It’s been almost 3 months since I posted original content on here, making it my longest break from blogging since I started The Open Road Before Me in 2011. There was good reason for that. April and May could best be described as a gauntlet, during which I decided to break my contract at Shane English in Yangzhou, China and come home more than 7 months early. There were many reasons for this, most of which can be found in my post on battling depression while living overseas. But the tipping point ended up being my health. The eastern seaboard of China is not a clean place, and I was beginning to feel a heaviness in my chest, a burning in my lungs, and the deep, hacking cough that had begun in February was only getting worse…
So I got out. I’ve never done that before with a job overseas — given up. It was humbling. But it was also a good learning experience. Once I made sacrifices out of my health and relationships for a job, but this time was different. People change. Priorities do too.
I’m not out of the woods. I’m feeling productive and motivated, but there’s still a heaviness I haven’t been able to shake. This type of thing doesn’t just switch off. It’s more akin to pulling blackberries out of a garden. The bastards keep coming back, but each time, they’re a little less thick, a little less gnarly. Slowly, surely, we beat back the thorns to create something beautiful.Me
I wrote that in the beginning of April, when it felt like things were falling apart in China, and I was grappling with the reality that I was depressed. To be honest, I’m still not out of the woods. I’ve implemented a lot of good habits, and I’m getting better day by day. But there are still some mornings where getting out of bed feels like the biggest battle of each day.
I’ve been reflecting on that, and trying to figure out why I haven’t been able to claw my way out of this quagmire yet. And I realized something the other day as I walked on a winding dirt trail through a creaking forest. The amount of pressure I’ve been putting on myself has been immense. Maybe that had something to do with it…
The Job Search
I’m a dreamer — always have been. I get inspired about something and make plans upon plans about it. I have contingencies with their own contingencies. But sometimes, despite my best efforts, everything hinges on one, critical factor — and sometimes that factor is out of my control. And that… that I think is what I haven’t been able to come to peace with.
When I decided to leave China, I knew that I was not only leaving China, but leaving TEFL as a career path — at least for the foreseeable future. As an alternative, I began applying to customer support and business development roles with remote-first companies mostly in the SaaS space. For the most part, these companies work great with a lifestyle like mine, allowing employees to work from anywhere with an internet connection. There’s just one problem: competition for open positions is fierce.
It’s been three months. THREE MONTHS. Three months of trawling job boards, writing cover letters, and researching company ‘About Us’ pages. Three months of sending job applications out every day. Three months of interviews, and three months of rejections. It’s been brutal.
Last week, I realized I couldn’t remember the last day I hadn’t applied for a job. I was pulling up my ‘Job Hunt’ database like people pull up their Instagram, and the first thing I’d see most mornings was a rejection email from another potential employer. I needed to unplug.
Learning to Unplug
That’s been this weekend. I helped a friend move, studied Spanish, listened to podcasts. I went out into the woods again, as I’ve been trying to do every day. I did yoga. I thought — deeply — about what I’ve been putting myself through, and I think I figured it out.
Those things I’d written about in my last post? About self-affirmation, rediscovering agency, and taking positive action? I missed something in that list. I touched on it — oh, so briefly — but didn’t quite grasp it at the time. I have to learn when to relinquish control.
I’m stubborn, always have been. I believe in agency, and the power of the individual to forge their own way. But there are things in this world beyond our control, that’s just how life works. This fulcrum in my life that I’m trying to bend to my will — getting a remote job — is something I have a lot of control over. I control the companies I apply to, I control the amount of effort I put into my applications. I control everything about the application process — up until I click ‘Submit’. But after that, it’s out of my hands. Sure, there are things I can do post-submission to help, but the point is: I no longer have control over what happens. The hiring decision is someone else’s.
There are two ways of attaining an important end, force and perseverance; the silent power of the latter grows irresistible with time.Sophie Swetchine
That realization hit me hard. I’d been pouring so much time and effort into these applications, and the deluge of rejections was chipping away at the self-esteem I’d been trying so hard to improve. But the rejections themselves weren’t my fault. I knew how much effort I’d put in…. I knew that I’d done my best. It just wasn’t a good fit.
It’s funny how re-framing something can completely change how you feel about it. By accepting that I didn’t have full control in the application process, only over my part in it, I was gave myself the permission to fail. And it felt great.
Now I know what I need to keep in mind, in this and all other things…
Know what you have the power to change. Know what you can control. Be patient. Be persistent. Try one more time, and then try again. Be the best version of yourself that you can be.
Let go of the rest.
I’m still not out of the woods, I know. But something that I’ve learned from these past few months of being home, of walking the forest paths and letting myself absorb all of the splendor of Nature around me… I actually like being in the woods. It’s where I learn and where I grow. It’s where I heal. It’s where I belong.
I feel better now. I know what I need to do. And I think I’m close — really close. I think all of my hard work is about to pay off. I just have to push a little more… try a little harder. But today? Today I’m just going to relax. I think I’ve earned it!
How about you? What’s something in your life that you’ve struggled with? How did you get through it? Share your stories in the comments below, and thanks for reading… I appreciate you!