Tell the Voice of Doubt to “F*ck Off”…And Other Career Advice
I’m going to level with you right now: my career is at a low point and a lull. A lull I never thought I’d be at after years of hard work, hustling more than a lot of people around me, and going after my “dreams.” This lull also happens to be the same year where I’ve been featured with two major networks, spoke at SXSW and poured myself into my writing, and was feeling I was going to be on a (somewhat) steady climb.
What are my dreams? They keep shifting. I left my job at big PR firm at the tail end of February to focus on shifting my career. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure exactly what this new path was going to look like. I knew I wanted to be writing as much as possible, potentially doing comms at a media company, and doing advocacy work for the disabled. In short, I wanted to be doing work that would impact, educate and help people.
From there, it has continued to morph. I love writing and had tried to convince myself I wanted to do studied, hard journalism but I think what I’m best at is lifestyle pieces and essays. I thought I wanted to do traditional advocacy work but what I really want is to help adolescents and young adults with disabilities and to educate the greater public on the normalcy of disability.
At all costs, I’m trying to avoid going back to a PR firm while still keeping afloat financially, busy, and bringing in new work. I’ve turned down several PR firm opportunities, holding out for what I really want.
I hit my low point a couple weeks ago. You know the feeling-when you have a total Arrested Development moment: I’ve made a huge mistake.
When I first left work, my social calendar and prospects for things were insanely busy and I was so excited. I was applying for cool writing fellowships, had happy hours all the time, networking, and was in some respects at the top of my game, especially after SXSW. I naively thought this was going to last and I was the happiest I had ever been.
Then July hit.
The work-related happy hours stopped. I hadn’t gotten a single interview for a full time writing gig, and hadn’t been published or booked a new speaking gig in two months. I hit a wall with where to turn to continue advocacy, and every day I was spinning my wheels, literally and figuratively.
I started to get into a funk, obsessively redoing my resume and checking in with contacts to see if new writing positions had opened up. I’d spend all day and into the late evenings looking for writing jobs and trying to write something that would make an editor stop in their tracks.
Then the self doubt and insecurity hit. Was I a joke? A failure? Or worse, a fraud? Was I an embarrassment to my friends, boyfriend and family? I was afraid for a moment that all signs pointed to yes.
My attitude changed, as my typical go-with-the-flow, optimistic personality quickly shifted and I became needlessly and unfairly snippy and insecure with my (now ex) boyfriend. I became increasingly anxious, agitated and felt like I was lagging behind successful writers who had started years before me. I doubted my dreams and even stopped referring to myself as a freelance writer, because I felt like it was a lie. And I could feel in my bones that my boyfriend was starting to lose confidence in me, too, as he lied to his mom what I did for a living, which only furthered my already existent fears.
I tried to act like everything was still great, not wanting to admit that I was failing at something I had gone after with gumption and my whole heart.
I wanted more than anything to be back working, being paid to write but feeling like maybe I wasn’t ready.
In the beginning of August after one of the worst weeks in I don’t know how long, I reached out to an editor at HuffPo that I had previously provided commentary to. I went out on a limb and asked him if we could have a phone call to pick his brain. I asked him if I had enough experience, what I should be doing differently and how to be as successful as he is.
He told me, “ya hear that voice in your head telling you that you’re not ready? Tell that voice to fuck off.”
It was pretty simple but it was just that and unbelievably helpful. My experience? I had put in the years of work. My ideas? They’re different and provide a unique perspective. My writing abilities? Also already there, he said.
What’s missing? My audacity to say, “I’m just as good as anyone else, if not, better.”
I’m always afraid to have unabashed confidence, in part because I’m drawn to people who are humble and have a quiet confidence. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance-one that I’m still trying to navigate every day because I know I have a lot to learn.
But the thing that this editor drilled in my head, is there was no reason for me, or anyone else to doubt my abilities or question the success I have already achieved.
This seemingly simple piece of advice has completely overhauled my view of things.
Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Especially with creative types, success doesn’t happen overnight and a good friend reminded me recently that there are extreme highs and lows when you’re doing creative work. Most of the “overnight successes” you see are typically years of failures that got some lucky breaks or were in the right place at the right time.
My best friend put it perfectly: “If an artist hasn’t sold a painting in a while, are they any less of an artist? Of course not. And being a writer is no different.”
These things take time and patience is key. It could, and probably will, be years before my writing career gets to what my goals are. I may never get the book deal I’m dying for, or the job at NBC I’ve been trying to get for four years, or I may not even get Enterprise to change its policies of renting sports cars to disabled drivers (seriously, this is a current battle). Or maybe it’ll take three years longer than I anticipate.
And that’s ok.
Work Should Not Define You
I know so many people, myself included, who directly tie their self-worth to how their career is going. It’s completely normal however totally unhealthy when it’s done to the extreme. They make a huge mistake at work and it ruins their week and attitude towards everyone for days. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there.
But think about this: do you judge your loved ones based on how they’re doing at work or how their career is going? Do you get embarrassed by them because their work isn’t exciting or exactly where it “should be”? Chances are, no. And most frequently, you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t be judging your own value on your career either.
My personal advice, that I’m learning time and time again: look at who you are outside of work. Is that person — your values, how you treat people, your hobbies, your accomplishments etc., things that you would be proud of? If the answer is yes, then a career low should not be a major blow to your self esteem. And a bonus question: is what you’re trying to do with your career something that you’re proud of? If yes, then continue on with your head held high, no matter how many times you’ve been ghosted by recruiters.
Keep things in perspective. Even though work is a big part of life, work isn’t life and shouldn’t be a defining aspect of a person.
Lean on Friends and Mentors
Literally everyone I know who has had more than one job post-college has been through this and had these feelings. Talk to your friends about the process of having career hiccups. Ask someone to go to spin class with you, or go to coffee and avoid the topic of work for a while.
One of the things that has helped me most is my mentor, Jerry. Everyone should have a mentor they trust, not necessarily in their field. Jerry is one of the most successful men I know, and is a constant source of guidance and wisdom for me. I could listen to him talk for hours and every drop of advice he gives, or any story about when things went wrong, provides a sigh of relief.
The feelings of irritability and insecurity are normal, and you do not need to gloss over them to try to please others. Be honest with any career frustrations or doubts you’re having about yourself. It’s hard but you’ll be better for it and the ability to be vulnerable is a sign of inner strength.
Your friends who are worth it will stick to you like glue during your moments of doubt, will cheer you on, and know you well enough to hold you closer when you stop acting like yourself or push them away.
Jon Stewart was unsuccessful for YEARS before The Daily Show, and Tracy Stewart was there the entire time, beaming with pride, even when Stewart didn’t believe in himself.
If they’re not there during your failures, they don’t deserve to celebrate with you during your triumphs. Love is not conditional. My cousin Pam always says that.
Celebrate the “Little” Wins
When you get enough little wins, they start to add up to big wins. I haven’t gotten the job I want yet and the one job I was really excited about fell through, but I’ve started interviewing for two jobs that I would consider “dream” jobs. Will I get them? Who the eff knows, but the fact I got interviews, I’m counting as a win. And the interview process itself is giving me inspiration for new articles.
I haven’t booked anymore talks that are as big as SXSW, but I have three upcoming speaking events at universities, which is slowly turning into an entire campus tour.
For now these wins are small but hopefully they’ll morph into something bigger.
Become OK With Not Knowing
One of the most scary parts of this time is not knowing what’s going to happen. While most things worth having are work, they can’t be forced. It’s more important to try your hardest, use resources wisely, be patient and continue to say yes to new experiences. I’m not really a believer in Jesus, or the notion that he can “take the wheel” as Carrie Underwood would say, but in this case, the metaphor kinda fits.
When I started a new career path 8 years ago, I couldn’t imagine being here in New York or working on advocacy at all, but it’s set me up for where I’m (hopefully) going next. It’s hard to relinquish control but it’s also liberating.
At the end of the day, the only people who are confident and believe in themselves 100% of the time, most frequently, are assholes. (Sorry, not sorry, Trump, Trump Jr. etc.) You’re going to have those moments when you ask yourself if you are capable of what you’re trying to do with yourself. And when you have that little voice saying that you’re not good enough to achieve your career goals?
Tell that voice to fuck off.