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.