When I turned 27, I had reached the peak of my career as a fashion designer. My resume shined with the names of Coach, Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch, and Tommy Hilfiger. My profound moments were not from walking through the doors of these fashion empires — it was from being forced out of them.
My first layoff was at 23. The second at 24. The third at 27.
By the time I reached the third lay off, I had become a master artist at painting myself a victim of a tumultuous industry. My negative self-talk nurtured a belief system that I was worthless without a successful career. I was a walking storm cloud of envy towards co-workers that appeared to have a smooth sailing climb up the ladder.
I was a prime millennial example of the effects of society grooming a generation to attach their self-worth to their career. As a child, I was frequently asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, rather than what makes me happy. When I entered the workforce, I stopped at nothing to break the glass ceiling, believing the money would flow, followed by happiness.
I was the perfect supply for companies recruiting eager blood out of college and exploiting them to work long treacherous hours for a salary equivalent to a Starbuck’s barista. I willingly handed my sense of self on a silver platter just to write a name on my resume. I accepted my low stakes place in the hierarchy of corporate America. What I couldn’t accept were the declining effects it had on my mental health.
I fell into a deep depression after repeated failures to hold a job. I was paralyzed in defeat and became too comfortable in letting the workforce dictate my value. I had been working towards this career since I was nineteen years old. Fashion was all I knew, and if my path was no longer following society’s script, I no longer had an identity.
My depression eventually drove me to intense suicidal ideations — leaving me no choice but to focus on my mental health. No dream job is worth taking your own life. With a combination of anti-depressants, Xanax, and therapy, I was able to shift my mindset from living like a victim to becoming the designer of my life.
Depression has increased at an alarming rate for millennials and will continue to escalate with the increasing number of unemployment. Our work culture rewards burnout and stigmatizes mental health. We shove down our self-worth and autonomy in order to fully please our employers. We feel indebted to them for providing us a life of stability when the truth is that reciprocity was a lie.
A few weeks ago, the universe granted me my fourth round of unemployment, through furlough. This pattern in my life was the gift that kept on giving. What was once an experience I labeled as sheer bad luck, now became the lesson I needed to learn. This lesson was to cultivate self-worth by taking the initiative to detach it from my career.
In this current state of survival, scarcity and fear have incited employers to dispose of their employees. When I think of the executives in companies who continue to maintain their full-time salaries, I readjust my mindset from contempt to curiosity.
These executives who remain financially unscathed by this pandemic have the privilege to return to normalcy when this is over. They are currently moving through this time with ease and will continue to plateau in their lives. There will be no change. No growth. No progression. Only a continued mindset of survival where they can tread precisely where they left off.
If you have been laid off or furloughed, first and foremost, this is a monumental setback where you should allow yourself to grieve. You owe it to yourself to cope through this chaos by removing the shame of feeling your feelings. The next order of business is to see this experience as evidence that you do not owe anyone anything. The only person you owe everything to is yourself.
“Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. So, keep moving, keep growing, keep learning.” — Denzel Washington
Through this hardship of facing unemployment, we now have the opportunity to evolve. Now is the time to lean into what makes you happy. Now is the time to remind yourself that you matter despite a job, a salary, or a title. Now is the time to redirect the love you had for your career to yourself.
It is the process of loving yourself where you start to build self-worth and when it is your time to lead, you will move forward with your courage on your sleeve to make this world a better place than it is now.
This essay was originally published on Medium.