Twelve 20-somethings chronicle their lives for WBUR. Learn more.
As I sit down to write this, it’s a gorgeous fall day. The sun is shining and I am at a bustling café in Somerville. While I type away, drinking in and relishing every moment of this beautiful, effortless Sunday afternoon, I feel poised and confident in the day and in the future.
People stream in and swirl around me, some stopping to sit at the surrounding tables, others just passing through as they stroll in and out of the neighboring shops. It’s loud and the clamoring of coffee mugs and mumbled conversations is sweet background music to propel my afternoon writing session.
I am not distracted by the commotion around me, rather appreciating and embracing the ever-changing soundtrack and faces that stream in and out.
Five minutes have gone by, but these precious few moments encapsulate so much of my journey. They encapsulate the cliff I fell off when life as I knew it came crashing down around me — shattering my self-esteem. These moments encapsulate the months of tears, of feeling like a failure; the months of being lost, ashamed, and embarrassed that followed getting sick, quitting my job, and moving from the only place that I truly felt was home.
These moments also encapsulate how far I have come. They encapsulate the resilience of the human spirit. That after months of agonizing self-work, a deep look inward and soul searching, I have begun the process of moving forward, rebuilding my identity and my self-esteem.
For much of my twenties, my self-esteem and identity were built around my career success. I was a twenty-something working in politics and that’s why I mattered in the world. Difficult family relationships early in my adolescence taught me that people can be unreliable and you cannot always rely on them for support. These relationships made me independent and I swore I would build a life where I would not have to rely on others.
My strategy was to shut the outside world off and focus completely on my career. I thought if I was successful in my career it wouldn’t matter that I didn’t have the support from some of the people that I cared about the most.
I immersed myself in my work. Work was my life and before I knew it I became my work. I routinely worked twelve-hour days, six or seven days a week — to ensure that I was completing each project perfectly and to manage a never-ending workload with often-unrealistic deadlines. As much as I would complain about working late and weekends, deep down I was okay with it because it meant I was doing something important. I mattered.
The more I worked the more I lost who I was.
The only people I had time for and made time for were those involved in politics. I lost touch with family and friends who were outside of the political world. The only thing I did was work. I remember vividly going to a work conference a few years ago and we were asked to introduce ourselves and share one of our hobbies. My heart stopped. I panicked as I racked my brain to come up with an answer. I eventually came up with yoga, which was much less a hobby at that point but rather something I did for survival to de-stress.
The truth was, I didn’t really have any hobbies. Hobbies were not important to me. Who needed hobbies when you have a successful career? Work was my identity.
When it became clear that my health status would no longer allow me to have a career in politics, I felt like the earth had just been pulled out from underneath me. Who was I without my work? I was not close with my family at the time and didn’t always make the time I should have for my friends. I felt alone. It felt like I was free falling in space, alone, and no clue when I would hit the bottom.
After months filled with thoughts of failure, depression, and pure embarrassment because I had no clue what I was going to do next for a career, I eventually did hit bottom. My bottom came when I actually started to feel better physically and realized I was never going to move on with my life if I was stuck wallowing in the past and lamenting the life that had been handed me. I needed to start figuring out what made me happy, what I enjoyed from my past career, and how I could combine those things into a new start.
Starting to think of my future gave me a new lease on life. Once I started to move forward, my self-esteem started to come back. Is my current career situation perfect? Far from it. I am starting over and at the bottom. I still have years of hard work in my new career field of health and wellness until I get to a place where I will be successful again but, after months of therapy and self-work, I have gained the confidence to know that in time I will eventually get there again. I just need to be patient.
In the meantime and more importantly, I have realized that my identity is built on something much more significant than my career. My identity is built on my relationships with my family, friends, the people I care about, and the precious moments I now get to share with them. My career is no longer my identity. The amazing people I now have in my life that help me grow and become a better person each day are helping to redefine who I am.
My journey has brought me to these few fleeting peaceful moments today inside this bustling Somerville café. They have brought me to a place where I can sit in a public space confidently writing, detailing my journey without second guessing my decisions, without wishing things were different, and without tears streaming down my face. My journey has brought me to a place where I can sit down and truly appreciate the sun streaming in.
Figuring out how to be okay in the midst of turmoil and embrace the changes that life had in store for me was one of the hardest life lessons I have learned, but one that is now deeply ingrained in my character, in my identity, and one that I would not change for anything.