How I Redirected My Career Plan After a Life Crisis
January 23, 2020
This story begins in February, two days after I arrived home from New York Fashion Week. I was tired, my energy supply and wallet close to empty, and I was driving home after a counseling
This story begins in February, two days after I arrived home from New York Fashion Week. I was tired, my energy supply and wallet close to empty, and I was driving home after a counseling appointment. All of a sudden, my dashboard lit up - everything on the board - and my car slowed to a halt on the side of the highway. It would take three anxious hours for me to call a tow truck and wait for it to haul my car to a to a local auto shop, and another two days until I got the news that my car was dead. As in, 100% D-E-A-D.
Alas, the car’s engine was now burned out. As I tried not to cry post-vehicle inspection, a mechanic explained to me over the phone that I could replace it for twice the amount paid for the vehicle, or send it to the dump. I had less than $300 in my checking account, no funds sufficient for a car in my savings, and no clear way out of the situation. It felt like I was flailing in open waters with no land in sight; the only solution I could think of was to find a second job.
I've worked at my current retail job for over a year and very much enjoy it. However, to anticipate buying a new car by the end of March so I didn't have to be the family inconvenience by borrowing my two working parents' or brothers' cars, I needed more funds - funds I didn't have from one part-time job. And if I wanted to get an internship in New York this summer to further advance my editorial career, I needed to save up money and continue going to school without disrupting my family’s schedules. After a week of inquiries at mall stores and restaurants, I swallowed my pride and took on a second job at McDonald's.
Although I had worked in food service before, I didn't realize this new job would be as challenging as it became. In the first two weeks, before my school's spring break, I felt I'd mastered the art of being the restaurant's "customer service" - a role chosen for me by the manager after my interview. I had used my retail skills in how I behaved, completed manual tasks, and interacted with customers,and it seemed to be going well! I had yet to be paid, but had turned in the paperwork to receive my money via direct deposit instead of the McDonald's employee debit card I was given in my first week - so I knew I'd get the money eventually. I fantasized I could indefinitely keep this second job, at less than 30 hours a week, and make more money than I initially would from one part-time job. After a new car, who knew what I could buy with the salaries from two jobs - the Prada shoes I'd just seen marked down on Farfetch? One of those Instagram-popularized face rollers? Maybe I could even start an apartment fund for living in New York! The opportunities seemed endless.
However, post-spring break, things took a turn for the worse. My grades had begun to slip during my frantic job search, and once I had a second job I didn't have much time to study: I was either moving clothing racks or taking fast food orders in my spare time. My self-care had also begun to falter, as I was getting about five hours of sleep most nights, began to severely neglect my skincare routine, and had less and less time to socialize with my friends when I didn't go out that often to begin with. Even the restaurant's manager was not as forgiving as I'd believed - she repeatedly asked why I could not work 40+ hours per week like I had during my spring break, and was exasperated - though I would contribute 20-30 hours each week - that working at McDonald's was not my number-one priority over school, my first job, or my internship. Enhanced customer service aside, the only new thing I’d perfected was how to change into "street clothes" for retail work or my polyester McDonald's uniform in whichever car I’d been loaned. I was consistently behind in school, mentally and physically drained, and cried in the shower weekly. I couldn't handle it anymore.
So, in early April, I unceremoniously called my McDonald's manager and told her I needed to quit. I had bitten off more than I could chew, and it was seeping into every part of my day-to-day life. I could work hard and sacrifice leisure time to reach my goals, but if it meant continuously feeling stressed and overworked and was forming a roadblock towards my future, it wasn't the right path to stay on. Plus, I still hadn't been paid for the work I had done (though I later discovered the money had been put on the employee debit card, in spite of the paperwork I’d completed).
After postponing my internship until the end of the academic semester, I knew I needed to do damage control on my academic and professional life - and fast. As much as I tried, and as much overdue homework as I tried to get done in the weeks leading up to my finals, it wasn't enough - I passed all of my community college classes, but barely scraped by, and as a result, did not get into the one school I applied to for spring admission (although, to be fair, with my GPA there was hardly a school that wouldn't have rejected me). And I never got that car before the end of the semester! Needless to say, I was equally as disappointed in myself for taking on the second job and letting my grades go up in smoke as I was when the first car died. I felt like I was back to square one.ow, I had money that I could get a car with, but nothing I found fit in my budget, and I wasn't going to a four-year school in the fall, so I wasn’t a valid candidate for any of the summer internships I’d applied to. I was so frustrated I felt like screaming.
However, I needed to take a few days to recover. I took back my internship, requested more hours at my retail job - which I've since kept and like very much, thank you - and began getting more than six hours of sleep per night. I'm currently taking a summer class, and I'll be going back to community college in the fall to retake classes to bring up my GPA so I'll be in a better school by January. Career-wise, I’ll have some time to sort out where I want to go next to further my passions - whether that means working in D.C. for awhile or being able to intern in New York in the future. My four-year plan was delayed by one semester, and I’m still learning that that's okay - timeline-wise, I might be behind other students in my year, but I have a clear career plan in magazine editing for myself. In the future, I’ll take comfort in that, and I won't let sudden problems overshadow my personal life or professional roles. If I'd known how much my grades would suffer from taking on that job, I never would have looked for one to begin with!
As for the car, I found a solution that had been under my nose the whole time. In early May, I flew to New Hampshire to buy a 2005 Pontiac G6 from my uncle's brother-in-law, who I am permanently indebted to for helping me when I needed it most. I drove it back to my home state overnight the day I found out it could safely make the 500-mile drive home. At the end of the month, after various mechanical fixes and inspections, I registered it in-state, plates, stickers, screws and all. The car is orange (a shade I like to call "burnt amber," because it's fancy), and I couldn't be happier with it - it gets me from point A to point B, and hasn't spontaneously burst into flames. Progress!
And, indeed, progress has been made. I have numerous pieces to write for Step Up, the entire summer to work and have some free time, and a functioning car - and although my future isn't as clear as it was four months ago, I’m living with the adjustments. My mistake showed me that putting too many commitments on my plate led to overwhelming stress - especially when I had several to begin with, and was doing it to alleviate a problem. Maybe my multitasking skills will improve in the future, but as a student with internships and a job, just “doing more" was not in my best interests. Even though I let one problem overtake my life, I'm learning from that mistake and putting in the work to follow my dream, and really, I couldn't ask more of myself right now.