If there’s anything I learned from being an A+ student and a middle child, it’s hustling harder than others to get what I want. This philosophy has worked my entire life, even landing me a copywriter job in an exciting startup just months after graduating. I was paid well to do what I love, liked everyone I worked with, and was placed under the most nurturing manager one could possibly have.
Despite the clash between my career choice and the family of doctors and businessmen that I belonged to, I found little victories along my path. Four years and a promotion later (not to mention, an office romance), I was living the dream of most millennials.
Our company was one of the few that found the silver lining in the pandemic, being an online lifestyle store that didn’t need to adapt and only thrived. We were in a whirlwind trying to scale our business; work plans were being expanded, projects sprung left and right, and people were being moved around like chess pieces—including myself.
With my mantra in mind and a job to hold on to, I did everything that was expected of me. Instead of stitching words together, I was computing for profit, drafting contracts, fixing logistics, and pitching to customers. It wasn’t the first time that I had to wear different hats, and I had built up a high tolerance to stomach any task dumped on my plate—or so I thought.
Weeks passed and a sinking feeling came over me. The question What am I doing? riddled my mind before my alarm could even jostle me awake. Few heard my voice quaver as I claimed, “Sure, we can do that,” during Zoom calls. In spite of my colleagues’ assurance, I felt unaccomplished and defeated each day. I was not only the latest casualty of quarantine burnout, but also a fish out of water swimming further from her goals.
Weeks passed and a sinking feeling came over me. The question ‘What am I doing?’ riddled my mind before my alarm could even jostle me awake.
I was fortunate to have work and part of me believed I should just be appreciative of my paycheck. Frankly, saving up for my next milestone (read: post-grad school) is the only thing that has gotten me through the past few months.
I was meeting-hopping from nine to five and spent the rest of the night chugging caffeine and doing my actual job until I plummeted to the bottom of my priority list. Anxiety made me sickly, forgetful, and angry. Once, I caught my reflection in the mirror: someone with thinning hair and lifeless eyes smiled helplessly at me.
In isolation, I had nothing but my thoughts to keep me company. They echoed through the reverberating silence until they were simply impossible to ignore. Being forced into a role that required a strong relationship with numbers instead of words made me wonder if I wasn’t good enough or worth keeping as a creative. Maybe this was God closing the “fun” door so I could settle into a job meant for adults.
I wanted to embrace this change but that would mean throwing away the talent I worked hard to cultivate and admitting to my parents that they were right: I was born to do sales, surgeries — anything but this “hobby.” I turned to my manager, boyfriend, barkada, angels, a tarot reader and a psychologist for direction, only to become more confused.
My heart hoped it could do everything, but my brain was tired from trying to pull myself together. After years of asserting my independence, I took a break from work, confessed my true situation to my family, and was welcomed back home without question.
My brain was tired from trying to pull myself together. After years of asserting my independence, I took a break from work, confessed my true situation to my family, and was welcomed back home without question.
For the first time in a long time, I had no agenda. I was getting more hours of sleep, silly dancing to forgotten playlists, rediscovering old hobbies, and whiling away afternoons with an e-book of Lily King’s Writers & Lovers. On weekends, I’d go with my parents to wherever they needed to be, secretly enjoying the conversations we’d never had before—the “How are you”s, the dad jokes, and their slip-up stories. While my teenage brother attended his virtual classes, I was signing up for short courses in an attempt to discover my calling. Some days were more diary-worthy than others. Oftentimes, I was just doing enough, living for the day, and being okay with that for once.
Creativity retraced its way back into my life with cooking and baking, then with writing about food. My hair was growing back, my body was getting in better shape, stupid jokes weren’t as cringy as before, and Mondays weren’t dreadful anymore. Over time, I got productive, passionate and happy again. I took a good look in the mirror and finally became sure of one thing: I liked loved the person I was returning to.
The “cool-off” period made me fathom that happiness doesn’t always mean having it all. I may have lost what made me feel stable and secure, but the perspective I’ve gained brought me purpose. Taking a step back allowed me to get a full picture of what matters most to me: spending unhurried mornings with loved ones, living a well-balanced life, pursuing my dream no matter how hard I have to hustle for it, and finding my own place in the world. I have forgiven myself for quitting, and now I’m slowly accepting that my unique path to success comes with challenges that make the win sweeter.
Taking a step back allowed me to get a full picture of what matters most to me: spending unhurried mornings with loved ones, living a well-balanced life, pursuing my dream no matter how hard I have to hustle for it, and finding my own place in the world.
Breaking up with the job I loved was scary, even when I knew it was time. When I first entered the hallways of our office, I was shy, soft-spoken, and unsure if things would work. My job fresh out of college wasn’t perfect—a few broken promises, the usual work stress, and the occasional role roulette—but I made the most of it anyway, like we all do. My heart just isn’t in it anymore and, looking at my options, freelancing will let me do what makes it sing.
While the majority are hanging on to what they have during the pandemic, there are just as many people who need to cut off toxic work environments, or worse, toxic persons they have become. Leaving may not solve all your problems but it may give rise to different ones that seem more manageable to you. Recognizing that your job may not be the finest life has yet to offer can reveal where you’re destined to be, as it did to me.
I am privileged enough to have financially capable, supportive parents and to be encountering this setback in my mid-20s. Using that rare advantage to reset my goals, I’m hoping Mama and Papa will enjoy their golden years knowing they steered me away from the biggest slip-up I could commit: giving up my happiness and living a life others expect of me, not the life true to myself. Someday, I’ll immortalize my gratitude in a dedication of a book they helped me turn into a reality. Until then, this self-love letter serves as a promissory note for them and for my dream.
So here’s my advice for those who related enough to read this far: for all that happened in the past year, make this short life worth living and love yourself enough to heal and be who you need to be.