The Importance of “Bottoming Out”

When I left college, I had no idea what was ahead.

I graduated with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, with Honors and New Media concentrations. Sounds ideal, since video production is exactly what I wanted to work in. I was ready to take on the industry and show everyone what I was made of. (I cringe thinking about this). But what that degree got me was work as a server assistant at a restaurant, which I was only able to get because my younger sister worked there.

On one hand, I was grateful to get a job at all since many people don’t. And I’m not belittling the work, since there was career advancement there if I really wanted it. The problem was I had no interest in anything culinary and I knew that it would never be something I enjoyed doing. During this period I also had to move back in with my parents, hundreds of miles away from the college I went to which had provided my social circle for the last four years.

Basically, I bottomed out. I had a very low opinion of myself, which I told myself was self-deprecating but truly was indicative of the hopelessness I felt. Even worse, the thought that this feeling would last forever. What if I didn’t break into the industry, or even figure out how? How do I even know if I can develop the skills to make a living doing something different? Would I ever have as much as an opportunity to prove myself? I feared that I would be caught in a Groundhog Day loop of doing the same thing everyday, with diminishing returns.  What I didn’t realize at the time was how much that experience would change me for the better.

After about nine months of not finding any paid positions, I accepted that I was not qualified yet for the kind of job I wanted. I aggressively pursued internships, determined to gain as much experience as humanly possible. I was going to have to outwork everyone else and prove to potential employers (as well as myself) that I was a valuable asset. I tried to communicate this feeling in every application I sent.

Eventually, my top choice accepted me. While life was still a struggle, countless positive changes stemmed from that. Now I have a level of understanding and patience for those who haven’t found their footing yet.  I’m not sure I would have had the work ethic to survive in this line of work without having those immediate setbacks.  But I think the biggest thing I gained was the importance of finding people to invest in me, not just hand me a paycheck. Having that deepened connection is crucial to me now because that initial investment has paved the way for any professional success I’ve had since then. I now look at company culture, from the top down, as a necessity for a place of work. Maintaining that kind of environment is the most important factor in convincing myself that I’m moving forward, not backward.

– “Carl Stephens”

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