how to recover from a traumatic job
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How I Recovered from My Traumatic First Job

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“Do you think you deserve the salary we’re giving you?”

It was one of those frequent late nights at the office, the creative team was toiling away at another big pitch to present to some bigwigs the next day. We were on a tight schedule, as we usually were, and all hands were on deck, as was often the case. It was my third month working as a junior copywriter for this advertising agency, and I was struggling to write the copy, which, at this point, was nothing new.

I had just spent the past several years studying poetry and fiction. Finding myself in this corner of the “real world” was like coming out of a bubble, or more like having the bubble burst around me instead. Writing for me used to be this meditative, solitary practice with the sole purpose of partaking in the world and sharing my findings. Suddenly, I was supposed to sit exposed in this open-plan office and somehow churn out ideas by the dozen.

Night after night, I came home worn out from the hours I’d just spent seemingly unable to do anything right. Each passing day chipped away at me until whatever brightness I had left inside was replaced by increasingly dark thoughts.

“Do you think you deserve the salary we’re giving you?”

I quit not long after my boss asked me that question. And I would deal with the consequences of those three months on my mental health — and my career — for the next six years.

Starting Small

I embraced unemployment during the first few months and let the nothingness of my days cushion the harmful thoughts that I continued to have. My parents, who had witnessed everything, supported me without question, even as I sought professional help — a privilege I continue to recognize today.

My self-confidence was so utterly destroyed that I was too afraid to take on any real challenges. I decided to become a freelancer so I could work from home and never again have to set foot in an office. I spent most of my time anxious, terrified, and frozen in place.

But slowly, the desire to move forward returned. I started by applying for small $5 projects on freelancing platforms, purposely avoiding writing jobs. I believed that my skills weren’t worth much more than that at the time, but more importantly, having less at stake put less pressure on me.

As I interacted with clients, it became easier to picture myself taking on more challenging tasks, and I did. I taught myself how to use transcription programs and got hired a few times to transcribe interviews and other recordings. The pay wasn’t great, but it was a start.

People Who Empower

Meanwhile, many of my friends were already in the process of growing their careers. There were times when I couldn’t help but compare where they were to where I was, with my small projects that were very few and very far between. I refused to even consider accepting long-term professional commitments at this point, fearing that I wouldn’t be able to see one through.

Several months after I quit advertising, a friend from college reached out, asking if I would be interested in taking an editing gig off her hands. She worked as an editor at a publishing company and occasionally took side projects, but she was already too busy to accept this manuscript.

For whatever reason, she thought of me, and for whatever reason, I considered her offer. She was one of the smartest people I knew, and if she thought I could do it, then maybe I really could. Unsure of my abilities, I tried my hand at editing and sent back the first chapter for her to review.

The encouraging reply I received was enough to make me wonder what else I could do with this newfound skill. Soon, I was poring through The Chicago Manual of Style, captivated by its language and the way it spoke about “elegant solutions.” I was in love.

Everyone Has Their Own Pace

I edited a few more manuscripts but was unable to find enough clients to make a sustainable career out of it. The gaps in my résumé certainly didn’t help. For several years, I struggled with the lack of stability and the exhausting cycle of chasing client after client. 

But, I learned how to sell myself. Each time I had to land a client, I would be forced to take a good look at myself and what I had to offer, and after enough cover letters, I finally began to believe in what I was selling. It would almost be like an act of self-love.

Six years after I quit advertising, I ended up landing a long-term role as an editor for a content marketing agency — doing something similar to what had left me feeling broken for so long. I found myself improving other people’s copy. Occasionally, I even wrote it myself.

And I was good at it.

Celebrating Progress

“Do you think you deserve the salary we’re giving you?”

It was a long and difficult road regaining what that experience took away from me. Every once in a while, I sit and look around me, just reflecting on how far I’ve come. I think about every single step I took that may seem tiny now but felt like a leap of faith at the time.

Maybe my boss was right and they were wasting their money on me. I am honestly sadder about the fact that that young girl was led to believe she had nothing to offer. The bigger waste was not being able to see how much potential I actually had.

All I needed was the right environment to flourish, and I am proud of myself for fighting for it. I fought for my chance to thrive, and I am in a much better place today because of it. 


CircleAround is operated by a wholly owned subsidiary of Girl Scouts of the USA. The site serves women nationwide by providing content that is uplifting, thought-provoking, and useful. We make revenue distributions back to GSUSA so they can further their mission of building girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place.

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