When I got fired from my 1st post-college job after working there almost 3 years, I was devastated.  I felt like a complete failure as an adult. This is what I learned and how I got over it.

I have always been competitive. I always prided myself on grades, always competing with my sister; playing sports, competing with rival teams and my own teammates; my friends, competing who is the most liked, has the coolest boyfriends, hair, clothes, etc… I never really felt like I “won” at any of these things. My sister always had the better GPA, I wasn’t a starter on the varsity basketball team, I only had one boyfriend in high school (he had dyed blonde polka-dots in his hair at the time, coolest guy? Not so much), I didn’t win Prom Queen. The only “victory” I did get was the “Best Looking” superlative senior year but the funny thing is I never had the confidence to claim that award thinking it was a fluke or that the teachers counting the votes felt sorry for me.

When I went go off to college, I continued trying to compete; competing to be successful. I wanted to do all the things that my parents, relatives, and teachers were all shoving down my throat on a daily basis; go to college, get a job, make a lot of money and you’ll be successful and live happily ever after. So, I worked HARD in college. I chose to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Business, not art or graphic design like I first wanted, because that wasn’t as practical and it was too competitive, and I didn’t have such a good track record for that nor did I have the confidence in myself to try something that I may fail at. I went to class, I got mostly all As and Bs, worked 2 jobs, supported myself, got married, graduated in 4 years, and took the first job offer I got starting the Monday following my graduation ceremony.

My husband and I made enough money to be able to buy a new house, 2 new vehicles, new furniture, a big TV and had all those things that I thought that happy successful people had. For some reason, I was miserable. I kept comparing myself to everyone around me and I hated my job. I could barely find the motivation to get out of bed in the morning. I would have to try really hard to not lose my composure and cry all day at work. I still managed to do everything my supervisors asked of me, I was on-time, I was friendly and helpful to all the customers, and I was friends with all my co-workers. Still, I despised every second I spent there.

I decided to take full week off with my vacation time to just stay at home and take a break from the workplace I hated. It felt amazing and energizing, but first day back I could barely convince myself to get out of bed again. You may be asking why didn’t I just quit? I tried. Something that has also been drilled into me my whole life is being independent and being able to support myself financially. I spent many hours searching for other jobs, I even had interviews but jobs were scarce and no one would hire me. I wanted to quit but I couldn’t just quit without the promise of anther source of income…remember, the house, cars, etc.?

So, I came in to work, my first day back, and at the end of the work day right before we closed up my supervisor and the company CEO asked me to join them in the conference room. I had no idea what we were meeting about but what would happen next never even crossed my mind. I joined them in the conference room and they simply said, “You’re not a good fit for this position and we’re letting you go”. I was dumbfounded and completely lost it. I couldn’t keep my mouth from quivering or the tears from gushing out of my eyes. I thought, “They don’t want me?”  “Am I a failure?” “How am I going to pay my bills?” but oddly, through all of that I was there was something in the back of my mind saying, “I’m so relieved.”

So, why did I get fired if I did everything they asked me to? Apparently I’m not as much of an actress. Somehow the cracks in my facade of being happy were showing. In the conference room, my supervisor also told me that he saw how my whole face would light up when I talked about music, which I did often. I had been playing a few gigs and volunteering at a live audience local radio broadcast. He said that he tried to find different projects for me hoping I would latch on to something. I would complete his projects but it was obvious to him that none of them really piqued my interest. The company I was working for was a brand new company in the insurance industry looking for enthusiastic people who were passionate about the mission and ready to shape the future of the company. As the company changed so did the management, and the new management had decided that I no longer fit their needs, which I understood. I even said, despite my loss of composure, that I didn’t really blame them. It wasn’t fair for them to have someone who wasn’t 100% in it.

After a few days of crying and feeling sorry for myself, I felt a renewed sense of clarity. Why force yourself to do something you hate? Why try to be the person that others want you to be if it doesn’t make you happy? Your boss can see right through you and you are not doing them or yourself any favors by staying. Also, who cares about the new house and cars? They don’t truly make me happy, having a genuine purpose and passion in my life does.

So, with my newly found perspective and extra free time, I started volunteering more time for the radio/television/internet broadcast. I even started volunteering as an intern in the administrative office, usually a position for college students seeking credit hours. While unemployed, thanks to unemployment benefits, selling stuff on Craig’s List & Ebay, credit cards, and my husband’s job, we were able to make ends meet. Then 6 months later, I got a call from the broadcast office asking if I would be interested in working there full time. I said yes of course! I hung up the phone and started sobbing. I was relieved, nervous, I felt like my hard work had paid off, and I finally had a genuine “victory” of my own.

The “problems” that I had in high school, I realize, were petty and insignificant. The thing is, I did win then. I did well in school, I had friends, and I never lost the drive to succeed, I just hadn’t figured out a healthy way to channel it. Now, a year and a half since starting I am still working for the same company. I have had so many positive experiences and I really love working in music and entertainment industry. It’s not the perfect job but I’m not miserable and I don’t have to drag myself out of bed anymore either. This job is a great stepping stone. I’m learning about the music business and realizing a new personal goal I want to achieve…be a professional musician and be self-employed. I’m not 100% satisfied with my life now but I’m making steps in the right direction and I feel at peace with my accomplishments. I finally have the confidence to be happy with me and I’m the only one that really matters when it comes to my happiness.

From this I have also learned that it’s nothing but self-sabotage to compare your success with others.  No one’s ideal “success” is the same as yours. I worked on this blog a long time, never thinking of sharing it but just as a tool to help me deal with when I’ve gone through. After finishing it I decided to share it in hopes my story can help someone else realize, you can only be you. You have this one precious gift that is life, make it your own. As long as you are alive, there’s still time, you’re never too old or too young to start working toward your goals or finding your true passion in life. No one can show you how to be happy, it’s inside you, you just have to have the confidence to pursue it!

Photo by Michael Carian

Toni Melton

Toni is a musician, booker, promoter, production assistant, busy bee and sometimes blogger. Find her at www.tonimelton.com and www.indonind.tumblr.com.

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