-doubt that fuels the ego. It can be a vicious circle, and it is one that does not serve you. When we talk about egos and emotions, we should only ever listen to one. Brene Brown says that the antidote to ego is empathy. Giving yourself permission to feel could bring about some serious change and self-improvement. What do you have to lose?