What Burn Out Can Teach You About Yourself

As I wrapped up my last few days of work for a freelance gig, I could feel the pressure in my chest surmounting. Even though my time with this client was coming to an end, I still felt stressed and overwhelmed. Every extra task asked of me in my last few days left me feeling jaded, taken advantage of and slightly bitter.

How had I gotten to this point? When did this working relationship go sour? Did I miss the red flags? Why had I stayed in a bad working relationship?

The first thought that comes to mind is three words: my bank account. Yet, somehow the payment and compensation I was making didn’t make up for the stress the position had caused during my time there.

There had been a number of red flags throughout my time with this client, poor communication, untimely communication, aggressive communication, unprofessional communication. (So clearly a lot of communication issues.) Also as the breadth and depth of my job duties expanded, my pay did not. I was making a meager hourly rate based on my experience level and compared to many freelancers in my state and industry.

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Yet and still, I chose to ignore the red flags and keep keeping on. I chose to fight the good fight as they say in church, but the good fight left me feeling burnt out by the end of the job.

When friends asked how much I made for the amount and type of work I was doing, the common response was: “You make that for all that? You are not being paid enough for your services.”

You see, at the end of the day, a service is exactly what I was providing. I realized I needed to value the services and work I provide. Otherwise, the professional world will not either.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody): “In work, in love and in friendship, you set the bar for how you will be treated.”

Here’s what I have learned since the end of this work relationship: I will only get what I ask for. If I don’t ask for better pay, then, certainly no one is going to just give it to me. My innate response of feeling weary and worn at requests to do more work from this client surprised me as I am usually the type of worker who goes above and beyond in her job. I now understand the direct correlation between valuing your craft and the ability to produce high-quality work. If my work is not valued, eventually it will be hard for me to produce it.

Just as important as pay, I learned that the communication between this client and myself was not normal nor healthy. The unprofessional emails and texts left me feeling frustrated and disrespected. You never want to not feel valued by a person or company you are working for. Respect is key in any working relationship.

This wisdom does not only apply to career. How similar are friendships and dating relationships? You get what you ask for. People will treat you how you allow them to. If you never learn to set boundaries, one day you’ll wake up wondering how you got here, underpaid, over worked, taken for granted, ignored and not valued.

Burn out is real- in career, relationships and friendships. Maybe the best way of avoiding it is knowing your worth from the beginning. Perhaps, setting boundaries and requiring a certain level of respect is as much for you as it is for the people around you.

Stevie

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The Imperfection and Beauty in Adventure

I am a newly, self-diagnosed perfectionist. If wanting my i’s dotted and t’s crossed is wrong, then I don’t know that I want to be right.

Being a perfectionist and travel enthusiast is a unique pairing. When you travel a ton, you know imperfection as a way of life. Nothing will ever go exactly right all the time. I was painstakingly made aware of this fact earlier this week when my flight from Minneapolis to New York was cancelled due to a massive winter storm pounding down on the Twin Cities.

I had a hectic travel schedule set for the day. A afternoon flight from Minneapolis with a layover in Charlotte. Then, another flight to NYC’s La Guardia airport. Next, I’d either take an Uber (the more expensive, easy option) or take the subway (the less expensive but longer, harder option– I had three bags to carry.) I’d arrive at the Port Authority Bus station to take a 12-hour (yes 12- hour) Greyhound bus ride from New York to Burlington, Vermont. There, I’d be staying with a friend for two weeks before heading to Italy for a three-month volunteer stint.

It was already an advantageous trip. Then, snow happened, and it completely threw my plans for a loop. No one can halt Mother Nature.

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The morning after the storm hit Minnesota

Yet and still, my situation actually ended up working out for the better. I was able to rebook for a flight the next day straight from Minneapolis to Burlington (with no crazy bus ride from NYC.) I retrieved my checked bags within an hour, and I stayed with a super generous friend for the night in St. Paul. (Thanks Michelle!)

Things ended up working out. Dare I say it, things turned out for the better.

When I look back over the last month since I’ve been on this crazy adventure, it’s been a whirlwind. I moved out of my apartment in Los Angeles exactly a month and a week ago, stayed with friends for two weeks in Los Angeles, stayed with another friend for two weeks in Minneapolis, and I am now finishing up my last few weeks in the states in Vermont/New York before leaving the country.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody): “Take any situation, curve ball or plot twist you encounter and have the courage and perspective to call it good.”

There have been so many ups and downs in the past month and a half. There was the stress of cleaning and moving out of my apartment. There was the ant attack of my laptop bag at my friend’s North Hollywood condo. The flooding of the kitchen counter at the same apartment. Putting my two weeks in for a freelance client. The disagreement with a friend. Finding out my security deposit return for my old apartment had been mailed to the wrong address. Missing my connecting flight and bus.

It’s been a lot, but when I take time to get some perspective, all in all, it hasn’t been too awful. It’s been imperfect but not unbearable. If there’s anything travel has taught me is life and all that it entails (people included) will never be perfect. The trick is being able to look at a situation, a curve ball or a plot twist and to find the perspective and foresight to call it good. In the midst of what seems awful, find the positive thing in that imperfection.

As far as the uncertainty and adventure of travel, I have learned there’s no point in worrying about tomorrow. Today has enough cares (flights to rebook) of its own. Take it one step at a time, find the beauty in the imperfection and get some perspective. Just because life isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it isn’t still worthwhile.

-Stephkt

Lessons in Adulting: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

As I am typing this, I am sitting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. The weather forecast says 100 percent chance of snow, and boy, was The Weather Channel right. Looking across the airport monitors, it reads “CANCELLED” in big bold, red letters numerous times. Luckily, my flight is not cancelled. It’s just delayed 30 minutes right now.

Today, marks the next chapter of a new adventure. I am headed to Italy for three months to teach English. (Che magnifico!) Before then, I am traveling east from Los Angeles throughout the country. ( I miss the City of Angeles already, especially the sun. Oh, the bright, beautiful, relentless sun.) I’ve been in the Twin Cities for a few weeks visiting a friend, and next, I’m off to NYC/Vermont to see friends there.

Today’s travels are hectic. The schedule looks like flying from Minneapolis, MN to Charlotte, NC, and then, I have a connecting flight from Charlotte to NYC. (Fingers crossed that the snow doesn’t make me miss my connecting flight. I’ve already had to be rebooked once.) Once I arrive at La Guardia airport, I am off to Vermont via bus. So like I said….a lot.

I am nervous, excited, eager and sleep-deprived. (I woke up at midnight, then 2:00 a.m., then 3:00, 4:30, 4:45 and at this point I just stayed up until my alarm went off at 5:15.) As I tossed and turned, wrestling with getting enough sleep last night, the day’s plans ran through my head as I figured out Ubers, planes, buses, subway rides, etc. Basically, I kind of, sort of freaked out a little.

Nervousness turned to worry. Worry turned to anxiety. Anxiety turned into nearly freaking out (which can show itself in a number of ways.)

Then, I took a breath. I remembered why I am doing this. Adventure. Opportunity. Experience. Fun. Change. Growth. I reminded myself that I am brave and that I am stronger and more capable than I often give myself credit. I told myself that I can do this. Basically, I gave myself an inner pep talk.

When it comes to life and career, I have a motto I live by. “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Whenever I dream of doing something, big or small, I repeat this phrase in my head. This is what I told myself when I went to New York City for the first time at 20 and took an internship at Time Inc. This is what I told myself when I moved to Los Angeles. This is what I told myself when I ran a half marathon last year.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody): “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

I think it is perfectly OK to feel fear. In fact, it’s natural. Like a point blank, non-negotiable, gonna happen, fact of life type of thing. Fear will come and go just like any emotion, but it’s up to each of us what we will choose to do in the face of fear. Will we let it conquer us and have the final say so? Or will we stare it in the eye, like a bully on the playground, and choose to get back up when it knocks us down?

So many of my friends and family think I am this brave, adventurous girl who isn’t afraid of anything. I’d hate to ever disparage this lofty idea of me, but I feel fear all the time. I just choose to not let it stop me. I never want to look back and live a life of what-ifs.

Here’s the thing, if you wait until it doesn’t feel scary, you’ll be waiting your whole life. So don’t wait. It might seem crazy to others looking on from the outside, but you will never regret actively pursuing your dreams in the face of fear. A life of passion is never something you regret.

I’ll leave you with a quote I overheard last week from the show Master of None (which by the way I have never watched), “Our time to do crazy shit is winding down.” So feel the fear and do it now. Living brightly, richly and passionately.

Adventure

-Stephkt

When I Was Almost the Girl Who Didn’t Go to Paris

Everyone has their guilty pleasure. For me, classic, early 2000’s MTV reality television is my jam. More specifically, Laguna Beach and The Hills have been my go-to’s since my early teens.

What can I say? It’s my “not so guilty” guilty pleasure. I have most of the seasons of The Hills on DVD, and I go through phases where I will randomly watch them. I am a huge Lauren Conrad fan. I still follow her fashion career today. (Girl-next-door types have to stick together.) I’m pretty sure watching The Hills for so long is subconsciously why I decided to move to Los Angeles in my 20s.

If you were ever a fan of the show, then you know there’s a crucial moment at the end of season 1, where our leading lady, Conrad, is offered a summer internship at Paris’ Teen Vogue office. She turns down the offer to instead spend the summer with her then on-again, off-again boyfriend from her home town, Jason Wahler. The two had big plans: a summer of love and a rented condo in Malibu.

In the second season, fans learn that Conrad and Wahler broke up before the summer’s end. When we see Conrad for the first time in the Los Angeles Teen Vogue office, she is with friend and fellow intern, Whitney Port, who ended up going to Paris for the summer instead (gotta love her!), and their boss, editor Lisa Love.

It is this next moment that is frozen in reality TV show history. Love’s words for Lauren echoed across the homes of MTV viewers nationwide. She looked straight at Lauren (who you can tell seems down) and said, “Lauren didn’t go to Paris. She’s going to always be known as the girl who didn’t go to Paris. Do you regret that decision?”

Ouch.

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It literally became one of the most quoted moments in The Hills history. Years later, ET Online released the backstory on Lauren’s decision not to go to Paris.

“We had a big disagreement, [creator] Adam DiVello and I, over Lauren’s decision not to go to Paris,” executive producer Liz Gateley tells ET. “I said, this is the perfect ending, because every girl makes this decision. She thinks she’s in love, and she’s going to spend the rest of her life with this person, and that was the relatable choice, and Adam was so upset!”

“He really wanted to try to convince her to go, and she was adamant that she was not going to pursue an internship in Paris,” Gateley continues.

“We tried to convince her, but at the end of the day, she wasn’t going,” Gateley recalls. “That was an authentic moment to that [theme of] coming of age. It’s like, who doesn’t look back and wish they had gone to Europe for the summer? Or taken that internship in D.C.? Or whatever it was, because they stayed behind for a boy or a girl. I mean, everybody does that. It was perfect.”

When I was 14 or 15 and I first watched this episode, I didn’t quite understand. She picked a guy over Paris? Say whaaat? While I love my girl Lauren, Love’s words hold a lot of truth. “She always going to be known at the girl who didn’t go to Paris.” (It kinda hurts my heart every time I type it.) Although Love was a tough, no-holds-barred type of woman, I really believe she was trying to impart a bit of wisdom in young Conrad’s ears. That is….to never put your dreams on hold for a guy.

Twenty Something Advice (for anyone): “Never put your dreams on hold for that guy, girl or relationship. If it’s meant to be, it’ll be.”

In Lauren’s defense, she was in her early twenties at the time she made this decision. Also, she eventually did get to go to Paris for Teen Vogue. Today, she is kicking butt in her fashion career and married with her first son. Overall, she definitely came out on the other side winning. Perhaps, this was something that she, and all of us, have to go through to learn from.

If we’re being completely honest, we have all had our “the girl who didn’t go to Paris” moments. I know I have. I have made many a dumb decision or two in my early and even mid-twenties for love or what I thought was love.

Recently, I made a huge, life-altering decision. To travel throughout the U.S. for a month before heading to Italy to teach English for three months. Exciting. Life-altering. Exhilarating. Nerve-wracking. Wildly beautiful and gloriously unknown. All of the above. Then, right before I left Los Angeles, I met a guy. Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong. He was great. Smart. Accomplished. Attractive. Funny. Physically fit. Cultured. Kinda dreamy. I was intrigued. My interest was sparked, and I wanted to get to know him more. Rarely does it seem like we find people who are both physically and mentally appealing? (Or maybe that’s just me?)

Any who, in my last day before leaving Los Angeles, I started to have these thoughts. Like why? Why now do I meet a guy I actually like? Will my chance be gone once I’m back? Will he find someone else?

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Then, I had to come back to reality. Yea, this guy might actually be great. The jury is out on that one. How much can you know after a few interactions? (He could easily still be a serial killer. It’s LA people.)

Yet, he could be the great guy he seems to be. So what? Does that mean my dreams and plans should be put on hold? Does that mean my life stops? Would it be possible for me to dream big, to dare, to chase after those dreams, to travel, to see the world and not settle? Would it be possible to have career and love? I think so.

I am a big believer in the saying, “If it’s meant to be, it’ll be.” (Gotta love that Bebe Rexha song with Florida Georgia Line….If it’s meant to be, it’ll be, it’ll be. Baby, just let it be.“) While I wasn’t going to cancel my travel plans for a guy, I was definitely bummed. Then, I reminded myself… if it’s meant to be.

If a guy or relationship isn’t there when you return or the person decides not to wait for you, well OK then. It just wasn’t the right one. Have the confidence to be OK with that. (Besides, in the history of our patriarchal culture how often do men leave and go off to war or to pursue a career or a dream only to leave women waiting. I think it’s high time we were OK with doing the same.)

I don’t want to ever not go to Paris, Italy or anywhere else I dream of or put my life on hold for a relationship. I am going to put my metaphorical high heels on, pack my bags, grab my passport and keep living. My wide-eyed, dreamer self believes I can have both love and life of passion and that the right one will compliment and not compromise my dreams.

Keep dreaming readers! And for goodness sake, go to Paris!

-Stephkt

Living a Life of Purpose Is About Hitting the Right Harmony

Fun fact: When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a singer. A happy mix of Whitney Houston meets Britney Spears. The soultry soul meets catchy pop. That was the dream.

For most of my life, music and the arts has always been there. Whether it was singing in the children’s choir at church, performing in musicals at school, dancing in my high school’s modern dance group or playing in the orchestra. Music is as much a part of me as the curly, kinky hair growing out of my head and the brown eyes staring back at me.

Despite my immense love of music, for me, it has always been a closeted thing. I sing to small children I nanny for to get them to stop crying. (Call me the baby whisper because it actually works.) I sing in the shower and on elevators (of course because those are the places where you get the best acoustics.) I am guilty of being a car performer down the 101 and the 405. (When people see me singing in the car, it’s never a source of embarrassment. It just means it’s time to go all out and give them a good show.) Karaoke? Oh, that’s my jam (no alcohol necessary).

I can count on my hand the number of times that I have sang solo on stage for an audience. It’s just not something I have ever done, sing for people. It’s kind of daunting because I love music so much. There’s almost the fear that doing it for others to see might take away the sweet, simple goodness of it.

That’s all changed since living in Los Angeles. One person, Jackie, who is the worship leader at my church, pointed out that I had a good voice, and she asked me to audition. All of the sudden, it was like a snow ball effect. More and more people started pointing out that I had a good voice. It became something I couldn’t hide nor did I want to. I love music. I love singing. Why shouldn’t I share that? Why am I so afraid?

So I decided to put my life motto to the test: feel the fear and do it anyway. I auditioned for my church’s music team and made it! I was so nervous on my audition. I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to hit a note or I’d miss the downbeat or not hit a harmony.

Jackie gave me the best advice to ease my nerves. She said, “Sing where you are at your strongest.” So simple but so good.

Twenty-Something Advice for Anybody: “Live of a life of passion. Sing from your strongest point, where it fits, where it feels right.”

As a kid, I always sang soprano. I remember my youth choir director telling us that altos were just lazy sopranos. (Truthfully, she just was short on sopranos and was trying to  fill the spots she needed with a little pressure.) Her words kind of stuck with me though. I’ve always thought sopranos sounded better. Stronger. Think Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. Then, there’s today’s pop princesses like Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and Christina Aguilera. I love a good soprano.

On my recent audition, I discovered the most freeing and revolutionary fact: I am an alto. (To be more exact, I am in the range of a first alto and second soprano.) In layman’s terms, I sound better when I sing the middle range notes, not the high ones.

Jackie told me to sing where I am the strongest and that I am definitely an alto. I cannot tell you how good it felt to be told this simple thing. For years, I’d been straining to hit all these high notes that were not in my range simply because I thought they sounded better, prettier. Trying to sing notes I wasn’t built for left me thinking maybe I wasn’t a great singer. I can sing, but I wasn’t singing in my range, in my sweet spot, in the area where I am most gifted.

This got me thinking about  how “singing from where you are strongest point” applies to adulthood and career. Oftentimes, we take jobs and go down career paths simply because of the paycheck or the impressive title. Like me straining to hit notes simply because I thought they sounded “prettier,” we often pursue jobs simply because they look good on paper. We take jobs for money instead of passion and then wonder why our proverbial vocal chords (our souls) are strained.

“We often pursue jobs simply because they look good on paper.”

Here’s what I am learning: Just because the girl next to be is a bomb soprano, hitting all the runs and the pretty high notes, doesn’t mean I need to be. I am at my best when I am in my sweet spot, when I am in my own lane. Plus, me and the girl next to me probably can bust out a sick harmony if I sing my part and not hers.

It’s the same in adulting. How many people do you know who simply took a career for the money but don’t actually enjoy it? Are you one of them? I have found when I am playing a part that I was never meant to play, it’s draining, but when I am using my skills, my talents, my passions, it flows naturally. It’s easy. It’s simple. It feels right. It’s never forced.

Lessons in adulting: Take the career path, job title, relationship or friendships in life that best suit you. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses. I think you will find a life of divine purpose and passion when you learn to run your race and use the gifts you’ve been uniquely given. No one can be a better you than you. Remember: When you are singing from where you are strongest, it’s beautiful. Nobody can sound quite like you.

-Stephkt

Lessons in Adulting: When You Know Better, You Do Better

I sat next to my best friend on her queen sized, pillow top bed, surrounded by a mass of pillows doing what best friends do best, heart to hearts.

Her words stuck.

“As painful as it was, losing that friendship wouldn’t have mattered if you hadn’t learned anything.”

We were rehashing the loss of one of my closest friendships. What had gone wrong. Mistakes made on both sides. The scars it had left. What I learned from it. How I was planning to let go and move on.

I had done the unthinkable. I had written an emotional note ending the friendship. Worse than that, I sent a text. A text saying I couldn’t be friends anymore. The emotional, disgruntled note came later. (A note, might I add, that was written while I was slightly tipsy. Something I highly warn against- drunken notes.)

In 2016, I was a hot mess in more ways than one. 2017 saw a lot of growth, a lot, and boy, was it painful but so good. I grew to be more confident in my talents and gifts. I came to get to know and actually like the woman I saw staring back at me in the mirror. I learned to say no, to set boundaries with other people and to make self-care a priority.

Twenty-Something Advice (for anyone): “When you know better, you do better.”

I am realizing that sometimes, in order to move higher, whether in relationships, friendships, career or love, you have to let go of some things, some bad habits, some old ways of thinking, some hurts, some insecurities. Letting go is the only way to move forward, to improve, to go higher.

My poor decision making has made some of my weaknesses rather apparent. Avoiding confrontation. Check. Writing break-up letters to friends instead of communicating. Check. Holding on to people and things past their expiration dates. Check.

The saying goes, “Old habits die hard,” meaning it is hard to stop doing things that one has been doing for a long time. While this bears much weight, I believe it is possible for old habits to die once you acknowledge that they no longer serve you.

One of my favorite sayings of all time I first heard from Maya Angelou. She said,”When you know better, you do better.”

I know better now. While I’ll never be perfect (and that’s perfectly OK), I know better than I once did. So I am going to do my darndest to apply that knowledge and be a better version of myself. Mark my words- I will never write an angry breakup letter to a friend again. (It kinda sucks for the other person, and it is just really unfair in terms of healthy communication.) I will be more brave in the face of conflict and confrontation and not shy away from it just because it’s hard.

In what ways in your career, relationships or friendships, can you apply the  knowledge you’ve attained through self-awareness? What habits can you let go to move higher? Here’s to moving forward in 2018 to better things!

-Stephkt