It’s been one week since you looked at me — just kidding, but try to get that song out of your head now.
It’s been 6 months since I officially left my full-time job at a large tech corporation. While it was a stable, high-paying, respected job that I am very grateful to have had, after over 5 years at it, I found that it was no longer suited for me and it was time to move on. While I have spent the last six months technically unemployed, I have had a very important job to do: take care of myself. With time for rest, reading, self-reflection, and a lot of therapy, I have been working hard at recovering from my debilitating state of burn out. While I could overwhelm you right now with my entire mental health journey as it relates to my career, I’ll leave it to these 2 aspects that I’m focusing on for the time being:
Shifting gears on productivity (AKA down with hustle culture)
I have actually not been at my day job since August when I needed to take a medical leave from it. With no day job tethered to me and lockdown keeping me inside, suddenly I was confronted with the thing I had been desperate for for years: TIME. Time to plan out my art career. Time to improve my skills. Time to work on my small business. Time to make content for instagram. Time to find my art style. And yet, I still felt like there wasn’t enough time. I had to catch up on all the time I had “lost” while busy with my day job, and I had to cram in as much as I could before I went back to work and didn’t have time anymore.
The medical leave was supposed to be a break from constantly running my brain and working, but it was all I could do not to make the most productive use of this time that I had. Actually resting and taking a break from work seemed to be the farthest thing from my mind.
It took me several weeks (during which I illustrated an entire picture book) to learn to recognize my constant urge to be productive, and it took even longer to learn to resist this unhealthy urge. This habit was definitely hard to identify and counteract because for years, it was beneficial. It kept me on top of my classes in college, helped me meet short deadlines at work, and let me juggle a full-time day job and a small business simultaneously. But the end result, in addition to the finished projects and paychecks, was an unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyle that I ended up seeing through to rock bottom. There are definitely opportunities to use these traits to achieve goals when I need to, but I definitely have to set limits and find balance between productivity and mental wellbeing.
Even now, as I write this blog post, my mind is churning through all the possible posts I could make, how I should market myself with it, and the big audience I should aim for. So I have to remind myself to slow down, write these posts as long as I’m enjoying them, and not pressure myself with the idea of popularity and success.
Which brings me to my next focus:
Redefining “success” as happiness, not external validation
While I was always aware that I was raised to value hard work and success, I only recently realized how deep those beliefs were and how much they were restricting the way I lived my life. It started with what most kids in America are told equals success: get good grades, go to a top-ranked school, get a job at a top tier company. I aimed for a high-paying, stable job because I felt like that’s what I was supposed to do. I’ve always thought that I’m supposed to work hard at a job so I can earn money to provide for my family. It didn’t matter if I was happy about it or not; happiness wasn’t even part of the equation. Success was defined by how others would perceive my achievements and what I could put on my resume.
I had always wanted to make art, so I started making art. But what was the point if I wasn’t making money off it, so I started a small business on the side. Then I told myself if I was going to have a side hustle, then it better churn out instant-hit products that would sell. This of course put a lot of pressure on the process and end result as what mattered, not if I was enjoying making. Even after I had convinced myself to pursue my dream of being an artist, I continued to set my goals at the highest bar. I told myself that if I’m to be an artist, then I have to be a famous one with products in stores across America, many picture books to my name, and thousands of followers on Instagram. Every move I thought about making was geared toward fulfilling my ideal definition of a successful artist, when the measure of success should be rooted in if I enjoy doing it or not.
I don’t say this to belittle popularity and financial success as very important factors toward people finding my art and gaining a stable income. There is just a line to be drawn before the goals become all-consuming with no room for improvement. Whenever I had an idea for something fun to do, I would automatically get these thoughts of “how can I make this into an instantly successful and lucrative endeavor.” That was just a bullet train to self-criticism and burnout. I barely got to actually enjoy anything for the fun of it, not to mention that all of these things take time and cannot be achieved in the blink of an eye.
Even now I have to catch myself daily from hopping onto that train. When I started posting about my mental health on my Instagram a few weeks ago, I told myself that if I’m going to be a mental health advocate, then I have to create amazing content that really changes lives. Being realistic and reasonable, I’ve found that the best I can do without rededicating my entire life to this venture is try to put informed content out there and if I help even one person feel less alone, I will consider myself successful. I’ve dreamed of having my own internationally known brand that partnered with tons of companies. Now I try to set my sights on pleasing myself with my work, and hopefully bringing a smile to the people that may see it no matter how many or few.
It’s going to take a long time to rewire these pathways my brain tracks have been laid on for 28 years, but I’m glad at least I’m realizing it now. Having learned the hard way, I know I’ll have a much better life if I actually enjoy the years I have in front of me.
If you liked this post, please let me know! And if you want to see more of my stuff:
👩🏻🎨 Check out my art on Instagram @madebychanamon
🧋 Support me on BuyMeACoffee
👩🏻💻 Visit my website www.chanamon.com
Thanks for reading!