Ever been on a stalled train? It creeps up a few feet at a time, eventually getting to the next stop. You then have the opportunity to switch to another train. You race across the platform, hop on board, and then… the train you left leaves full speed ahead and you’re now on another, different stalled train.
You took control. You made a change. And you are worse for it.
So many of us want to feel like we have control. We change trains in this situation. Or we change lanes while we’re driving; we go to what seems like the shortest shopping lane at Target.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these choices. Personally I default towards action and change—I do it a lot professionally and have done it personally as well. In a recent InVision Blog post, one of my recommendations was to determine whether it’s your career that needs changing, or something else.
Let me tell you a story.
Feeling like a failure
It was October 2012 and I was living with my parents in Naples, Florida. My mom was recovering from breast cancer (she has thankfully been in remission ever since) and their house was a month away from being foreclosed on. I was jobless with limited prospects, my marriage had recently ended, and I just got over adult chicken pox.
This wasn’t a great time in my life.
There were tons of job rejections, countless lonely days, and some not-so-great OKCupid dates. I was, in all classifications, a failure. And I knew it. I had lost control of my life and I was depressed and steeped in my own failure.
“Failure is a noun, but it isn’t you. Failure isn’t a person.”
Through all of it, I thought if only I can get that right job, I’d get my life on track. And then it seemingly happened: I got that “right” job, I moved back to NYC, got a great apartment, threw an awesome housewarming party, started dating someone. And within months I was out of a job and single.
I tried another career, drank heavily, and was in and out of relationships. I negated my drinking by running long distances, sometimes crying while I ran. I hadn’t realized that it was my emotional well-being that needed to be cared for more than my career.
Eventually, I got to a place where things got better personally. I did some extended travel, found a wonderful partner, and after one more career change, I found a role that has given me the opportunity to write these words to you now.
Don’t avoid the real problem
Will a new job make you happy, or do you need something else? I’ve found that almost every single job I’ve had in my life is great for the first 90 days. I embraced this when I led a big team for the first time, made more money for the first time, and worked from home for the first time. But after 90 days I always wanted more. All jobs eventually become mundane to some degree.
From athletes to pop stars, more people feel empowered to discuss their mental health and all the issues with which they grapple. I’m heartened when I read these stories, seeing similarities with my own issues.
“Will a new job actually make you happy, or do you need something else?”
At the same time, people continue to pursue happiness through other “fixes.” They do it by drinking and going out, which can sometimes translate to ignoring reality. Others stay in bed and don’t leave their house, fearing that any interaction will expose their realities to others. Some just seek a better job.
Find someone to talk to
I’m very privileged in that I can see a therapist every week. There are a litany of things I work through: my relationship, my family, next career steps, my own personal inadequacies. I can’t emphasize enough for you to find someone who you can truly open up to—a therapist, life coach, mentor, or a close friend.
I still have down moments—none of this is a cure-all. Caring for good mental health isn’t like cutting carbs to lose weight. It is a lifelong process. Winning is two steps forward, one step back. Surviving, finding humanity and beauty in the world, and eventually finding yourself. I write this to not only tell you, but to tell myself.
Yes, talking to someone is taking action. But going into a room and talking to someone isn’t going to change your life or solve any of your problems. Talking to someone can lead you to identify problems and get concrete advice on how you can manage them. But once you leave that room, it’s for you to manage.
This is where change is for the better. It isn’t that you change your job, leave your spouse, or move to a remote island (though those might be part of the process). Change may mean making your job better through a different approach and mindset, connecting with your spouse with real empathy and love, or staying in a community and building stronger ties. You’re in the same “place,” but you’ve changed.
Live in the now
What does that mean to live your best life? Maybe it’s when we see one our friends traveling to amazing places; or colleagues who are killin’ it at work; a family member playing with their new addition (human or animal); or a person embracing their identity. Or whatever Beyonce is doing right now.
Living your best life doesn’t have to only be something social media worthy. It can simply be whatever brings you joy.
One of the most difficult things for me to do is live in this moment… right… now. As I type these words with multiple tabs open, hoping that I won’t be judged for sharing too much and hoping more that some of the stuff I’ve spilled on this page adds value to someone.
There is so much in your future and in your past. Regret is about living in the past. Anxiety comes from living in the future. I’m a perpetrator of both, as you may be. But lasting change comes from embracing each day and moment. Yes, plan for the future and do what you can to not relive the regrets of the past, but live in the now.
“Living your best life doesn’t have to only be something social media worthy.”
Failure isn’t a person
In tech we talk about “failing faster and often.” Sometimes the “failure” label becomes attributed to a person. Sometimes from others, and sometimes from yourself. Failure is a noun, but it isn’t you. Failure isn’t a person.
We fall, we rise, we fail, and we succeed. This happens, but these terms are determinations in a life where nothing is ever truly constant, but a series of twists and turns as part of a complete journey.
You are not your job. You are not your failures no more than you are your successes. We have to think differently about when we don’t meet our own expectations, our familial expectations, or even societal expectations.
So go ahead and make those changes. And if you end up on a stalled train, don’t kick yourself too much. You will find your way.
Robert is a Design Facilitator and Researcher who has worked with startups, the public sector, digital agencies, and large corporations. He is currently building a design practice remotely in the healthcare space. Originally from New York City and now lives on the west side of Los Angeles.