(Original post from Career Contessa ):
There’s nothing like a breakup to make you feel like you’re completely off course. But if you lean into the unwanted transition, it can motivate you to make daring decisions about your life and career.
There are a lot of things that women do after a breakup, and I’ve probably done them all. Going blonde? Check. Getting bangs? Check. Ben and Jerry’s binge eating? Check. Unfortunate rebound decision? Chagrined check.
After a breakup, we tend to focus on what can give us immediate gratification—the sugar high or the shopping spree. When we talk about the long-term benefits of a breakup, it’s usually with a hopeful or experienced tone. The lessons we learned, the wisdom of the “better to have loved and lost” clichés. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger—but only after a few months or years of heartache.
What we can miss those first few months in the shadows is the clarity breakups can bring. Grief can make you hollow, but that leaves room to fill yourself with new experiences and emotions.
Grief can make you hollow, but that leaves room to fill yourself with new experiences and emotions.
WHEN EVERYTHING SEEMS TO GO WRONG AT ONCE
For me, ending a four-year relationship came at a time I can only describe as the proverbial fork in the road. Later, it seemed fortuitous—I was reaching a breaking point at work and my lease was coming to an end. I was clinging by my fingernails to everything that was slipping away, and probably for the wrong reasons.
The first thread that began to fray was my job. I had been working as a director in an advertising agency for the last two years, and I loved it…until I didn’t. This decrease in love started slowly. There were changes within departments, demands increasing with little reward, and a permeating feeling of negativity amongst colleagues and supervisors. I was stretched thin—working 10-hour days at the office, just to go home and continue working late into the night. My health suffered, both physically and emotionally. My friendships waned; I was either too busy or too tired to make plans. I even distanced myself from my family, not wanting to admit how bad things had gotten.
Before the downhill slide, I thought I had found the career that would take me through to retirement. I loved my job and my company—I was the youngest director in their 19-year history—but I never felt like the kid at the adult’s table. My opinion was not only heard but requested. I was thriving in the fast-paced environment and with the high-strung client base. I echoed my boss’s sentiments when interviewing hopefuls—you have to be cut out for the world of advertising.
I ignored the whispers that plagued me over the last few years—the digital world changes so fast, and I might not have a job in a decade. I watched older colleagues phase out, unable to keep up with their younger counterparts. There would always be someone ready to take my job if I fell behind. I disregarded these feelings of unease because I was still in my early 20s, and there was always time.
BUT THERE’S NEVER ENOUGH TIME
There was the problem I didn’t realize until much later. I always thought there would be time—time to start a new career, time to live somewhere else, time to fix the lingering problems in my relationship. I thought I would have years to start the bucket list of things I wanted to do in my life.
We spend a lot of time thinking about someday. The possibility of greener grass, knowing that we will get there eventually. We plan for it, and without even realizing it, someday becomes yesterday, and you’ve arrived at your life.
When my relationship ended, I didn’t have someday. I had a shattered heart, a miserable job, and the feeling like something had to change.
CUE AN APARTMENT RENEWAL NOTICE
A week later, I received my notice of renewal for my apartment. In that moment, I knew it was time to go. Not just quit my job, but leave behind the bad memories and broken fragments of the person I had become over the past year; the person I didn’t even recognize as myself and I definitely did not like.
Don’t look behind you—look at the crossroads ahead, out of the shadows, and you’ll realize that both roads go on forever.
I knew it would have been hard for me to stay with the ghosts. Already, my apartment seemed to echo with them. I had moved to the state for this relationship, so there were very few places that were mine alone and very few friendships that weren’t mutual. The only thing I could embrace as completely belonging to me was my job, and that could not keep me. In fact, it was pushing me out the door.
The moment I got that letter, I started making a list of all the cities I wanted to live in. I had two months before my lease ended, and I told myself I could get through two months if I had something to look forward to. It was a small pinprick of light in the crushing darkness.
MAKING THE [RIGHT] MOVE
Once I decided where I wanted to live, I began my job search. Half-heartedly I reached out to colleagues in the industry and scrolled through postings until I had a wake-up call. I was filling out an application for a position very similar to my current one when it got more and more difficult to breathe, and my field of vision started clouding. On a first-name basis with panic attacks over the last six months, I knew exactly what was happening and why.
I didn’t want to do this anymore! I didn’t want to work long hours for ungrateful managers. I didn’t want to work for unknowledgeable clients with unrealistic demands. The biggest dissonance in my current field kept me up at night with a sense of dread—I wasn’t doing anything to change lives or benefit anyone. I was working like a dog so businesses could make more money. It wasn’t worth the stress, or the toll it took on my mental and physical health.
I made the choice right then to find a new job or career in a field that would be rewarding. I realized despite my agency-heavy background, I had skills that were easily transferable to other fields and the quick learning ability to start somewhere new.
Shortly after applying, I was invited to interview for an admissions position at a prominent university in the city I planned to live. It seemed perfect—I always wanted to work in higher education, and the position favored my marketing background for recruiting. When I traveled down for the interview, I made appointments to view apartments and fell in love with a one-bedroom in the quiet historic district of the city.
The next day, I quit my job. It was risky to do without another offer, but I knew I could make it work in any capacity. Even without the threat of my ending lease, I needed to go before I backed out or lost my nerve. If I had to wait tables or work freelance jobs while I waited for the perfect career change, I would do it.
STARTING AGAIN WITH REGRETS
But I got the admissions job, and I immersed myself quickly in higher education. It has been a whirlwind in the best way, and I am still learning every day. To say it’s been easy would be a lie—it’s a new skill to learn, a new city to explore, and it’s hard to meet people and make friends in a new place. I get frustrated, harried, and sometimes I’m lonely. But I have a sense of purpose again; I am slowly coming out of the shadows and re-adjusting to the light. I’m finding the person I used to be and in a field that inspires and excites me daily.
My only regret is wishing I had gotten here on a different road. That breakup didn’t inspire me to try something new or break out of the cycle of bad decisions and unhappy mindsets. I don’t think I will ever be happy that getting dumped happened, but I’m grateful for the push. People break up, fall out of love, move on every day. Don’t look behind you—look at the crossroads ahead, out of the shadows, and you’ll realize that both roads go on forever.
Tell us, has heartbreak ever given you the push you needed? Have you made drastic changes in an effort to take your life into your own hands?