(Original post on Refinery29 here)
When I graduated with a master’s degree in cinema and TV studies, I was ready to start my journey as a network executive — or so I thought. Like many early-twentysomethings, I was ambitious, driven, and determined to achieve professional success; nothing else mattered. Little did I know, the months that followed would be defined by my inability to manage the stress and pressure of working in a highly competitive field — that is, until I discovered the unlikely solution to my floundering career: therapy.
Like any treatment or coping strategy, regular behavioral therapy takes a ton of work, and nobody can do that work for you; you have to do it yourself. A year before I started therapy, I took a position in production management at a prominent television network. Yes, I thought. I’ve finally made it to the big leagues and can start my journey climbing the corporate ladder. But to my dismay, it wasn’t the dream job I had anticipated. Instead of being creative, I was glued to a cubicle, crunching numbers on a spreadsheet all day. I was undervalued, underpaid, and I wasn’t utilizing my skills. It was soul-crushing.
I met my therapist, Asha Tarry, at a Black Girls Smile Wellness Brunch. The brunch was my formal introduction into mental wellness and how important it is — especially for Black women. At the event, Tarry spoke about her work, we exchanged information, and I made my first appointment.
One of the first tasks I had to complete in our therapy sessions was a “Life Wheel.” This symbolizes the core values that affect my day-to-day happiness, including spirituality, finances, family, relationships, and career. This wasn’t a small exercise; I had to dive deep into my issues. At the time, I had student loans hanging over my head. I was lost in a long-term relationship. I was experiencing unusual digestive issues related to stress. Plus, I was supporting a struggling relative (both emotionally and financially). I was overextended in virtually every way. Yet while all of these factors were certainly contributing to my stress, I knew my job was the source of the depression I felt.
I WAS OVEREXTENDED IN VIRTUALLY EVERY WAY. YET I KNEW MY JOB WAS THE SOURCE OF THE DEPRESSION.
Together, my therapist/life coach and I worked to take back control of my life. We tackled my job woes by developing a strategy based on the low score I gave my career on my Life Wheel. We delineated key factors that would contribute to my career success: managing my anxiety with meditation, journaling, and practicing SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timed) goals. Because of these practices, I was able to start my own consulting firm.
The first step toward starting my firm was implementing those SMART goals. This consisted of creating small, achievable aims along with timely action steps. For example, when it came to the services I wanted to offer and the kind of image I wanted to have, I was tasked to research 10 branding, digital, and video consultants in my field who were successful. Once I came up with this list, I was able to put my own spin on how I’d do things. This may seem like a simple task, but it gave me the foundation of how I’d model my career. I can’t express how helpful it is to break down large goals (like an entire career path) into small ones with achievable action steps (like research and a list).
The second step was making myself accountable for my actions via an "accountability partner" (surprise: this person was my therapist). The thing about accountability partners is that they’re meant to challenge you and call you out on your shortcomings. This can sometimes be uncomfortable, but it's truly necessary for growth and success. When I showed up to a therapy session without completing a certain action item, my therapist would call me out — and I realized that a lot of the time, I didn’t have a legitimate excuse for why I hadn't done it. This meant that, if only for the sake of my pride, I made sure to get those items done in time.
I NO LONGER TIE MY PERSONAL VALUE TO MY PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT.
The third step was implementing great coping mechanisms for dealing with the stress of life while trying to lead a successful career. For example, practicing meditation has had a profound impact on my day-to-day happiness by allowing me to be more present, mindful, and grateful. Meditation has helped me cope with the anxiety that comes with not meeting the high expectations I set for myself, the unpredictability of daily life, and of course the influence of friends, family, and loved ones. Journaling has also helped me with organizing my thoughts and ideas, and it’s a fun way of allowing myself to process all of the things I go through daily. Through journaling and meditation, I was able to be more successful in completing my goals and setting up my consulting business for success.
I can honestly say that these tactics have been instrumental in my pivot to entrepreneurship. Because of therapy and life coaching, I’ve gotten to the root of what was missing from my career: creative fulfillment, autonomy, contribution, and value. Of course, the biggest takeaway from therapy has been the work I’ve done on myself. I no longer tie my personal value to my place of employment. I’ve enriched myself with strong spiritual practices, hobbies, and familial/personal relationships. While I’m still an ambitious person, I don’t see myself as the same Type-A individual I was at 23.
Therapy, like all great things, takes work, patience, and sacrifice. To this day, it remains the best decision I’ve made in my life.