Traditionally, a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. They’re written, or told, like a journey, starting at point A, concluding at point B, with a compelling problem to be solved along the way. Something to be resolved, a lesson to be learned, a timeless takeaway for those who absorb it. I thought my original story had cycled through these requisite stages and I had moved beyond its end, into the next one. A new story. But here I am, three years later, realizing I had the framework wrong the whole time.
I lived in New York City for almost the entirety of my twenties. I took the subway. Made a few friends. Went to grad school. Got the job I wanted. Went back to school when I realized I wanted more. And then slowly over the course of my last two years there, I started to write about my experiences and share them with my friends. In an attempt at humor, I titled what became an impromptu series “This Millennial Hustle”. Some of you have been with me since then so you’ll remember. But essentially, it was a chronicle of my personal experience of struggling with wanting to do more and be more, learning new skills, growing emotionally, career shifting, and generally navigating the gruesome networking scene that is NYC. It was the good, the bad, and the vulnerable, and it finally ended with my unexpected choice to turn down the offer for the dream job I had been working towards, and instead remain in my original field, utilizing my newly acquired skills to bring a new approach to the work that has always mattered to me. I was proud of my choice. Life lesson learned. Chapter closed. End of story.
That was three years ago. And I’m back. Though I now know I never really left. I want to say that I’m here with the PS. The post script. The epilogue. The “where are they now”. But if I’m being honest, the real word for it is the relapse.
The truth is, that what I hadn’t quite figured out while I was writing that series those years ago, was that as I was writing it, I was experiencing severe burn out in real time. When I read those pieces back now, I see how much I was struggling to live my life, instead of just survive it. And when my opportunities for career growth topped out and my health fell apart, some part of me realized things needed to change. So I left the city, moved back to the only place that’s ever felt like home, and slowly, painstakingly, began to put myself back together. I turned down that big fancy job, with its big fancy pay check, because I was tired. And I finally realized that I didn’t have to be. So I started back at the beginning, doing work I care deeply about, slowly figuring out how to get myself back to baseline.
I went back to work for an organization I love. They were in need of some help moving to the next stage and that is my specialty. When I took the job, we made some hard choices and some serious promises. Upping the game was only going to be possible if we looked long and hard at our habits and made some big changes to ensure a healthier experience all around, for all of us. We promised that if we came up against old patterns and habits that we would call ourselves out and make new choices, create new patterns. We meant it. And we did it.
Then a global pandemic hit. And as horrific as that has been for the world, both on a very personal and very global level, one strange outcome was that it gave us time to plan, to prepare, to actually make changes. I started to build a life for myself outside of work. I began to have an identity that wasn’t rooted in my accomplishments, but in my person. I was more present for friends and loved ones. I had hobbies for the first time in my life. I learned how to work out to be strong and healthy and not just as a way to channel stress and frustration. I started to heal. I started to reverse the burn out. And we stuck to the plan, every time it felt like we came up against an old habit or pattern, we worked it through. Until now.
It’s hard to explain exactly how and when it happened, but in the last few months the world shifted back to an eerily similar version of the old normal very quickly. And much to my dismay, my life has begun to look more and more like it had back in the burn out days. Work loads tripled. We are at a higher level of operational capacity than we had been pre-covid. I find myself saying things like “Once this is over things will feel better”, but it’s never over, and it doesn’t feel better. I am once again on the road to burn out. And that realization, is devastating.
The truth is, this is the first time since I made my choices about change, that I’m really facing old patterns and habits. The real old patterns and habits. And though I’m actively trying to do things differently, I’m stumped. That’s the thing about patterns. We fall into them because we don’t know what else to do. And now that I want to disrupt them and do things differently, I don’t know how. This time I feel stuck. And that is hard for me.
In the past, I would wait to share one of these pieces until I felt like I had a neat ending to round it out. If it didn’t feel like there had been a resolution or a conclusion, I would wait until there was one before writing about it. But this time I’m not waiting for an end. This time I’m writing a story that only has a middle. And I’m in the middle of it.
Ironically, the very first Medium piece I ever wrote, before I became a Hustling Millennial, was called The Title of My Ted Talk. It was about the importance of acknowledging what I called the montage moments in our lives. Because they make up most of our lives, and the most important parts of our lives. The hard work and hard times that we tend to gloss over when tell the stories of our accomplishments. You can go read it for more clarity. In it, I said that I don’t want to tell my story that way. I want to live in my montage moment, as joyous and painful as it all may be. So here I am. Honoring the girl who wrote that, yes, as painful as it is. I am writing about my middle.
Relapse is a part of rehab. And I am still in burn out rehab. I feel so frustrated with myself that I am back in this place. Teetering precariously on the edge of burn out once again, despite my very best efforts. It’s hard not to feel like I have failed myself, and the people who are counting on me. I got hit with a hard time and I lost myself in it, exactly what I promised myself I wouldn’t do. And I don’t entirely know what happens from here.
I just know that I’m not ready to give up. I know that the choices I make now are the ones that will really matter. These are the choices that will be the most real. These are the choices that actually put into practice what I’ve set as my values around my work and my life. This is when I get to do the real work of applying what I’ve learned. I’ve spent these last three years building back a life that I want to hold on to, and I’m going to fight for it. It may take a few tries to get it right, but life is about iteration. I don’t know yet how I will disrupt the old patterns and set us on a different course. I don’t know yet what I will replace the old habits with. But I know that I will keep trying. This is still the work that matters. And I’m still knee deep in it.
I imagine one day I will look back at this time and recognize it as a season in my life that eventually led to something. I hope that something will be meaningful and joyous. But if I’m going to have any chance at getting to that far off, future moment of nostalgic reflection, I’ve gotta live through this present moment of fear and exhaustion and growth. I’m going to give it my best shot. I know I’ll learn from whatever unfolds. I already know I have a very different set of skills and coping mechanisms. I have people who care about me, who are in this with me. Still, the fear of failure is real. The fear of losing myself again is real. But the fear of not trying, of not growing, is also real.
My story never really ended, I’m still very much in the middle. But it turns out, that’s where the story happens. And that’s ok. Like they say, it all works out in the end, and if it’s not working out quite yet, then it’s not the end ☺
PS: It’s okay to not be okay. If you’re feeling rough, please talk to someone who can help. You are important and loved, and there are people who want to show up for you. We’re in this together.