The Road to Mental Health Amidst a Professional Identity Crisis
Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations. This is the phrase prominently displayed on the photograph I have set as my desktop background for over a year. It serves as a reminder of the roads I’ve traveled to get to where I am.
Starting with this post, I’ve been asked to share a series of blogs about the difficulties, challenges and triumphs that have led me to the beautiful destination that is my dream job here at iRelaunch. While it’s not a relaunch story in the sense that I haven’t taken a career break between my prior role and my role at iRelaunch, the trajectory I have chosen for my career has roots in a relaunch story that has affected the turns I’ve taken along the way. I won’t pretend to have all the answers, or be in the shoes of those who have taken a break from their career as that experience is not reflective of my own. What I do hope to offer are lessons learned along the journey I took to reinvent my career, born out of the anguish of watching someone I care for very deeply with their own relaunch.
I’d like to take you back to December 2017 when I first made an appointment to see a therapist after what seemed to be a never-ending and crippling blanket of depression, anxiety and paranoia. I became so overwhelmed, stressed and all-consumed with my work and with the notion that I needed to fix everything (more on that in a bit). I spiraled into a vicious cycle of oversleeping from worrying all day about how I was going to “get it all done” only to experience such an exhaustion that kept me from getting anything done at all. I’ll spare you all the depressive and manic symptoms that presented themselves, because I want to focus on:
- The root causes of my mental illness (hint: it has to do with a prolonged job search and a career pivot)
- How these difficulties actually helped lead me to the beautiful “destination” of where I am today
A prolonged job search is one of the many roads that intersect at the root of my struggle for mental health. Not my own job search, (at least not initially) but the decade-long period of my father’s quest to relaunch his career amidst a layoff during the 2008 recession. In one of our recent podcast episodes and in his featured article published on Medium Chris Rudnicki discusses his experience of being “relauncher adjacent,” an experience that I can unequivocally relate to.
Chris chronicles the lessons he learned during his father’s period of job loss and unemployment, his own struggles of figuring out the best way to support his father in a constructive and meaningful way, his experiences while playing the role of “career coach and counselor” and navigating the social and emotional toll that accompanies job loss and unemployment.
I too, grappled with these same struggles. Unfortunately I read his article too late to learn the most important lesson that Chris recounts during this time: “to avoid the pitfall of wanting to jump in and fix everything and tell the person to read this or talk to this person or tweak this about your life and magically it will all go away and it will all be fine.” Even reading those words now, having since learned this same lesson, my mind has a visceral reaction: “But I’m a problem solver! I fix things! I will make things better!” Unfortunately, this very mindset is what pulled me down until I felt as defeated and discouraged as my father felt when opportunities never materialized, doors continued to close and requests went unanswered. By inserting myself too directly into his job search under the guise of “helping,” I fell victim to the very same negative emotions that can materialize during a prolonged job search and was unable to be a counterweight, or a voice of reason against his own self-doubt.
In addition to my penchant for believing I could solve all of my father’s unemployment problems, my depression and anxiety stemmed from my tendency to “plan” too far into the future. I put on my “five years into the future” glasses and catastrophized what my life would look like. I saw my parents, their health declining in old age and still fewer job prospects for my father who was the primary breadwinner in my family. I envisioned my desire to start a family within that same time frame, I saw myself with more financial obligations than I could manage, and feared I would be even more mentally and physically unhealthy from all of the stress as a member of the sandwich generation.
On top of all this, while I found my work interesting and challenging, I did not see a clear career path in my current role. This added to a stew of uncertainty, anxiety and confusion as to what my future would hold. I could not see how the stress and demands of my current role could be compatible with the life I envisioned - neither the one I desired nor the one that I saw through the lens of my anxiety. I didn’t know what parenthood would look like for me, whether I would be the primary or secondary parent, whether I would want a career break or whether child care or elder care would necessitate a career break, or if a career break would even financially feasible. But I knew I wanted the option and the flexibility to make the right choices for myself and my family.
In my quest to carry the world on my shoulders, I started to realize that I needed to resist the urge to constantly be the fixer, especially when it was a problem I had no business fixing in the first place. I could offer support, I could acknowledge the difficulty and inherent frustration my father felt after yet another rejection, I could be there as someone who unconditionally loves my father. However, I could not, and cannot fix his unemployment for him nor undo the job loss that he has experienced. As Chris recounts during his interview with Carol on the “3, 2, 1 iRelaunch” podcast, the act of simply being there can often be the thing that actually ends up helping the most, but “this is not something we are trained to do in school and it’s not something that we are often doing with our own friends and family enough which is just to learn how to be a good supporter.”
I think it’s important to recognize that mental health is having a moment, and I for one, hope that moment continues on for eternity. It’s high time that mental health should be front and center in many conversations. From the proliferation of online therapists and mental health platforms, to entering mainstream media in visible and unexpected ways such as Gary Gulman’s comedy special on “The Great Depresh,” to characters struggling with borderline and bipolar disorders on shows such as “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Shameless.” And yes, mental health even has a place in a job search, especially a prolonged job search.
For me, a combination of therapy, medication, exercise, mindfulness and intentional self-discovery helped me fight back against the undertow of mental illness. When the fog cleared, I acknowledged my discontent with the status quo, and I made several steps, some tiny and some colossal, toward reclaiming a better vision for my life. I recognized that I am in control of my own actions, and while I may feel a desire to help others, I cannot engineer solutions for my loved one’s problems. Gaining this clarity allowed me to explore alternatives for my career, and having a healthier mindset allowed me to recognize the opportunity of a lifetime full of rewarding experiences, which has contributed to the positive mental state one is able to enjoy when they love what they do and arrive at their destination.
How does this relate to the relauncher experience? As a career pivoter, I feel there are similarities to my journey and I’ll share how my job search "strategies" and the approach I took to pitching my role to come work for iRelaunch might be effectively leveraged for a relauncher pitching a "custom" role at a company or pitching your own internship like or return to work experience. In my next post, I’ll discuss the “Imposter Syndrome,” my effort to build confidence and resilience, and how I created momentum in my career pivot by taking action.
If you are considering a career pivot or transition to a new
industry, here are a few of the books that helped me during this period
of self-reflection and discovery:
Working Identities by Herminia Ibarra
Originals by Adam Grant
Drive by Daniel Pink
Switchers by Dr. Dawn Graham
Mental Health Resources
Mental Health Screening Test
Mental Health First Aid
National Alliance for Mental Illness
ADAA Reviewed Mental Health Apps
Find a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist
Guidelines for Choose a Therapist
What to Expect from Therapy
Briefing: Social Emotional Learning
TED Talk Playlists
How to practice emotional first aid
The struggle of mental health
All kinds of minds
Other articles on mental health during a job search
Job search depression: What it entails and how to get through it
The Psychological Impact of Job Search in 2019
5 Ways to Keep Going When the Job Search is Getting You Down
Getting Back to Work When You’ve Been Depressed
Episode 110: Maintaining Mental Health During a Prolonged Job Search – with Chris Rudnicki
Episode 116: “Negative Self-Talk and the Job Search” with Steven Campbell
Episode 60: “The Cost of a Career Break" with Economist Michael Madowitz