Dissolving the Illusions of Success, Failure, and Perception

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Day 69 – it has been ten weeks since my last day of corporate. The very last day I got paid to wake up. The very last day I had to be available for someone else for a large part of my days. I didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly had expectations. Expectations that all the “right” signs would present themselves in front of me, and I would know which way to go. Yet what I’ve experienced thus far is that everything and nothing has felt like a sign. Frankly, I was more confused than I thought I would be leaving the structured, career-dominated lifestyle I had just ten weeks ago. And even more frankly, I’m still pretty confused but getting comfortable with it. 

In the first eight weeks, I was pretty much on the road visiting family and friends, going away for a Euro excursion with a childhood friend, and trying out new hobbies. I started pottery classes, went to Dîner en Blanc for the first time after seven years of having it on my bucket list, and I got my Spinning Instructor Certification. I didn’t think twice about what I was going to do and focused on enjoying myself and letting my mind be free. I felt that, for so long, I shackled myself to an illusion of how life should be and denied myself the opportunity to explore. It’s likely that a lot of people feel this way, and we forget that we deserve to feel free.

In the last two weeks, I experienced something that was very familiar and that occurred repeatedly in my corporate days. I burned out. I was cranky, had a negative attitude, and felt physically drained. I burned out in a major way twice in my career already, so I was in quite a bit of denial when I started feeling the symptoms by the end of last week. Truthfully, I thought I overcame it and that it wouldn’t happen again. It was even more absurd to me that it happened 1) so quickly since I’ve been on pretty much a two-month vacation and 2) at all because I’m technically not working. In fact, I haven’t made a dime to my name since I left my job.

Last week, I resurfaced into the world as “Sorah Kim, the freelance brand and marketing strategist” and jumped feet first into NYC’s vortex of networking. In addition to my pottery classes and coaching Girls On the Run on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my week was jam-packed with networking, both planned and unplanned meetings with potential clients and other independent freelancers. On Tuesday, I even went to a BNI breakfast for the first-time and had to pitch myself in 45-seconds to 50+ strangers in hopes that someone would remember and refer me (TBD on that). And as I met more people, I was extended invitations to other networking events and follow-up meetings over coffee. And of course, FOMO and fear of lacking in productivity reared their ugly heads and morphed my schedule from being one planned with positive intention to one with an underlining of fear.

They say “energy flows where attention goes.” Fatefully, as my energy flowed to an arena driven by anxiety, I was depleted. As if I were in a marathon, I basically hit the ground running hard and fast without pacing or taking water breaks and ended up burning out. Between each networking opportunity, I did not check in with myself to ensure I was grounded and focused. By mid-week and after meeting several people who have similar titles as me like “brand strategy consultant,” I started to lose confidence that I could do this. I doubted that I had real value to offer founders and companies because it felt like what was in demand was executional social media and digital marketing people which is not what I do. By the end of the week, I told myself that instead of independently consulting, I should start my own agency and pull in other freelancers who are more specialized and executional than me. An agency. Impossible? No. Crazy? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely not. I have valuable experience and credentials to offer. I was just choosing not to see it.

So, in just one week, I went from “Let’s chill and see what The Universe wants to do for me this week” to “I’m freaking out because there’s no way that I can differentiate myself among all these other freelancers. Rather than doing the work to precisely drill down to what industry I want to focus on, the types of founders I want to work with, and the value I can add, let me just hide behind a collective of people in the form of an agency. Then no one has to see my insecurities!” My intensity kicked in ten-fold the moment I doubted myself and forgot why I even left my job in the first place. I was taken over by the external because I wasn’t grounded or fortified. And most of my actions last week were fear-driven rather than purpose-driven. My purpose of embarking on this new endeavor was to have freedom – freedom to be me, to work with those who share my values, and to accept omnifarious possibilities.

Ultimately, I had the trifecta that created my now third burnout experience: intense energy expenditure, self-doubt and negative self-talk, and fear-driven actions. I’m glad that I was able to see symptoms earlier than later which I’d attribute to my improvement in being more present. But one day, I’d love to live without the feeling of needing to do so much to feel successful, the auto-pilot twitch to compare myself to others, and the fear of failing. Known by everyone yet difficult to live by, success, failure, and self-perception are just illusions that we create. Imagine what the world could be like if we just showed up authentically ourselves… as beautiful, perfect messes.