It’s true what they say about darkness and dawn

Let me take you back three years. On May 11, 2013, I graduated from the College of Charleston. It was a Saturday, and I was set to start my first chemist job that Monday. It wasn’t the best job in the world, but it was something. And only one month before, I had been in a very hopeless place.

Job hunting is never easy, but it’s especially difficult when you have no experience. And it seems that no matter how much you apply and no matter what you apply to, you never strike gold immediately. It takes a long haul of hard work and grim rejection. Then, everything starts to work out.

In April of 2013, I had spent 4 months applying to nearly 60 jobs. I only had one interview for a real job, and one interview for Disney World. But within the span of two weeks, I was given a windfall of good news. I was offered jobs from both Disney and that other job. I was offered an interview from MUSC. I was offered an interview from another chemical company called MeadWestvaco. I was given the opportunity to apply for the job I have now.

That cliché about “when it rains, it pours?” Yeah. I learned three years ago how true that is.

But there’s something that dawned on me today as I not only secured my first paying gig for my video company, but a second lit mag offered to publish a piece of mine (yes – two in one week. I’m as surprised as you are). It’s not just a fact that good news tends to show up all at once. It’s also true that good news seems to show up when we need it the absolute most.

I’ve been submitting to magazines on and off since last July.  I did this idly, just to say that I’m putting myself out there. I was not hurt by rejection. I was a little bummed to see that – as of now – my work has made it to the “final round” of judging on five separate occasions but still no dice. Still, I knew that my submissions attempts were largely sidekick to my novels and other large efforts.

And then, as time passed and outside forces weighed in, my anxiety started again. I’ve been pretty open about it these past few weeks. I’ve had acute moments of “what if this isn’t any good?” before, but I can’t remember having a full month or two where I really worried for my future. This is probably the darkest things have gotten for me, even pushing me to the thought of “maybe I should give up writing.” I thought, mind you, that I have never had before.

Then the good news showed up.

When I think back to 2013, my final semester of school was equally dark. I worried for my future then too. I wondered what I would do without a good job – or any job! – to support myself. I needed to move out on my own. I worried what would happen if Austin and I ended up in different cities. There was so much fear bred by uncertainty, and that fear only bubbled the closer I got to graduation. And by April, I was a nervous wreck. I only had a few short weeks to get my life in order and nothing was working out.

Then the good news showed up.

It’s almost as if it waits in the shadows for those lowest moments. It tests us, asking us to keep hope even when things are most dire. Could things have become worse for me had the good news not intervened? Perhaps. With enough rejection, maybe I would have given up writing. But back in 2013, and now, there seems to have been an ebb and flow to my concerns. Just when I start to think “I am seriously worried”, the tables turn.

I don’t need an explanation for it, but I thought I’d offer it as an uplifiting observation. That if you’re at a low point right now – in a place of anxiety and rejection – good news may be fast approaching. Like I said before, persistence tends to get results no matter what order you do things in. If you do something long enough, you’ll be impossible to ignore.

Can Hard Work at the Day Job Beget Hard Work at Home?

Yesterday, I completed all my planned tasks in half the time I’d allotted. But I’m not telling you this to show off – I want to emphasize how baffled I am by my lack of fatigue. Let me remind you that I’ve spent the last year crawling into bed as soon as I get home. I’d feel accomplished if I could push out a mere 800 words in the evening. I am so used to being tired and apathetic and depressed that feeling normal is….well, it’s weird.

On top of that, this sudden renewal has not just impacted my productivity, but my overall mental health. A few months ago, I was counting calories because I was devastated about my weight. Right now? Pass the brownies, because I couldn’t care less. I was conflicted and stressed about my engagement, wondering if I’m even fit to be married – now, I’m reminded why being with Austin is the easiest thing I’ve ever done. And while the idea of socializing normally stresses me out, I happily drove downtown last Saturday and attended a party full of strangers.

What’s given me all this positivity, especially at a time of year when I’m usually weighed down by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? The 60 degree winter hasn’t hurt. I also have a wakeup lamp which helps the mornings feel brighter. Maybe the B12 supplements I’ve taken for 6 months have finally kicked in.

But none of that seems powerful enough to cause such a profound shift. And then it occurred to me what changed the most in the past month – the Day Job.

I spent last year slaving over a project that would not end. I dreaded getting up in the morning because I knew I would be asked to tackle problems without a solution. On top of that, only having one project left me with a lot of thumb twiddling time. I felt like a lame employee who wasn’t doing enough.

At the end of 2015, my boss decided to close the book on that project and introduce me to two or three new projects…one of which may result in a patent. All three have been coming along without much frustration, and I have enough to occupy myself on a daily basis without being overwhelmed.

Here’s what I’ve learned from this – while it is certainly tiring to be overworked, it is equally tiring to do nothing. I’m the opposite of a gym rat, but every fitness buff I’ve met swears that exercising gives you more energy, despite exercise itself requiring energy. I wonder if this relationship between idle living and productive living is somewhat the same.

It was a little hard to admit that a bad year at work affected the rest of my life so drastically, but I can’t deny it anymore. As much as I’ve tried to handwave it as “just a place I have to be five days a week”, my job has a HUGE EFFECT on the rest of my life. Maybe if I realized this sooner, I could have taken steps to stay more engaged and active during my 40 hrs/week as a chemist.

So for anyone feeling bland after the daily grind, I implore you to look into why. If any of my story sounds familiar, perhaps talk to your boss about how you can be more engaged, or how you can move past a major roadblock. On the physical side, try taking frequent breaks to stand or walk around your workplace so your body does not grow stagnant from sitting (my job, when it’s actually giving me something to do, has this built in. And I’ve noticed I feel a lot better when I’m not sitting all day).

I realize that for most people, their jobs do not have much wiggle room for change. Heck, it’s not like I could have made last year any easier – that nightmare project was something I had to ride out until it was over. And I’m not saying you have to be in love with your job either. Even as mine has given me tolerable and engaging activities, I would drop it all to work full time on my artistic pursuits if that was possible.

But perhaps being aware of this relationship between your energy at work and your energy at home may still help you. Boredom is an enemy of progress, and you will undoubtedly carry that boredom home with you. So if you have any choice about how to conduct your work life, the last thing you should choose is to be idle.