Category Archives: Anxiety

The Vicious Cycle of My Adult Professional Life

One of my longtime readers Taylor Lee left a comment that said what most people in my life tell me over and over again —

Not to be harsh, but I feel like you cycle through the same issues over and over again regarding work, depression, family anxiety, etc.

My advice is to break the cycle by choosing the path you haven’t taken before:
(1) Get a job at a bigger company. I think this will help solve a LOT of the problems you’ve been having with start-up life. Preferably some place near to where you live so your awful commute gets shortened.
(2) Figure out what triggers your anxiety/depression and what you can do to mitigate it. Whether it’s diet, exercise, more sleep, medication, therapy (I think you might benefit from CBT), your #1 goal should be getting your mental health on track.

I want to address both of these suggestions as they are good ones, but also aren’t necessarily solutions to the problem.

  1. Get a job at a bigger company. Is startup life the problem? Maybe. In my 10 or so years in the workforce, only six months were spent in a company larger than 100 employees. In the six months I spent in that larger company I witnessed so much inefficiency and bad middle management getting away with practically murder, I promised myself I would never go back to a large company. In between then and now I have applied for roles at larger companies – knowing that one poorly run large company does not make them all bad – but my experience in startups means my job prospects in larger companies are moot. Larger companies tend to look for someone with very specific experience in one area, whereas startups value that I’m a bit of a jill of all trades.
    I just honestly haven’t had any luck with even getting interviews at larger companies – whereas startups see me as the perfect fit (at least on paper.) I did get one job offer from a 300 person startup – which maybe would have been better – but in this case I did not feel I had the experience needed to lead the team I was going to be given and the stress would have been even worse. I also received a job offer for a poor-performing smaller public company that made business software which reminded me why I disliked larger companies in the first place – people pretended to be passionate about their products but you could tell they were just completely burnt out because they didn’t care. I checked a few months later and most of the people I interviewed had left the company (given its poor performing stock it may not have been by choice.)

    This would likely be different at a consumer-focused public company, but I’m far too unqualified for these roles to land so much as an interview. Believe me, I’ve tried. I can keep trying and maybe eventually something will stick. It isn’t even the money anymore (big companies would pay significantly less since I’d be in lower level roles with less responsibility) – it’s just the reality that no one will hire me at a larger company – at least one I’d actually want to work at.

  2. Figure out what triggers my anxiety/depression. Well, I’ve figured this out, and there’s a lot of things…
    1. Doing a job where I’m supposed to know what I’m doing on day one and there is no room to be developed or to get better at what I’m doing before I’m judged and thrown to the curb (ok, this is a startup thing.)
    2. Being responsible for too many things at once without clear definitions of what those things are (i.e. unlimited number of things I can do, and not knowing whether to focus on the few things I know how to do well, or spend time on the things that I know will add a lot of value that I don’t know how to  do well, so I spend too much time on them and get extremely anxious over them versus being product)
    3. Having to be social on a daily basis with the same people. This pretty much will be an issue in any office environment. As I’ve noted before I’m an ENFP with massive social anxiety, so over time a “work from home” job would also be draining… I need human contact. But having to be the person who makes that contact on a regular is anxiety causing. I often think it would be much better to be an engineer because it’s a given that you’ll be socially awkward and that makes it easier.
    4. Work hours. I am not a morning person. My ideal situation would be working 11am to 7pm. Well, now I work about 8am to 7pm. If I work for a bigger company it’s unlikely my hours would get any better – right now I theoretically take an 8:30 train and get in at 10. If I worked at a big company job closer to home I likely would have to be in at 9, so the commute would be shorter but the time to wake up would be the same. I might get home earlier, which would be nice, but doesn’t help matters as I want to be able to sleep in and work later if possible. I guess if I get to leave at 5 everyday, if that exists in big companies, then maybe getting to work at 9 would be fine. But even bigger companies require long hours.
    5. Work location. If I could work two days from home that would be hugely helpful. That way I could get a few days of social interaction but also have time to just focus on getting my work done. I think this would be the ideal situation.
    6. Money. Whether I’m paid too much or too little when working for a business I’m always anxious about money. I’m anxious about it for many reasons. One, it’s ridiculously expensive to live where I live and my soon-to-be husband does not make enough to cover what we need to live a comfortable life here. I estimate that to afford a comfortable family life in the Bay Area you need to make at least $300k as a couple and even that is tight. So if I make $200k and he makes somewhere close to $100k, we might be ok. He’s at more like $60k right now and I’m a bit under $200, but we’re getting closer. I’ve saved a lot right now which is great but I’m now at the age where I’m about to have kids (if my body allows me to) and the numbers don’t add up if I take a lower paying job. Can we live on less money? Of course we can. A two bedroom apartment here will set us back $36k a year. Beyond that we can cut costs on food and clothes and entertainment. Lots of people survive on less. But I don’t want to. I want to have a comfortable middle class life. I want to buy a house or at least have an apartment in a safe area that feels like a home and not a temporary residence. I could go and make $140k and that’s still a great salary — and maybe that’s fine. Together we’d make $200k and we should be able to live on that. But will a $140k job really be that much less stressful than a $200k job? It might be. But then if I want to actually get back to $200k+ salary I’ll just have to move into more stressful positions and I’ll end up back where I started, only at that point I’ll be so deeply handcuffed to the lifestyle and supporting a family that I won’t be able to just pick up and leave or check myself into a mental institution.
    7. Lack of completion. I really like jobs which are projects that have a beginning, middle and end to them. Without a sense of completion, I am extremely stressed out. And those projects must be substantial enough that my boss and peers see that there was significant effort put forth to do this thing and it was done and we all agree it was done well. I need that in my life to feel ok.
    8. Not being trusted/respected to do what I was hired to do. I guess this is a double-edged sword… either the person who hires me doesn’t trust me and then I am constantly feeling judged or the person trusts me a lot and then I eventually cannot do the things they trust me to do and then they get very upset at me… but they were delusional in the first place to think I’d be able to solve all of these problems. But not being trusted is worse. But then I don’t exactly earn trust given that I tend to over commit to things and deserve that lack of trust. It’s just when I start out not being trusted, it’s a deep hole to dig out of… and so much of the trust stems from the ability to pretend like you have your shit together and everything is fine. And I’m the exact opposite of that where I am just too honest and will tell you when something is an issue and explain why. And this is going to be a problem in bigger companies even more than it is in smaller ones. In bigger companies it’s less about 1:1 relationships and more about politics, which is a game I can’t and don’t play.

What can I do to improve my mental health? Sleep? Diet? Exercise? Therapy?

All of the above.

I know when I sleep I feel better and less depressed/anxious. But I don’t sleep enough. I go to sleep at 1am and wake up at 6am and still end up late for work because I’m too anxious to move despite doing work in bed.

Eating healthy helps a lot. As does exercise. But when I exercise at 6am I lose out on sleep so I think it kind of offsets its productivity.

Therapy… I have a love-hate relationship with therapy. I’ve been to so many therapists I know that it’s a huge time and money suck with no successful outcome. It’s sanity maintenance which has value in and of itself, but not for how much it costs. Yes, I make a lot of money and yes, I can afford to spend it on therapy ($700-$1000 a month for 4 sessions) but then I end up anxious over the value of those sessions. It’s so expensive and this year I decided to put my money into personal training ($600/month) – my physical vs my mental health – because I’ve spent so much on therapy to date and where has it gotten me?

I’m not on any antidepressants and maybe I should be, but I know that sleep and diet and exercise all can help me be a lot less stressed and sad all the time. Drugs don’t change my work situation.

So… do I need to address these issues and make a significant change to my life soon? Yes. How? I don’t know. I’m spending all my money on my wedding right now – which is stupid but it is what it is – and then I’ll have time to figure out what to do with my life.

An old boss of mine from my journalism days offered to review a freelance pitch from me if I had any ideas – so I just sent one off and I haven’t felt this engaged and motivated about a potential paid project in a long time. I have no idea if they’ll accept my pitch but I’d love to get back into non-business journalism where I’m writing about issues that actually help people and represent those who do not have a loud enough voice to be heard. But I can’t make a living doing that, so it’s only a fun side project for now – but pitching the story this morning was rewarding in and of itself.

It’s a Man’s World

Isn’t it ironic that as I sit here at a city Starbucks pondering my gender than  the context of my recurring professional setbacks I noticed that “It’s a Man’s World” was playing on the speaker system? Well, it is. Here I am, for the thousand billionth time, at a point of failure. I’ve done a lot of good work, but it’s never enough. I’ve also made a lot of mistakes. But it still feels like there is something more than just making mistakes that gets me where I seem to always end up.

My office has public calendars and I wasn’t calendar stalking but happened upon an interview occurring with someone who clearly is in the running for either my new boss or my replacement (I can’t figure out which.) That someone is an old dude. Maybe he’s great. His resume certainly is impressive. Maybe he is what the company needs. But I also see an unfortunate trend in my life – I accept roles where no one can succeed and then when it finally is possible for someone to come and be successful (and the role is more desirable) I get replaced with someone who is a lot more charismatic and better at faking being good at things or maybe is actually good at things – I am not sure if it matters. What matters is I can’t fake it. I’m honest to a fault and then some. It doesn’t fly in business. Well, it flies me out of every single job I have.

I’m learning a lot. I’m the kind of person who likes to really understand what I’m doing before I do it. I enjoy systems thinking and understanding the architecture of a broader infrastructure and envisioning ways to fix what isn’t working. I’m not so good at actually getting things done – which is enough of a reason for a company to kick me out – though when I am being productive I’m probably much more productive than most other people might be. I’m a poster child for ADHD though now a woman and no one in real life has the patience to put up with my occasional bouts of extreme productivity paired with stilted outputs due to anxiety, depression and distractedness, in no particular order.

I’ve been writing a lot about gender biases and I do wonder if bits and pieces of my situation happen to be caused by my being female versus male. It’s a catch 22 and all – am I doing bad work because I’m anxious caused by the way I’m treated due to my gender or am I treated the way I am because I’m anxious and doing bad work in a way that’s embarrassingly and stereotypically “female,” whatever that means. The ADHD is real and it doesn’t help. At best I’m seen as a creative savant who is hopeless when it comes to maintaining usefulness in business. At worst I’m characterized as a hot mess that can’t even motivate herself to be lukewarm.

What’s even harder is being in management. I really do enjoy managing employees from the sense of coaching them and helping them grow however I can. It’s just the day-to-day smalltalk that is so draining. I think back to bosses who would always put on a smile and ask how things are going even if they didn’t really care because that’s just how they knew how to be great managers – and although some of them faked it better than others, it worked. I find myself struggling to so much as say hi and bye to my team each day. I know it’s so dumb – as I can envision myself with a big smile asking them about their weekend plans, but then whenever I try I end up feeling so drained just by the effort to come across personal without being too personal. Friendly, but not a friend. Boss-like, but also cool boss, but also someone who has her shit together, despite clearly not having her shit together.

The long and short of it is that I can keep doing this to myself over and over again… for, oh, I don’t know how long… or I need to find a completely different path. I know I’ve said this before a zillion times but now I actually believe it. I mean, I went from making $90k six years ago to nearly $200k today and that’s helpful in terms of my bank account but only feels like an accomplishment in deceit. A good friend of mine – now long-time colleague – has suggested that I take a job that doesn’t pay quite so much in order to provide a little less stress – and less having my bosses constantly calculating if my ROI is worth my cost and then being so passive aggressive about earlier negotiations.

I’ve been rather aggressive when it comes to negotiating because as a woman all we’re told is that we get paid less and we should ask for more. Ok, I did it… and I still have no idea if a man of my “level” would have asked for even more or less, but I felt good about pushing and I had two offers at this rate (actually the other one was for even more) which made me feel justified in accepting one of them. However, getting a salary offer and having that salary not haunt you for the entirety of your tenure with a company – especially if that company is a small business and your boss knows that every dollar spent limits his changes of success and wealth – is probably worth more than $10k or even $20k more a year after tax.

There are two paths here that are the easiest, and then many others which will be much harder and more scary. I stay on the path I’m on, and with my newly-gained experience try my best to stay in this role as long as possible and then when I need to (which may unfortunately be sooner than later) I interview like crazy and try to convince someone that I’m great and negotiate strongly again and walk away with a similar salary and another six months of attempting to do my best without that actually being anywhere near good enough. OR – I find a job that’s maybe lower level by a bit – maybe at a bigger company (though it’s really hard to get hired at a bigger company when you mostly have smaller company experience) and take a salary of anywhere from $120k-$140k (which isn’t bad by any means but it’s a massive pay cut) and then just see if I can maintain that job.

Or I just take another path entirely. Open my own small business. Go back to school for design. Return to my earlier profession as a journalist. Write a novel. Or a yawn-inducing memoir. Learn about shooting film. Move to the middle of nowhere and take college art classes until I’m credentialed to teach. Make a living selling crafts on Etsy. “Come out” as the author of this blog and make a name for myself as this depressed, anxious 30-something who is so remarkably spoiled that despite her disability the only response she gets from the universe is a series of eye rolls and “woe is you’s.”

It’s just at this point where I am at my wit’s end. I can’t even talk to my fiancé about this anymore because he doesn’t like hearing about how I’m failing over and over again. I don’t blame him. He also doesn’t work in business, so he can’t really relate. And he knows a lot of it is my depression and a lot of it is me being lazy but I swear that due to this constant ridiculous anxiety that just builds and builds and builds.

And it’s all fine and well to fall over on my face as many times as necessary to get through life / build a nest egg … but not if I have kids (which I want to do and have to do soon if I want my own.) And so I feel like I’m running straight for a brick wall that someone told me is made of styrofoam but we all know damn well it’s just made out of actual very fucking hard brick. I know I can’t keep running straight ahead, but the older I get, the faster my momentum, and the harder to slow down, the more impossible to stop and turn away from the inevitable outcome of shattering into a million pieces.

The Wisdom That Comes With Age, Or the Lack Thereof

Every day, it hits me that I’m knee deep in adulthood. There is no more “what I am going to be when I grow up” – I’m grown. Creases have etched lines into my once porcelain-smooth forehead. I peer closely into mirrors and study the corners of my eyes, cringing at the forging estuary of crow’s feet. The thin skin on my hands is translucent wrapped around my bones. I’m not old, and yet I am.

Every day, I think, I’m so far from where I thought I’d be at 32, but, then again, I never imagined myself at 32. 21 or 25, sure. Maybe even 28, but not a day over. Thirty, it seemed, was a lifetime away, until it wasn’t. Here I am, 32 approaching 33, just 8 months away until you can say I’m in my “mid 30s,” what a gas. It’s a surreal transition to always being the youngest in your class – the “baby” – to being one of the oldest in the room. It happens so fast. I didn’t have time to adjust to the transition.

Every day, I wonder, what’s to come of this world? I think ahead to my desire to have children, and I wonder if I ought to go out of my way to have a family in a world where ISIS blows up innocent men, women and children in the name of their so-called religion, and where Donald Trump wins the Republican seat on the road to the White House with equally malicious hatred and the sparks of similar evil. I worry for the future – as we approach the age of robotic warfare and super drones and new chemical weapons which cannot be stopped. I fear the future even without evil, with its android fast food workers and self-driving cars and little boxes that answer your questions and can tell you everything you want to know without ever having to think for yourself. I know I’m getting old, because I miss how things were when life was simpler. I miss mail order CDs and having only a limited number of shows to watch at any given time and being forced to sit through the commercials and I miss the time when we weren’t so glued to technology so when we left the office we had a life outside of work.

What an old crumugin I’ve become. Me, the futurist who loves innovation and works and lives in the place where Apple was invented and new technologies continue to evolve to change the very nature of how we understand and interact with the world around us. Life feels so much faster now because there’s no time or reason to pause. I miss long hot New Jersey nights with crickets chirping and fireflies dancing in the distance occasionally lighting up just before your nose. I miss snow days and summer camp even though the bullying was torturous and elementary school even though I was a loner and couldn’t stand one minute of it at the time. I don’t even wish I could go back and do it all over again – I would just like the opportunity to pause and reflect without missing out on so much that’s moving forward faster and faster. There’s no stopping now. There’s just Monday and Sunday and what happens in between is a blur. There’s Monday and Sunday and repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I spend a lot of time browsing home listings on Zillow around the area I live. I found a $1.4M house that seemed decent enough, a small starter home with a teeny tiny backyard patio area and a community pool requiring an extra $500 a month HOA fee. I look at my near-$200k salary and my $350k in savings and think this isn’t enough- this will never be enough – to afford the life I want slash the life I thought I’d have should I ever achieve such success on paper. I try to feel proud of this achievement. I’m sure when I actually make $200k I’ll smile a little, just because, that’s something. That’s a big something to say I add enough value that someone is willing to pay me that much, or I’m at least a great con and awfully convincing. Maybe $500k in networth, this random goal of mine I’ve had since 21, will make me pause and give myself a little silent high five as I grow my second grey in two or three years, well later than I had hoped to hit that number. But by then I’ll either have kids or I won’t, I’ll be a different person. I’ll be married and a mother or a never-mother and a serial careerist or a runner-away-from-career to something else where that $200k salary will again seem as out of reach as it once was.

I’m tired. I feel healthier than I have in a while with my exercise routine and slightly healthier diet plan which has netted me a 30-pound weight loss from my heaviest. I wake up at 5:45 and work out from 6 to 7 some days and get to work at 9:30 and work until 7 and rarely take a lunch break and get home if I’m lucky by 9. I can’t sleep at night because my mind is racing a million miles an hour with all the things I have to do and haven’t done and I can’t shut it off until nights like tonight when I’m so exhausted I have no energy to eat I’ll just lie down and close my eyes and likely fall right sleep, but there will never be enough hours until the weekend to catch up. I’m feeling really inspired by my job, though it’s hard, and it’s worth the commute, but nonetheless, I’m tired. It’s dark out. It’s only 8. I wish to be curled up in my bed. I wish to be curled up in my bed with a good book despite the fact that I rarely read and if I do it’s non-fiction and even then I’m skimming through for the juicy bits and asleep before I find any.

There is this great lack of meaning in my life which keeps me stuck in a chronic state of depression. My therapist says I need activities outside of work – in the evenings – after work – at least once a week. I did go out with a friend last week for dinner. That was nice. It takes a lot of energy. It was spontaneous so that worked well. If I planned it I might have wasted up my energy on worrying how tired I’d be. I can’t imagine how I’ll manage to have time for kids given that I can’t find time for taking any sort of class right now for self-enrichment. My current life and having kids do not compute. I’ve got a year or two left in me and then I have to move on. I’ll do my best. I’m not going to self sabotage this time. I’ll stand up for myself. I’ll do the best I can. I will be motivated no longer by my idealist nature but instead by the reality of the world and a desperate grasp at any semblance of security I can have for myself and my family.

I’m fortune. I love my husband-to-be as he is silly and strange and not mature at all and despite his face aging equally fast as mine I look into his eyes and see us at 22 and when he holds me I’m not a day older. It will be strange getting older then and still feeling this way and being 35 and 40 and 50 and 60 and onward if we’re so lucky to hold each other at 99 and still feel 22.

Life is depressing. I think our problem is that we consider depression a mental disorder. It isn’t. Chronic happiness is a mental disorder. Life is shit. Look at it. From the ISIS and Trump’s of the world down to our bodies decomposing as a natural state of order as soon as we pop out of the womb to our children at every moment potentially dying before we do whether by terrorist attack or car accident or their own body deciding it does not compute with its own cells, life is shit. Sure, there are happy, beautiful moments, and we should pause and appreciate those. But anyone who is chronically happy is delusional. I’m too much of a realist to approach my philosophy of life any other way. If you decide to focus on some set of goals and work your ass off to achieve them and feel some semblance of success and happiness in the progress, then good for you. But that won’t keep you from a painful death or maybe a surprise one. That won’t help you avoid the even worse by inevitable fate of all man to watch their loved ones leave this earth or hear of their passing from afar. That won’t change the shittiest shit nature of existence that most animals are fortune enough to not fully know in the same way we as humans do. Our awareness is the most beautiful and shittiest part of all, because we know exactly what is happening at every stage – we watch our own bodies fall apart and we try to ignore this by focusing on redecorating our kitchen or taking on new projects at work or going on a vacation for seven out of 365 days where we maybe experience something new and feel alive again before returning to whatever routine we’ve found to be desirable or at least quicksand-like in its grasp of our once more risk-attuned ways.

So, forgive me for my depression. I think it’s quite practical in terms of how to feel about the state of things, given the absolute bleakness of our situation as a species and individuals. This isn’t to say I crave death or romanticize it in the least. I fear it and wish it to stay far from anyone I know for as long as possible – but no matter what we do, we’re all inching towards that fate. I guess those with religion can look forward to an afterlife, which wouldn’t be quite so bleak. The rest of us – how can we put on a smile that’s sincere and believe that we ought to be spending our limited days in an office making something that 100 years from now no one will remember or care ever happened. That isn’t the point, however, as everyone is the cog in a machine – even Hollywood actresses who I used to envy so – they’re just people whose talent and luck has thrown them into the spotlight – one in a hundred million—yet they’re just mere mortals like you and me.

I’m tired. Tired of trying to figure out the right way to do things or being scared of being embarrassed about not being able to afford a house or not knowing how to raise a family and be a good mother and maintain a career that I have no feelings for beyond being grateful that I can do it without completely sucking and I seem to be rather good at parts of it if I push my anxiety to the side and just get shit done. I like learning and trying new things and figuring stuff out, though I give up too easily. I’ve completely accepted that I can’t maintain this career for the long term. I count my pennies and wonder how much I’d need to retire on should I move somewhere extremely affordable and become a part-time copywriter or assistant something or other. The number ends up too high to be realistic so I go back to my initial plan to stay put and just hope I can keep doing what I’m doing until I have a few frugal years and save up some cash and have more options.

I miss a life that I never really had. I think that’s the definition of nostalgia. I’m feeling it hard lately, from the moment I wake up to the instant my eyes shut and I drift off to sleep at night. I miss what could have been. I’m grateful for what has become. I’m unprepared for the future, but it’s here and it’s here and it’s always here regardless of my inability to prepare. Here it is, as I turn another page, close my eyes for another night, and get through another 24 hours in one breath in the race ahead towards no particular outcome other than the inevitable.

Panic is My Default Mode: Life with Anxiety

Logically, I know 99% of my anxiety is completely unnecessary. But in 32 years of walking this earth, it’s just gotten worse. This crippling sense of constant panic keeps me from finishing projects and achieving sustainable success. I’m very concerned I will again let panic get the best of me and given time I will lose my job. I know I have a lot to contribute, and my contributions are valued, but the constant panic loop in my mind plays on and on and on…

You’re not doing it right.

You’re not doing it fast enough.

This is the best you can do and that’s not good enough.

You’re a fake.

You’re not going to be found out – you’ve already been found out. It’s too late.

Why do you bother trying? You’re just stupid. Stupid and not equipped to do this job.

It’s 6pm again? How’d it get to be 6pm? Where did the day go? Why am I so tired? Why am I looking at a long list of to-dos with everything 21% completed and nothing close to being done? Why can’t I just FINISH things?

… I’m feeling rather down right now. More, beaten down and hopeless by this redundant plot line. At 32, I should be able to do this better. I should be able to get my hair nice and straight in the morning so it doesn’t look like a gnarly broom with fringes poking out in all directions. I should be able to wear clothes that make me look professional and confident, not like a hot mess. I should be able to find shoes that are comfortable that I can wear to work that aren’t embarrassingly clunky and flat. I should be able to handle all this. I’m making the big bucks now and I have to be great. I’m far from it. I feel my world falling down around me yet again.

And, I know, so many of you told me – don’t take the small company job – take the bigger company job where there will be more support. Maybe you’re right. But, honestly, that isn’t the issue. I’d have the same challenges at the bigger company – in any leadership role. In any role where I don’t have someone constantly guiding me and telling me that I’m doing an ok job. It’s my upbringing by narcissistic parents. It’s giving in so quickly to this track of self-defeat no matter how hard I try to scream quietly to her to just shut up so I can get my work done in peace.

I want this to work. I really, really do. It has to. I can’t fail. I’m not afraid of failure or ashamed of it, but this time, I have to be great. Or, at least really good. I put so much pressure on myself and I don’t come close to achieving my goals. This is a job. A tried-and-true adult job. This isn’t a passion. This is work. This is work that I have to do and do well and I want to do well and I even want to do well because I like the people I work with and I want them to do well. Still, I’m nose diving and ready to soon go splat.

And who do you talk to about this – at 32? Who do you say, help me, I’m hopeless, I’ve managed to trick the world into thinking I can do something and maybe I can do some of it but really I can’t keep up. I can hire a therapist – I spend so much money on therapy and where has it gotten me? Alive, maybe. I’d probably still be alive. I’m not actually suicidal. I’m too scared of death. But it’s gotten me – an apartment, and a fiance, and perhaps the ability to stand up again when I fall. It’s a psychological loop as well. It doesn’t get me anywhere. It feels like a waste of money. I know I need help, but having someone talk me out of my head and shock some reality into it is only helpful as far as I believe it. And I can’t pay anyone any amount of money to make me believe it.

Here I am, staring down at the next five years of my life which may include having children – children(!) – who I will be responsible for and who I want more than anything and I’m so terrified to bring anyone into the world when I can’t even handle taking care of myself. Yea, sure, I’ve managed to save $350,000 in the last 10 years. That’s my one and only life accomplishment – one that I can’t even talk about with anyone, except for on this blog, because I’m as proud as I am ashamed of having accumulated a modest amount of wealth for my age, and horrified that $350k is nothing when it comes to being able to afford the life I want without having to work in this field until I’m old and grey.

I want to work. I like working. I like making and creating and doing. I like the feeling of getting things done. I don’t want to be a lazy ass and sit around and stare at a wall all day. But this anxiety is just unstoppable. I fear that it won’t be long until it gets me into trouble at this job. My fiancé won’t let me say the “f” word (fired) and he’s right, there’s no use in talking about how I’m going to get fired when I’ve only been employed for less than two months. I just want to make this work so badly. But I don’t know how to. I feel like no matter what I do, my panic will see to it I crumble yet again.

The Unemployment Rollercoaster

There are so few times in life when you have your health and you’re neither in school or employed. For the lucky few who can afford a period of time out of work without a complete financial meltdown, this should be a time to stop, reflect, and even, god forbid, enjoy life for a minute or two. I really wish I could do that, but as always I’m a heaping ball of anxiety. I can’t just let go and allow life to roll me on its merry way, wherever that shall be. And all the anxiety is getting me sick, for I’m coming down with some kind of cold, because my body has finally let go and accepted its own weakness.

I don’t know how to interview right now. I have interviews — interview #5 with a larger startup and interview #2 with a smaller startup and interview #1 with a global firm. I’m a decent interviewer, but I always feel like I have to fib a bit to get the job. It’s not like huge lies — but someone may ask me if I know how to do something and I say sure and if they ask me to explain results from said thing I find some numbers that sound obtainable and throw those out there. How many leads did I generate per month? Oh, great question. What number do you want to hear that is actually something I might be able to deliver at this company, even though it’s in an entirely different market? Hmm. Even telling the truth can bite you in the ass — for at one company it might be much easier to deliver strong ROI than another. You just can’t win, but what you say at that interview, if you take the job, will haunt you forever.

And I don’t want to have to fib my way into an opportunity, or just accept the blind  delusion of some CEOs who think I’m god’s gift to this field until they’ve hired me and see my limitations. I just wonder how people who do this for a living actually get good at it. Some of the job is just mindless repetition and detail work, which I’m intuitively horrible at. But there’s a lot of strategy and execution around that strategy as well. I mean, it’s not rocket science. Why do I suck so bad at it?

For starters — the field I’m in has a zillion / infinite things you can do at any given time. This confuses the shit out of my ADHD brain. I want to do EVERYTHING! So I start a whole lot of projects with the best intention. The few that do get finished are usually pretty good. Problem is, most don’t get finished, or at least not in time. Even when I try really hard to not do this I end up in the same hole, over and over again. If I were to take a job where I was assigned tasks I’d probably be ok with that if it required some level of creativity to solve the problem at hand, but not if those tasks were detail-oriented and repetitive. I know I’ve gotten so far in my career — to a $160k salary — by just saying the right things and trying my best until the anxiety just exhausts me and I can no longer think straight and I start making one careless mistake after the next.

Some of my commenters have suggested that I move somewhere with a lower cost of living. That’s certainly an option. But I have (some) friends here. And no matter how little money I have, driving down the freeway and seeing the beautiful rolling hills at sunset with the fog rapidly dancing over them is just – worth more than anything I could pay for. There are so many reasons why I love living here. I could move, but at the least the frequent sunny days and blue skies here keeps seasonal depression largely at bay — it was just so, so bad in other places I’ve lived. My fiance hates warm weather so there aren’t many places we can go that are sunny yet not so hot. I’d like to somehow stay here. I don’t know if I can.

I guess I’ll see if I end up getting offers for any of these jobs. I’m way too over qualified for roles in other fields that I’d like to pursue, and ironically the only way to switch into a job paying less than half of what I make now is to go back to school and spend about $150k-$200k for a master’s degree. Which is also an option. Right now, I just need to relax. I’ve been getting more and more upset about this entire last year and there’s just not point to that right now. What’s done is done.  I have to just move on, and hopefully not too fast to the wrong thing, just because it’s there.

 

 

New Unemployment/Unemployed Budget

Well. Here I am. Unemployed. Since I received no severance and was not eligible for payout of any PTO (side effect of the supposed unlimited vacation perk), I’m left with my final paycheck and waiting for unemployment to (hopefully) kick in.

When you apply for unemployment they ask you a whole host of questions and I’m concerned I won’t qualify, though I should. Even if I do qualify, it’s a whopping $1800 a month (before taxes) and they make you wait a week to start claiming, so the first month is actually more like $1350 for the month. And $1350 is about how much I pay in rent. Thank goodness I’ve been somewhat smart about saving this year (I knew the job was not going to last long given how I performed with the heaping of anxiety and lack of sleep brought on by a very non-supportive work environment and a long commute I should have never signed on for in the first place.)

I thought it would be a good time to check in regarding my networth and budget. My networth goal for this year was $400k but that was a stretch to begin with (a $100k increase from 2014 including savings and interest.) Right now, counting all my assets I’m at about $350k – which isn’t bad considering the way the markets have performed this year to date. I’m sure with some better investments and less stress spending I’d be a little closer to my initial goal, but not by enough that it would really be meaningful. I have to take a moment and applaud myself for reaching $350k networth. Even though it’s not the big $500k, $350k feels sizable enough to merit a moment of self congratulations. For some reason, this amount makes me feel better about my lack of job stability due to my mental illness. While I can’t touch all that money immediately, and after taxes it would be less, if I was desperate there’s enough there to get through my own personal instances of deep depression (yeay bipolar life.) I don’t feel secure enough yet to have kids, or quite frankly, to get married (which is happening this spring anyway), but I feel like this is an accomplishment of some sort I can be secretly proud of… especially given that just 10 years ago I had about $5k to my name and was basically living paycheck to paycheck.

Here’s how the $350k breaks down:

  • $27.5k – cash
  • -$46 – credit debts
  • $153.5k – stocks (taxable)
  • $178.3k – retirement funds
  • $6.5k – 529 / grad school fund
  • $8k – approx car value

Now, my goal for the rest of the year, revised, is to end the year above $350k. This just brings me back to my older goals of saving $50k a year – which I’ve been doing for the last couple of years. I though this year given my income increase I could save a whole lot more, but you know, markets fluctuate so much, and maybe I actually bought enough stock “on sale” this year that I’ll have a really good 2016. Who knows.

The trick at this point is not significantly dipping into my cash to live between my current job and my next job… especially since I don’t know when said next job will start (or what it will be.) The $1350/$1800 a mo in unemployment is barely enough to cover standard recurring expenses, so I’ll have to dip into my savings a bit. I’m hoping that by Dec 1 I have a job so this leaves me with just 1.5 months of unemployment, which shouldn’t hurt too much. With the wedding coming up, and all the expenses for that, I really, really, really need a job – even though I admit it’s nice to have a few weeks to just stop and focus on planning this crazy event since the lack of time to do that was also stressing me out.

But I want to plan for “worst case scenerio” 3 months without a job. I’ll give myself 3 months to find something I really think I can be good at – because the last thing I want to do right now is to jump into a position where my anxiety will get to me again. I’m hoping to find something with a bit more flexible work environment – the amount of work I can get done at home in a quiet space far surpasses what I can do in some horrible open office environment filled with stress-inducing distractions. I’ve made a pact with myself that I’m not going to apply for things I know I’ll ultimately fail at given the work environment. I also am probably going to apply to grad school because I know the field I’m in now rarely meets my minimum requirements for sanity, so despite the great pay, I think I need to take a break from chasing income and now start to actually plan for sustainability. In short, I can’t be crazy mommy who gets fired from her job every year – my future kids don’t need to see that. I want them to see me in my best state – one where I actually like my job more or less. Not the me who I am now. I would never want them to see that person.

So I’m assuming I will need to spend about $2000 a month additional from my savings in order to cover everything from gas to get to job interviews to food to grad school applications to a potential trip home to the east coast to spend some quality time with family when I have the time (dad’s cancer isn’t getting better and despite that he drives me nutso whenever I see him I always think – will this be the last time?) So… say I have $5k of my savings to spend over the next 3 months… give or take. That puts me at roughly $350k at the end of the year – but I’d then be worried I couldn’t find another job. I know that I have some talent and abilities… but I just need to figure out where and how to apply them in a way where someone will pay me money to do so, and I won’t flip out after 3 months or so feeling like I’m so overwhelmed but the piles of things to do and not be able to prioritize those things or even know where to start. Yes, this is the life of a woman who has super anxiety, bipolar II and ADHD. I’m not saying those are excuses for anything – I take full responsibility for losing this job, for falling into the same pattern. But there’s a part of it that is just inherently who I am. I’m different than most people, that’s for sure. I just need to figure out where I fit.

And I’m going to be 32 in a month, which is – such an adult. My body definitely feels like I’m in my 30s — I pinched a nerve a week ago and my back and arm are still in pain. If I don’t sleep a full 8 hours a night I feel it for many days later. And don’t get me started on drinking / hangovers, oy. That’s just to say that I’m not a kid anymore. I’m a full grown adult. Looking around at my apartment I have to stop and wonder if this is what I pictured adulthood to be like. Well, I never actually envisioned myself as an adult. Maybe that’s part of the problem. But when I envisioned adulthood as a general concept, it certainly didn’t look like this — unfinished apartment, used couch that’s falling apart, bike in the corner of the living room because there’s no where else to keep it, a career that doesn’t feel right at all, getting married (ok that’s a start) to a man who also doesn’t have much of anything figured out yet either, to a long life ahead of me that I imagine will poof suddenly transform into one filled with maturity once I have my own kids (I know it doesn’t happen that way, I just like to think there’s some kind of inciting incident to finally growing up.)

Oh well. Today, I just need to focus on not dipping in too deep to my savings this year, and ultimately continuing on to my “round 1” $500k goal. That was supposed to happen next year. It won’t. But maybe I’ll get there before I’m 40.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I sat on the baggage claim floor…

Some people hit rock bottom when they’ve found their addiction to drugs or sex or alcohol has pushed them to a point where there are only two options left — just about cold turkey or their own demise.  I sat on the baggage claim floor yesterday I found it impossibly hard to move. I had just returned from a two-week conference circuit, unfortunately one which was less successful than I’d hoped and the details far too imperfect. I sat and read my work email – one thing after another of items that I failed to do correctly or questions on problems I thought I had solved. And as I felt the hard, barely-carpeted cement floor grace the soft cushion of my over-padded bottom, and as I sat there unable to move for a good three hours, I thought – gee, I’ve hit rock bottom.

I also thought that I ought to shut up – my current situation is no where near as bad as so many have it in the world. I read the Humans of NY Series discussing Syrian refugees who barely made it out of Syria alive and now have nothing and no one. I have so much. I have a savings account and an apartment and parents who want to foot a ridiculously high bill for my 2016 wedding. How is this rock bottom?

In just three weeks or less, I’ll be out of a job. I have, for all intents and purposes, caused the rapid demise of my own employment. This was an inevitable end to my current reality, but it didn’t have to happen so fast. I let my anxiety get to me, I let myself stare at a computer screen for hours on end unable to function. I let myself fail to listen to my alarm in the morning because I couldn’t bear the thought of a two-hour commute only to feel hopeless and frozen and humiliated. I couldn’t muster up the energy to fake it. And so here I am, rock bottom. I’ve been here before. It’s a familiar place. Almost comforting. It is the calm before the storm. The eerie quiet before the big bang. And thus, this is the moment when everything feels futile, yet a new life is about to begin.

The challenge now is fighting the instinct to jump into whatever it is that comes along next. In the case of now, that would be two really solid opportunities which I’m currently in the running for — both jobs in startups that are similar to the one I have now, though, of course with different people and in different markets. My job right now is to figure out what it is I want to do. I’m turning 32 in a month. My 20s were fabulous for the experience and the wealth building. I’ll likely exit this year with $350,000 to my name – short of the $400k which was my stretch goal but certainly enough where I feel the entirety of this year has not been for naught.

To shine a light on the past year, I’ve learned a ton, had the opportunity to work closely with a good friend who I respect and admire, and even can step away from this knowing I at while I fucked up over and over again, I now know how not to make so many fuck ups in my next rodeo. I jumped in and for quite some time gave it my all. I burnt out fast when I realized my all would never be enough. And then, I just fizzled. And here I am.

I’ve been reading a lot about INFPs and how we such at employment. Our idealist personality type doesn’t really like to manage others or be managed, which is generally speaking the majority of roles in the workforce. What’s more, we need a position which maps to our values — map to our values and we’ll go above and beyond. Go against our values (i.e. the cut-throat manipulative world of business) and we’ll peace out. Thus, I’m about to “peace.”

Where I started a good 11 years ago, in 2005, was a place about an hour from where I ended up here in an internship at a non-profit. I was fired from that because I was absolutely depressed at the time. I wanted to be involved in the creative side of the house but I wasn’t competitive for that, so I became a marketer. I never wanted to be a marketer, it just seemed the most natural use of my ability to write decently and a mind that was born out of learning how to convince my parents not to fight all the time (I guess I got some value out of that.) The internship, which was supposed to go for a year, lasted a whopping three months. I don’t even remember what my job tasks were beyond organizing giant file cabinets and mailing postcards. I was most upset over not knowing where I was going in life — I didn’t want to be a marketer.

I didn’t actually know what marketing was at the time, at least not the breadth which the field covers. But I didn’t jump into a marketing role immediately after that. I enjoyed journalism so I found myself an internship at a newspaper. But my anxiety got to me again. Going out into the world and interviewing strangers nearly gave me a heart attack. I lasted about two years as a journalist, moving up to entry-level roles at magazines and blogs, falling into the world of technology, and being grateful for it. At least technology was connected to the world at large. I was writing about technologies that would completely adjust the world as we know it. I liked being part of something that big. I liked knowing about these things first.

Yet journalism as a field required constant anxiety – between needing to continue to talk to strangers day in and day out, and being judged on getting the story first, which I never did. Assign me a feature article which required more research and time, and I’d fare much better than rushing to get a story to the wire, or sussing out said story in the first place. I left journalism within two years because my writing was atrocious (I can write a lot and somewhat poetically but my grammar and organization is not suited for professional publishing) and I couldn’t handle the stress. I got myself laid off at my third publication and decided that journalism was not for me. But what was?

Given I needed to find myself a job I applied for any position which required writing that wasn’t in journalism. I must have applied for nearly a thousand jobs at the time when I finally got a hit. A startup was looking for a junior-level writer for a contract role. The company had an online social site and it sounded up my alley. I went there and ended up jumping in wherever needed, responding to user issues by email, creating copy for the entire product, and they eventually made an offer for me to join full time. That was the most successful moment of my life. While they laid me off three years later when they needed to trim down their already tiny team to be acquired, I knew I had taken the most important professional step in my 20s. I went from having really no experience to having – some experience. And I still was so cheap compared to my peers, that I could maybe get a job.

At that point, I still had trouble finding employment, but I managed to obtain a contract role at a big public company doing social media through a connection at a last opportunity. That role actually, in quite an unexpected way, brought me closest to the entertainment industry – as I was able to work on a project with a Hollywood producer that involved the company’s technology. While I felt rather useless in my contributions, it was a big company that had money to spend, and I was sent to Europe for a month to help drive awareness of the project. I felt completely out of my element and yet it was one of those really cool things that I had the opportunity to do in my career, and I’m grateful for it. Nonetheless, that job ended after my six month contract was up.

At the same time, I also took on a freelance opportunity with a very small startup to do some writing work. That freelance role really took my career in an entirely new and unpredicted direction. It was my first B2B (business to business) startup, and while it had a consumer bent to it I quickly became versed in the world of companies that sell to other companies. The only reason I managed to remain intrigued by the product was that it ultimately would be used by end consumers (they call that B2B2C) and in some use cases was used to improve the world. I thought it was pretty cool technology so I managed to get hired there full time and stay for a whopping four years, which in startup years is a very long time.

While I learned a lot in that role I hardly learned enough to make myself valuable to other companies. On paper I looked great but in reality I failed to pick up many of the actual skills needed to succeed in a more senior-level position in marketing. Theoretically I could just read the internet and teach myself a lot of this crap, but I didn’t have hands-on, live experience doing much of anything that would be applicable to another business. I thought I’d just have to fake it until I made it… if anyone would hire me, I’d give it my best shot.

So that happened. Twice. I got hired for one startup and within five months they figured out I didn’t have the skills to do what they wanted. I fault them for not figuring this out in the interview process. I also fault myself for not having those skills, and not being able to fake it. My second opportunity, another where I was clearly hired in a fit of delusion by the CEO, I pushed myself so hard to make it work. I took what I learned at my last failure and tried to apply it. I hired a rockstar consultant to help me in the areas I knew I was weakest. But there were just too many weaknesses on my part. Really, though, I just was never senior enough for the role. I neither was senior enough to effectively manage teams and convince my superiors of resources needed, or senior enough to be so strong in one area that the success in that area shone above the rest (which I actually was at the startup where I stayed for four years, but I found the strategy I used there for this particular need wasn’t working in this opportunity.)

In short, I’m back where I was 11 years ago, only with a lot more experience – on paper – and the new challenge of being a senior-level employee who would probably do best in a more mid-level or even junior-level role. While I might be open to take the pay cut (and it would be a significant, life altering pay cut) for a more junior position, no one would hire me. The sad truth is that even these junior level roles –  or at least the mid-level ones – want some specialty, some area where you bring something that no one else has on the team – some area where you an execute flawlessly without needing any outside help. Well, I’m not so sure I have one of those areas.

Even beyond that, I return to my INFP impulses, my failure to succeed in environments where I feel the company/organization does not align to my value set. I’m only hirable in B2B environments right now, and only a limited set of those companies. I’m interviewing for a few opportunities and all I can think is that I’m really just continuing on the wrong path. Maybe I could do better this time around — I have some learnings from the last year that are applicable. But I’m not looking at a long-term thing. I’m looking at a few months of working my ass off followed by a return to this very same place. It’s time for a change.

I’ve considered graduate school and theoretically am taking the GREs this month… which I’ve studied for a bit but not enough to merit a score that will get me into any worthwhile program. There are other schools which don’t require the GREs so I’m looking into them. I have about one year left or less until I want to be pregnant with my first child so that throws a whopping wrench into the equation. And ultimately I’ve realized I just need a job that aligns to my moral compass, one which I feel I’m doing something for the greater good of the world. Working in a B2B startup, or worse, huge company, won’t ever give me that.

I’m about to spend the weekend sending my resumes out to non-profits and “for good for profit” companies. These roles either pay very little and/or are highly competitive, but it’s worth a shot. I also think as soon as I’m laid off (likely first week of November) I’ll focus on my graduate school applications. The most anxiety-driven part of those is asking people for recommendations – that on its own is enough to keep me from applying to grad school!

At least I have some awareness of myself and what I don’t want to do. It’s taken eleven years to get to this point in my career. What’s crazy is thinking about how in 11 more years I’ll be about to turn 43. Where will my life and career take me? Who knows.