“One of the hardest things in life to learn is which bridges to cross and which bridges to burn.” —Oprah Winfrey or David Russell (take your pick)
Along with many others, at the start of the new year, I have spent some time taking stock of my life over this past decade. Thinking both of the moments that changed the course of my life, as well as those that passed by virtually unnoticed. The past decade was chock-full of change and set-backs. Looking back, losing Jack near the end of 2009 seems to have been foreshadowing of the challenges the next decade would have in store. There were certainly some really bright and beautiful experiences that materialized throughout, but currently in the midst of a stressful point in my life, with my depression swirling, I tend to lean into the darkness and forget all of those bright occasions.
Nonetheless, when one is reassessing their life path, I find one of my favorite quotes from Alice in Wonderland of help, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Another way of looking at it: if you are to decide where you are going, you must first clearly understand where you are. After Jack passed away, I began the last decade enduring being laid off from my “dream” job, ending one of the worst relationships I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of, regrettably selling my adorable little condo in Denver, and moving to Florida to live with my mother (I love my mom deeply, so that part definitely did not suck!). The following year I traveled, intending to not only heal from the previous year’s trauma, but various childhood traumas as well.
Nearly ten years after the fact, the tell-all book is still in the works, but life keeps getting in the way of me finishing the damn thing. While the previous statement makes it sound like I resent the book, I really don’t. On the rare days I can carve out time to work on it, I am immensely grateful for the good fortune to dig through artifacts, delve into my journals, and reminisce on taking the journey of a lifetime. Not only did my quest lead me to some amazing places in the world, but it afforded me safe passage to process my suffering and grief. I’d be remise if I didn’t point out that it is in those moments I’m able to remind myself how proud I am that I was able to claw my way from the depths of depression, which means I can do it again.
After that year of traveling, I planned to return to Denver and reconnect with life, but the universe presented me with a conundrum. Christmas of 2011, I attended an “orphan” Christmas dinner at a friend’s house, where I met a wonderful man. We had an immediate connection, but if I were to investigate further, this meant staying in Florida longer than intended, nor was I apt to trust my choices in men. My track record had proven to be terrible thus far, so I was a little skeptical that this relationship could turn out any better than previous encounters. Call it “wisdom”, “fate”, or the prodding of my mother, I opted to stay in Florida, and S and I just celebrated 8 years of partnership.
About six months after we began dating, I finally found meaningful employment, when my mom and I were in a serious car accident. We were rear-ended by a UPS semi tractor-trailer. It was S’ birthday, so we had gone to the grocery store to pick up some items in preparation. Driving home, the car ahead of us began driving erratically while trying to merge onto a major bridge. Thankfully, the UPS driver saw this and began to slow his vehicle down just as the driver in front of us suddenly slammed on their brakes, so my mom did the same. We didn’t hit the car in front of us, but the semi rear-ended my mother’s vehicle and the car in front of us sped off. My mom was virtually unharmed, but the truck was now in the back seat and I ended up with severe whiplash and a concussion. Luckily, the UPS driver wasn’t going full speed, or we’d both be dead. My job was understanding to my rehabilitation process, but I had to withdraw from the college classes I was attending in order to take time to heal.
For two years, things were a bit of a jumbled mess. My brain was foggy, I couldn’t practice yoga, nor was I able to go running. Most of my physical activity was limited to strength building exercise with no impact. Without cardio to “burn out” an overactive mind, I dropped into another state of depression (although far less intense than previous). Somehow, I found enough drive to fight for the expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance in our city, extending equal protections to the LGBTQ community for housing and employment. At the same time, the national debate was raging over Prop 8 out of California, so a small group of us capitalized on the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of people at the local level. Side note: before I moved to the South, I had heard/used all of the stereotypes about the South, but I guess I was hopeful that (like most stereotypes) they were wrong. Not so.
The truth is that much of time has seemingly stood still in the South – racism, misogyny and homophobia run rampant. The stain of slavery and the legacy of reconstruction and the Jim Crow era plagues public policy, while continuing to contaminate the DNA of everyone whose families have lived in this country pre- and post- Civil War. Each city council meeting that allowed for open comments from the community, weighing in on whether expanded protections were needed, required counseling. No matter how mentally prepared you are, or how strong your boundaries may be, listening to hate-filled rants from other human beings, centering solely on the fact that someone else was born/lives differently from themselves, will dishearten the most resilient of souls. When the HRO expansion finally did pass three years later, I decided I was not cut out for advocacy work on a long-term basis. Now, I just donate to causes that do the pain-staking work to further our country forward.
In the meantime, S and I moved to Portland, OR, after I was recruited for an incredible job opportunity. Most of my career, I had worked at small to mid-sized ad agencies, so when I got the offer to work at an in-house agency for a large company, I eagerly accepted. It was a chance to enhance my experience, in a place that when we visited the year before, so we decided why not? (plus, it was a break to get the f**k out of the South), The job was demanding, the cost of living is high, it rains 8-9 months out of the year, and S couldn’t find meaningful employment, that’s why not. The food, wine and public transit were exceptional, and I learned so much more than I would have staying at small-sized firms, but we struggled financially for two years and our relationship strained as a result.
After my mom and stepdad were transferred back to Florida, we also floated the idea of returning, but neither of us was overly delighted about the possibility of living in the South again. “It’s easy there, though”, S said, “you will get to see your Mom more often, and they have a perfectly good airport.” And so, we put our stuff into a moving truck and drove the 3,500+ miles back to the opposite corner of the country where he would then be laid off twice in one year, and I was hired at one of the most toxic agencies I have ever worked for…I’d go so far as to say it was worse than my experience at Core Power Yoga (at least with CPY, I had the chance to meet all of my fabulous students), but then I found a job at a different agency in town which is now exponentially worse (I’ll get to that one in a minute).
In the three years I worked for Toxic Agency, I was back and forth to Atlanta more times than is necessary in an era of Viber, Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Slack, and the list goes on, to not only keep their largest client, but help win the business when said client decided to consolidate the work from 14 agencies to a few. And how did said agency show their appreciation for helping to save everyone’s jobs? Nothing, of course. There was no bonus, no raise, no promotion, no hiring additional staff to aide in said work, just an insincere thank you note from a CEO who could barely muster the courage to speak to me approximately 10 times over three years.
It seems as though I’ve gone from picking bad boyfriends, to picking bad employers, but I am not sure I can shoulder all of the blame. This country’s business sector functions on the Peter-principle. Those of us with an extreme amount of competence, who should be leading, are often the ones overlooked because the incompetent yet overtly narcissistic ones are threatened by our brilliance. While it this isn’t true of all of the companies, it’s damn well true at most. And us competent ones are real fucking tired of shouldering the one-percent’s ineptness, but I’m not going to get into politics today.
Instead of the acknowledgement that was earned, my company promoted people with zero ability or skill to culminate a strategic thought in their brain, people who would rather gossip about their teammates all day, because they were the CEO’s “favorite” after all, whereas I [annoyingly] wanted to ask clients questions to help us better understand their business which would aide in formulating said strategy to achieve their goals (oh, the shock and horror!). Furthermore, I speak and understand “digital” better than any of those on their leadership team, so I was considered an “enemy of the state”, a threat to the status quo.
If this comes across as feeling overly entitled, let’s just leave it at this: my first day on the job culminated in me finding quite a stash of pornographic photos that my predecessor had buried in a client folder on the computer they gave me. When I reported it to aforesaid CEO, his response was “Oh, well that’s why I didn’t have his emails forwarded to you.” That speaks volumes towards the amount of Peter they have applied to the principle vision for their agency – it also explains why they needed so much assistance with rebuilding trust with both their clients, and the market in general, when I accepted their job offer.
The only positive was that I had the flexibility to fly back to home to visit my new, most adorable niece from time-to-time, and to care for my Dad when he had back surgery, while working remotely. On my most recent visit home, I was grateful for the chance to have a completely honest, vulnerable conversation with him. He shared the hurt and trauma he still carries forward from childhood, and I encouraged him that it might be time to unpack all that baggage for his own peace of mind (my family likes to talk loudly, so his wife thought we were fighting and left to hide at the neighbors, but I wasn’t emotionally attached to his suffering/drama, and was just able to stay present for him to process… I was real proud of myself for that.)
After three years of exceptional work, when I finally got a raise, it was more than insulting. While I may not often know my worth when it comes to personal relationships, or believing I deserve small indulgences; I damn well know my worth when it comes to business. So when a new opportunity to move from media to marketing came up a few months ago, I gladly accepted. And here I was again day one, entering into yet another bait-and-switch scenario. Immediately following my orientation, I learned the new company was switching my supervisor, changing the client/product I would be working with/on, and moving the office from a beautiful shared campus (think mini-Google) to now house their staff out of a former State Farm call center with office furniture from the 80s (and yes, everything is fucking mauve). Yes…it was official….I just went from one burning house to another.
Not only is this “agency” unclear in the vision for the company, the client is just downright nasty. This marketing firm is led by people who have not one day’s worth of marketing experience. The ONLY bright light is that many of people I work are lovely, more than capable individuals. They get beat down every day by lack of clarity, process, goals, or transparency from their leadership, but they still try to do right by their clients. None of us has a clear job description, and the agency re-orgs annually, but we support one another as best we can — those of us who haven’t bailed ship yet, that is. It’s an unnecessary battle to fight every day, and every day I come home depleted, lacking any energy for self-care, joy or creativity. (Even for those with a strong constitution and solid boundaries, it’s difficult to stay afloat when you’re battling lying, narcissistic bitch-ass clients, who keep trying to poke holes in the hull, all day…seriously, y’all.)
In the absence of balance, I’ve been trying to resist the desire to meet up with my old friends- regret, sadness, anger, loathing…the very notion of entering into a conversation with any one of them seems illicit. Still, they continue to call in hopes that I’ll invite them to dinner. And then tonight, while standing in the shower, I realized again (because it usually takes us/me more than once to really learn a lesson) that avoiding the inevitable rarely moves us forward in life. I’ve been avoiding the fact that I really don’t like my chosen career any longer, and I owe it to myself to get the fuck over this fear of failure, or fear of lack, or whatever fear it is, and just start over.
Nearly ten years ago, I went back to school with the intention of getting a degree in Psychology. While it was necessary to pause my education, there was no reason to walk away from it altogether (other than the fact that most college educations are a waste of time and money – they are overpriced and do not teach a damn thing about the real world, or real business, but that’s a conversation for another time, as well). It’s time to give my brain something else to think about, other than the constant reactionary state that media/advertising requires these days. I need to let go of the idea that I need to fix the shit that is broken – especially when it is shit that I don’t own, nor did I break. I need to return to the idea that maybe this new career path won’t work out, I’ve failed before, I will fail again, and I have risen from the ashes to rebuild a good life for myself (and for S, too).
It’s high time that I burn one bridge to the ground, in the hopes that I can build a better one that leads me back towards my sweetness of mind…one that brings me home.