Two years ago today I was lucky enough to be visiting my amazing sister Sandy in Hawaii for the first time. I was also incredibly miserable and depressed, which was why I decided to cash in all my vacation time two weeks before to take the trip.
I was so unhappy. I needed a break from my life and my job. I was confused on how a career that I had worked so hard for had suddenly become something I dreaded to go to every day. I wasn't ready to admit that I didn't like it anymore, and this trip was only the beginning of figuring it out.
Depression isn't something that hits you like a wall most of the time. There are of course instances when it can happen that way, such as a death or a sudden injury. But most of the time, it sneaks up on you and invades your body before you know what is happening. You wake up and realize you don't do any of the things you used to like to do. For me, I found it had been a long time since I had done normal things like cooking, cleaning, or even going to the movies with my husband. I would go home from work and immediately get in bed because that was my safe space. The house was a mess, which added to my depression, and my husband tried his best to keep up but also worked many hours so it was a losing battle.
When I went to Hawaii it was meant to try and clear my head. To try to figure out what I wanted. I am grateful that I had the means and time to do so, but trying to figure out your life in a week is a pretty big challenge.
Spoiler alert: I didn't figure it out.
Essentially, I was trying to decide if I should quit my job. Interestingly enough, I thought I was in my dream graphic design job. I had an awesome boss that was almost always on my page and always on my side, a product I really believed in that was in a super exciting industry (music and entertainment). I was designing interfaces for a cutting edge app ahead of its time. I made artwork for album covers, worked with big-time music producers, made set dressing pieces for the show we were producing. Unfortunately, we were in that point as a startup that is usually the tipping point for a business - make it or break it. We were waiting on the "big deal". And with the waiting part, there was some unrest. And we had recently upstaffed, so we had a bunch of employees who didn't have a lot to do. So people do what they do when they're bored, which is nitpick.
Don't get me wrong, I did it too. But I was one of the original employees and it frustrated me when people were disparaging about the company and what we were doing.
It got to a point that I hated going in to work. I didn't have enough to do, other employees were catty and talking behind other's backs all the time, and I was slowly realizing I was no longer enjoying the work even when I had it.
App design, graphic design, web design, although inherently creative, in industry are deceptively so. For every creative breakthrough you have, there are 100 other moments of just doing what people ask. Boring ads, logos, and business cards. Instances of "design by committee" where people don't value your time or expertise are all too common.
It's also an agonizing career path as a woman. I was overlooked for raises and promotions for my entire work history, yet always took on more and more work. Twice in my career I presented a major redesign idea and was told it wasn't right for the company, while a less experienced male coworker who presented something basic and similar to what we already had was applauded. And both times within 6 months we somehow ended up with something almost exactly like my original design, but credited to the male designer.
I was told my work was too feminine when it was obviously not. I was told that although I was doing all the work of a marketing director I couldn't have that title because I was too young. I was told time and time again that there was nowhere for me to move up. During all that time I took on more and more responsibility.
All these things are issues women deal with in their careers every day. And sometimes it's really worth it to keep fighting the good fight. But sometimes it isn't. And for me, it wasn't worth it anymore. Two years ago in Hawaii I hadn't figured that out yet.
And if you've been following me for a while you'll know that it took me 6 more months to really figure out what I even thought I wanted. I didn't know. All I knew is that what I was doing wasn't it then. It was a devastating position to be in.
Hawaii is really a beautiful and incredible place. If you get the opportunity to have a mid-life crisis there, I recommend it. Although, mine was a quarter-life crisis because obviously I am going to live to be 120.
When I came back to the real world, I decided to give myself until May 31 at my job. I just wasn't ready to let got yet. When I was separated from the situation, I realized I really cared about the company and its success. I didn't have a plan, but I had to give myself some sort of timeline instead of jumping ship.
People applaud me for following my dreams now and going back to school. But, in all honesty, even a year ago I didn't have a plan yet. I had applied for fashion school but hadn't gotten in (I got my acceptance letter in April). A year before that, I hadn't even applied for the San Diego Comic Con fashion show yet. New York and FIT weren't on my radar at all. I hadn't met any of my amazing Phamaly friends yet. I wasn't sewing all that much yet. I had no idea what kind of opportunities were waiting for me.
What I'm trying to point out here is that sometimes things aren't working in your life and the hardest thing is to just admit THAT to yourself. Figuring out how to change can be even more of an enigma. The best thing you can do is follow the things that make you happy. Reach out to people. Talk through it. Stop doing things that make you unhappy. Cut out negative people. Leave negative environments. Sometimes the right thing is staring you in the face. That is what happened to me with fashion. I didn't even recognize it as a possible career, it was just something I always did. I didn't even have a sense if I had any talent for it, but it didn't matter because it made me happy. And that is where I started.
We all have to start somewhere. Sometimes you feel like you're at the bottom. Maybe you are! But the best part of being there is that you have so many ways to go upward. I have so many friends who are here right now (you know who you are). If I have learned anything in life, especially since that Hawaii trip, it's that staying in the same rut is not going to help you.
Embrace change. Grieve if you need to, but keep moving forward. Keep embracing the things that make you happy. And remember, those people close to you, the ones who really matter, will always believe in you.