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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Lessons Learned 2 Years in LA: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

I have said it a million times, and I will say it again. Making it in Los Angeles is hard.

There’s the gas prices. The traffic. Rent. And the people, oh the people.

I joke that living in LA is like being in high school all over again. There are the super popular kids clad in their designer shades with their puppies in tow. (Just to give you a taste of my personality, growing up, I always thought the popular kids were stupid because they didn’t think for themselves. Not cute, boo boo. Not cute.) Short anecdote: Freshman year of high school, a girl who would go on to be the queen bee of the popular girls invited me into the clique, but I avoided them at lunch simply because I knew they disliked one of my middle school friends. (Even at 13, I wasn’t about that “follow the leader” life.)

Then, there’s the ultra artsy Los Angeles people who take weird to a whole new level. I thought I was weird, and then, I met people here. Let’s just say everything goes in the City of Angels. Nothing I see shocks me at this point. There will always be something in 10 minutes that will out-weird what just happened.

If you let it, Los Angeles will eat you up, spit you out and then eat you again. That is…. if you let it. It can also make you a stronger, and, dare I say it, better person. In my second year in my dream city, with every turn, it seems I have faced a new set of obstacles. There were some moments when things were so bad I simply had to laugh to keep from crying. My friend Jade and I became masters at the “laughing at your pain” mantra.

“Los Angeles will eat you up, spit you out and then eat you again. That is…. if you let it.”

There was the job lay-off at 26. The roommate remiss of caring for her dog  (i.e. a regularly pee- and poop-stained carpet. You’re welcome for that imagery.) There was the vandalized car window. The getting rear-ended by an uninsured driver at a red light that nearly totaled my car. The five hundred plus dollars spent to get my Jeep fixed in order to pass the California smog test, just to spend nearly the same amount to get my California tags and plates. (Yay, me!) Then, there was the hurdle of getting over the three-year friendlationship that I thought just might be “the one.” Oh, and just this week, there was the moment where I nearly flooded my friend’s kitchen (sorry, Jade) and had my things attacked by ants in the bedroom the next day. (Shower, please?)

Like I said, rough year. But with every rainy cloud, there was a silver lining. There was crossing the finish line of my first half marathon. (I literally could not feel my legs but have never felt more proud in my life.) There was the benefit concert that an old roommate, myself and few loyal friends teamed up to create. I stepped out of my comfort zone and played MC/hostess for the night, and we raised more than $1,000 for Syrian refugees.

There was getting to go back home to Michigan, Oklahoma and Georgia (yes, I have a lot of homes) to see family and friends and get so much quality time, hugs and kisses to fill my heart up. There was the starting my freelance journalism career (more like stumbling into it) that pressed me to be more confident than ever in my writing, editing and negotiating skills. There was stepping out of my comfort zone, auditioning for my church’s music team and making it!

There were also some laughs. (Well, actually lots of those.) There was the time I ran through a fountain on Hollywood Boulevard and ran into a huge sign in front of hundreds of people. There were the awkward dates that made for lots of witty banter with friends later on. (A Mercedes-Benz will not compensate for bad grammar folks.) There was the guy I met at a party who told me I look like someone who has money. (Apparently, I look like I make money moves.) There was reconnecting with my middle school crush and realizing I can do so much better. (His loss.)

With every turn of the page this year, there has seemed to be a hurdle. Clearly, I must be on to something good. As one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist says in her book Cold Tangerines, “Nothing good comes easily. You have to lose things you thought you loved, give up things you thought you needed. You have to get over yourself, beyond your past, out from under the weight of your future. The good stuff never comes when things are easy.”

“The good stuff never comes when things are easy.”

2017 has shown me that I am stronger, tougher and more resilient than I realized. There have been a number of times when I’ve told my friend Sam that I was quitting, packing up and moving back to Oklahoma. I never once meant it. You see, what I have learned through of all this adversity is that I am no quitter.

While I may get knocked down, I always, always get back up. Oftentimes, I have sold myself short, in friendship, in love, in career, but not anymore. If I want the best, if I want more, then I have to ask for it. No one will believe in me unless I do. LA has taught me that people will walk right over me until I say, “Enough.” Living here has taught me that a “no” isn’t a bad thing, but it just leads you to the right “yes.” It has taught me that rejection does not equate to failure but can be information to redirect you where you need to go.

If there’s any words of wisdom I can share to you as you wrap up your 2017 and start your 2018, I’d say this: Sometimes, you have to be your own best friend, your own cheerleader, your own advocate, your own defense, your own believer. If you’re going to bet on anyone, bet on yourself.

I’ve been backed in a corner a number of times this year, but I haven’t given up. And I’ll keep not giving up, dusting myself off, holding fast to hope while encouraging yours. Yet and still, I am hopeful, yet and still.

Happy New Years friends! And thank you to all my beautiful family and friends who made 2017 sweet.

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This post later appeared on Hello Giggles.

The Adventures of Unemployment

In my last post, I mentioned how the past four months of unemployment have been an adventure. The old adage rings in my ears, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It hasn’t been easy, but I am reminded to take each day as it comes and to continue putting one foot in front of the other.

I wanted to share with you some of the ups I have found in unemployment. Gasp! Dare, I say it. There is a lot of good that comes with life’s unexpected, seemingly terrible situations:

  1. I get to sleep until 9 o’clock.
    I cannot explain to you how magical this has been. I used to wake up between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. to workout before heading to work. On weekends, I would wake up between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. for church, to run errands or, to be completely honest, just out of habit. These days, I start my freelance work in the mornings between 9:30 and 10:00, and I workout at night. Since my desk is just in the next room from my bed, I can literally roll out of bed, make some coffee and get to work. It is a beautiful thing to get some extra Zzz’s.
  2. Afternoon coffee dates have become a reality.
    When I was working full-time, I remember friends asking if I could meet for lunch or an afternoon coffee. The answer was always a quick no. Distance, traffic and time kept me sanctioned to the area surrounding my job. I never left that area except for an hour at lunch. Nowadays, I can get a noon coffee or go for a 3 p.m. Chic-fil-A run with a friend. It’s such a great feeling to get up and go as I please.
  3. Travel is possible.
    At my previous job, we had unlimited time off, which was great, but anytime I asked off for a long weekend or for a wedding, I felt an endless amount of guilt. So much so, I usually would work while traveling. Nowadays, if I want to take a weekend trip to Portland, go home to see family in Michigan or go to a friend’s wedding in Texas, I can! I take my work with me, or I pause on taking freelance assignments. The luxury of flexibility is something not to be taken for granted.
  4. I have become more confident in my abilities.
    The freelance life is not for the faint of heart. Freelancing takes hustle, determination, grit and an entrepreneurial mind. If I am going to pay bills, then I have to write, period. There is no option. My ability to pitch stories, turn over copy in a timely manner and maintain working relationships has grown stronger.  I have grown exponentially as a writer, and I am more confident than ever in my skills. Through all the fears of unemployment, I have learned to believe in myself.
  5. My day-to-day is in my control.
    The coolest thing about working as a freelance journalist is that I set my hours. I come and go as I please. I determine how much work I take on and the type of work I get. It is up to me. I like being in control of what my days and weeks look like.
  6. I am free to use my time and energy on passion projects.
    Back in April, I ran my first half marathon, which has been a long time coming. I know if I was working full-time, I would have had less time to devote to it. Also, this month in June, a friend and I are hosting a benefit concert to raise money for Syrian refugees. Like many people, when I heard about the U.S. travel ban in March, I was angry. My friend and I wanted to do something. We put our heads together, asked some friends for help and Songs for Syria: A Benefit Concert was birthed. If you’d like to donate, check out our fundraising page here.
  7. I get to serve.
    Volunteering has been therapeutic for me. It has helped me get out of my own head and remember that there is a big world out there full of people. Since my lay-off, I have spent my time volunteering with kids and teenagers in L.A., and let me tell you. It has stretched me in a good way. The fourth Tuesday of each month, I have gotten to spend my days at in-school program where I help mentor high school girls by teaching them writing skills. Once a month on Saturdays, I read to elementary age kids in the LAUSD school district. On Sundays, I meet one-on-one with my mentee, and we work on writing exercises.

Life is all about perspective. I am so grateful for the new vantage point my time in unemployment has given me to learn about myself and to grow.

-Stephkt

Plan B Isn’t an Option

My life post lay-off has been a hustle. It has been nothing like the steady, consistent work flow of my previous 9 to 5 life. It has been unpredictable, uncertain and unsteady at times, but it most certainly has been an adventure.

When I got laid off,  I told myself I would look for jobs for a month, enjoy the free time and reevaluate my pocket book and my job status then. Well, a month came and went, February was fading into March, and I still didn’t have a job. Then, another month went by and April was knocking at the door. What did I do? I had a breakdown, ugly tears, worry lines and fear in my eyes.

It’d be two months and no job? What was going on? I had told myself I could manage a month of unemployment and make it. The second month, I told myself, “Okay, just a little bit longer.” Yet, when the end of the second month was closing, I freaked out. All my worries started to unfold and the dam to my fears was unleashed.

I started doubting. I started to worry. My tax return and unemployment benefits would only last so long. I started thinking maybe I should go back to working part-time job as a barista or perhaps go back to retail. I did it in college. So why not?

My gut gave me a firm but solid answer: No. No, what do you mean no? I have to eat and pay bills. If I can’t get an editor gig, then it’d be practical of me to at least have a back-up plan to keep myself afloat while I look.

But my gut instinct gave me a clear and precise no. No to going backward. No to settling. No to going for what seemed “practical.” No to what would provide a quick, easy resolution. No to easy. No to a back-up plan. No to Plan B.

Let me clear something up. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a side job in the pursuit of your dreams. When I first moved out to L.A., I worked at Starbucks as a barista my first few months here to earn money for bills, gas, food (ya know, the basics) while I looked for a writing job. In college and post-grad, I was a part-time manager at a little girl’s clothing store. All of it was a means to an end.

I am not knocking anyone for taking a job that isn’t in their desired field as an “in-between” gig, a starter job or for extra money. I have done it, but here’s my point: It was for a season of time in my life. It was a necessary building block to get where I was going.

Yet, there has to be a line between being practical and settling for less. Some people take an “in-between” job at a cafe or retail store, and they look up 20 years later and are still there. They give up on their dreams and the path they set out for to be “practical.” The bills won’t pay themselves, right?

Twenty-something advice for anyone:
“If you want to succeed in your dream field, then you can’t have a backup plan.”

I am 26 now, and I know I am not getting any younger. Being laid off at any age truly sucks, but I have resolved that if I want to succeed in the media industry, I can’t have a backup plan. I can’t go back to what is easy. If I want to make the lofty dreams in my head a reality. I have to give it all I’ve got. I have to be practical and idealistic, realistic and optimistic, a doer and a dreamer.

Living in L.A., arguably one of the biggest media cities in the U.S., there are ample opportunities in the journalism and media industry. It would be haphazard of me to not pursue that with everything I’ve got and to use my time wisely. If I am working 20 to 30 hours at Starbucks or another part-time job, the amount of time I am able to use to pursue my career path dwindles exponentially. I would be spending my energy waking up for the job, training and learning new skills, energy I could be using building my writing portfolio, pitching freelance stories and applying for writing jobs.

My resolve to not go backward has worked out in my favor so far. I have been freelance writing and editing the last four months, and I am making it work! It has required a lot of hard work and persistence. I look back over the time since my lay-off, at all the tears and the worry, and I know I am doing well. Losing my job, something I thought would break me, has made me stronger, smarter, more assertive, more persistent, more earnest.

Cheers to all the people who are persistently pursuing their dreams with no fall back. To the ones who are both dreamers and doers, I salute you.

Best,
Stephanie

If You Do What You Love

A wise person once said, “If you do what you love, then you will never have to work a day in your life.”

I heard this saying so much as a kid. I understood it. I rehearsed it in my brain. I understood it. Or so I thought…

Recently, I had the pleasure of going home to Michigan for a high school friend’s graduation from the University of Michigan. She received her master’s degree in nursing and is now a certified midwife! It’s so crazy, yet fulfilling to watch old friends walk out the dreams that you once talked about in your teenage years. I’m so profoundly happy and proud of my friend.

While I was at her graduation and waiting for her to take what felt like a million pictures with her college friends and sorority sisters after the ceremony, a guy who I know from (wait for it) elementary, middle and high school in Michigan walks up to me to say hello. We start catching up and talking about how weird it is to be adults (so weird!)

He tells me about his corporate based job in Cincinnati, and I tell him about life in Los Angeles, the hustle to make rent, the fast-paced city life and the unique, quirky people. Then, he asks me the most simplistic yet real question, “Do you love what you’re doing?”

My response, “Yea, I really do.”

“Well, that’s all that matters,” he says with a smile.

Contemplating that conversation a week later, I now see a meaning I didn’t notice at first glance. My old classmate is so very right. Life in L.A. sometimes is so hard that life’s difficulties become my focus. Rent is crazy expensive. Traffic can be a headache. Finding and keeping true friends is an uphill battle in the city. Yet and still, I am here, and I am doing what I love. I am writing, and for that, I couldn’t more grateful.

You see, adulthood is hard no matter what city you live in. Life isn’t always fair or pretty, and when you’re an adult, you are responsible for every overdue assignment, every speeding ticket, every health bill and every dent in your fender. It’s all you, but if you are lucky enough to wake up every day and do what you love, well, my friend, you are living a real-life fairy tale.  Sure, it has it’s imperfections, but Cinderella’s horse-drawn carriage was first a pumpkin and her ball gown was first a hand maiden’s rags.

Twenty-Something Lessons:
“If you are lucky enough to wake up every day and do what you love, then you are living a real-life fairy tale.”

There is so much joy and fulfillment in doing what you love, whether it’s writing, creating, directing, singing, acting or what have you. Pursuing your dreams and sticking to them is hard, I know. Yet, you have the courage to go after what you want whole heartedly. So many people are in unfulfilling jobs because work is, well, just work. Work is just a means of paying the bills. They wake up with that Sunday night dread every weekday.

You are pursuing your passions. The things you love. The things that make you so angry you want to change them. The things you are talented at. The dreams you had as a small kid? Hold tight and don’t let go.

If you are doing what you love, then that’s all that matters.

-Stephkt

How the Job Hunt Is a Lot Like Dating (and How to Deal)

Dating is rough — especially in today’s millennial, app-driven, and instant-gratification society. The game of going to countless dinners with different people, having numerous awkward first dates, and swiping left and right based on a cursory glance, is not an easy process. And the job hunt is no different.

Both dating and job searching is so much alike, in fact, that you can’t help but laugh at the similarities.

It’s always a waiting game. You send in your resume, cover letter, and references. Then, you wait. HR emails you to set up a phone call and you respond right away. Then, you wait. You nail the phone call, they ask you to come in for an in-person interview and you agree. Then, you wait. You interview and follow-up with a thank you. Then, you wait. It sounds a lot like waiting for a guy to text back, waiting to see if a guy will you ask you out again, and waiting to see when he might call.

There’s a lot of uncertainty. With job searching, there aren’t any guarantees. So often in the job search, a person will walk away feeling like they’ve landed the position, only to not receive a job offer. Same goes for the dating world. Those who date are in on-again, off-again relationships or are in relationships they thought were for the long haul but suddenly ended. However, with all the uncertainty, comes a chance for adventure and an opportunity for something great.

You want the best fit for both parties involved. The older you get, the more you understand this rule of thumb in job searching and dating. You want a career and relationship with a person who is the best fit for you and for you to be the best fit for them. There’s no room for settling. If the pieces don’t truly fit, then you’ll only be doing yourself a disservice in the long run.

The initial interview (or date) is nerve-wracking. The first date butterflies are all too familiar. They’re similar to the experience of going on an interview for a job. You want your hair, your outfit, and your makeup to be just right. Whether you’re meeting your future partner or your future employer, you want to impress the other person sitting in front of you.

Confidence is key. You have to know who you are, what you want, and what you bring to the table. If you’re not confident, then the job recruiter or potential boo will see right through you. Know your worth, and you’ll find the right job and person for you.

This post originally appeared on FabFitFun.

Just Take A Step

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I have always been a bit of a worrier. When I was a little kid, I remember envisioning my life as this uphill climb. The hill represented the structure of my life, school, church, family, friends. There was an order to life. First, there was elementary school, then middle school, high school and college. Church was every Sunday and Wednesday. Family and friends were the people that filled my life.

Structure. There was structure. However, in my vision the structure only went so far. Once I got to a certain point in my life (hello adulthood), once I climbed to the top of the hill, there was no longer a set in stone structure, no instruction manual, no definite yes or no, just a free fall. The free fall after the climb terrified me.

Why did the free fall scare me so much? Let’s be honest, why does it still scare me even a little to this day? Choices. Because there are choices to be made and so many options. What career path will I choose? What college will I attend? What will I study? Will I go to grad school? Will I date this guy or that one? Will I move away from home or move back home for a little while? Will I open myself up to this new friendship? Should I hold onto this friendship or is it time to let it go?

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

Just take a step. It’s okay if you get it wrong!

Questions. All awaiting a yes or no from ME. The task to decide, to choose, to lead, to be an adult can be hard. It can be downright scary, but here is what I am realizing: It’s okay to take a step, even if you get it wrong! Let me repeat: It’s okay to make a choice, a decision, to say yes or no, to take a chance. You don’t have to be so fearful of getting the answer wrong that you choose not to make a move at all.

Life is not a quiz where you circle yes or no and if you choose the wrong answer, then you fail. Yes, life is full of choices, but I am here to tell you that twenties are a great time to step out without fear of the free fall. Let’s say you take that job offer or say yes to that first date. As long as you do not have any huge red flags and your conscious isn’t telling you to hit the breaks, it won’t hurt to take a chance, to step out onto the water and get a little wet.

If I could go back, I would tell my teenage self to stop worrying about life after high school, to stop worry about not picking the right major or the right school, and to just step out and take a chance. I promise even if you or I were to make a “terribly wrong decision,” we’d be okay. So just follow your instincts when you are faced with choices, and if you aren’t sure what choice to make, take a step, one step at a time and go from there.

– Stephkt