A Year of (Un)learning

words from mae’s “Our Love is a Painted Picture”

A year ago, today, I left my 12-year job in digital publishing, where I was working for a website I considered my life’s work. I lived and breathed our website for the better part of that decade. That meant the brand was basically my lifeblood.

When I was suddenly without a job, I felt lost. Spending 10 to 12-hour days immersed in my work, my life became all about the job. I identified as an editor and I slowly forgot anything outside of it. I don’t think I did it consciously, but it happened.

The past year has been a year of learning and unlearning for me. Weeks of debating with myself if I enjoyed something because I was really interested in it, or if I was conditioned to because I was exposed to it all these years. I questioned whether I was really good at what I did, if I had anything else to offer. I wondered if I genuinely loved what I did or if I had grown accustomed to it because it was all I ever had to do.

I suppose when you devote an inordinate amount of time and effort to something, you begin to lose yourself in it a little bit.

I suppose when you devote an inordinate amount of time and effort to something, you begin to lose yourself in it a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with that—I don’t regret those 12 years. I am who I am now precisely because I put in the work all those years. I accept all that came out of it—good, bad, and everything in between.

I learned to value myself and the people around me. I discovered that more than what other people have to say, what’s important is why you’re doing what you do. Just like anyone else, I crave affirmation and recognition. That’s normal, but I don’t need it to move forward. When you lose your sense of self, it’s easier to look to other people for a sign that you’re doing a good job. If they approve of you, then maybe you’re on the correct path, right? More often than not, you’ll realize that you know yourself better than anyone else. While it’s nice to be acknowledged by others, isn’t it better when you make your choices based on what you want and not because it’s what everyone else expects of you?

I’m putting in the work for myself this time.

This year, I started writing in my journal again. I wrote for myself. I pitched stories and got published in places I didn’t think I would ever see my byline. I baked more. I learned how to cook. I’ve been reading books again. I’m getting creative again, dusting off my watercolor, my nibs and ink, my paper and notebooks. I started projects with friends because I want to, not because I have to. I’m putting in the work for myself this time. It has been a fulfilling year.

There are days when I think about how broken I felt a year ago. But when I count down all the days and all the things I’ve discovered about myself and the world around me since then, I’m glad I took time to piece everything together again. I’m still in the process of figuring out who I am and what I want to do. And I’m not worried if I still don’t know for sure what that is yet. Isn’t it comforting to know that we’re all still finding out for ourselves, too?

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