Started from the bottom: How networking pulled me out of depression

As told by a recovering corporate ladder climber, turned fun-employed, turned solopreneur.

Started from the bottom

This time last year, I wrote an article on how I networked my way into VICE, Shopify and more, told through Drake-inspired networking tips as I was making a career transition from marketing to media. What I didn’t address was what brought me there in the first place.

I had worked in marketing, events and PR for eight years before I found myself in a role that really wasn’t for me. Admittedly, I went into it thinking that more money, a higher title, and a ‘cooler’ company and industry would make me happy. Near the tail end of it, I found myself exhibiting signs of depression. I didn’t know what it was. I was never diagnosed. It took me about a year after the fact to realize that I exhibited the signs of depression. Here’s what it looked like:

I couldn’t function properly at work.
I was the first one in the office, last one out, but not really getting any work done.
I couldn’t make decisions.
I wasn’t performing.
I felt heavy and dark all the time.
I cried at home most days.
I ran to the bathroom at work and cry there as well, taking deep breaths to try to calm myself.
I even locked myself in the first aid room at work with the lights off because I had a stress-induced headache.

This was a very strange feeling for me. In previous roles, I had gone through the motions of frustration, uncertainty and not liking certain parts of my job, but this time was different. I wasn’t able to power through and just get sh*t done.

I was searching, grasping, for something to pull me out of this career ‘rut’ I found myself in, as I so labelled it. I hated my job, but I liked the people in general, so I was really confused and guilt-tripped myself into thinking “anyone would kill to be in your position, you ungrateful little sh*t” — yes, really).

So to help me cope, I did something for myself that turned out to be a great decision — I started volunteering in the media space, where I had always wanted to work, but had brushed aside due to lack of confidence and well, having been caught up in the corporate ladder climbing life for so long.

What did I do? I turned to my network — my existing network. I reached out to someone I look up to, a media producer who gave me a chance to explore my potential. I volunteered as a television producer and host, and eventually got paid to do it — I had a ‘side hustle’ and damn, I loved it.

I thought I was just looking for an escape from that soul-sucking job by pursuing my passion for media, but ultimately it was what gave me a sense of relief and hope when the hammer dropped. I got laid off.

People say that getting let go or laid off is a ‘blessing in disguise,’ but for me it was clear that getting laid off was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me. I felt immediately relieved that I was finally in a position where I didn’t have to make any further decisions — a decision was made for me. Two weeks before my 29th birthday, I was unemployed and in reparation from a bad blow to my mental and emotional capacity.

Now I’m here

Fast forward to today, here’s the current situation:

I have three part-time jobs on top of my consulting business, passion project, volunteering, mentoring and overseeing an organization operated by high school students that I started when I was 16. I’m more satisfied with my career than I’ve ever been. I’m so incredibly optimistic and hopeful for the future that when I’m in bed at night with my partner, I wake him up to tell him how grateful I am for where I am today and tell him all the plans I have to do epic sh*t.

How networking helped me cope with depression

Photo by Norman Tam

Being 94% extraverted (I’m an ENFJ), I knew had to be around people to rebuild myself.

I forced myself to go to as many networking events as possible to push through the awkwardness of not knowing how to introduce myself to others if not with my job title (because isn’t that how a lot of us shape our identities?). Real talk, it was kind of annoying, yet hilarious when I was on the receiving end of dropping jaws and blank stares when I told people I wasn’t working (and actually seemed happy about it) — because what respectable, career-oriented 29 year-old would actually happy about being unemployed? (Or ‘fun-employed’ as I called it).

At that time I was already determined that the next time I work for someone would be in a role of impact to others and where I could use my talents to the best of my ability.

One of the most impactful networking events I went to was one hosted by a local group called Startup Ladies Night. It’s an intimate group of women in tech and entrepreneurship, where we are encouraged to be open, vulnerable and supportive about our failures, learnings and new pursuits. The welcoming message by the group’s founder spoke to me. She talked about how left her job to give herself the time and space to figure out what she really wanted out of life and to ensure she was living a life of purpose, on her own terms. Although brief, her welcoming remarks taught me to be okay with not knowing what my path was.

It was a transformative event for me because it allowed me to really own what had happened in my previous role, confirming that career transitions were a positive thing, and were a common occurrence.

It also made me more confident in my decision to go out there on my own as a media entrepreneur and workshop facilitator for youth and young professionals.

It made me realize that it’s okay to own my ‘multipotentialite’ wiring and have multiple passions and interests.

It reaffirmed my need to be seen for more than just my job title, accomplishments, or failures.

It made me realize I am not alone, that other people have been here before and have come out the other side.

It lit a fire in me — the kind of fire that felt like a hug and a push at the same time; A hug because I knew I wasn’t alone in the way I felt, and a push because I needed to stop thinking and start making moves.

I recently read The Beauty of Discomfort: How what we avoid is what we need, by Amanda Lang. In this book, Lang shares stories of transformation through discomfort, whether intentional or not, from athletes, to business leaders, to teens and more. In sharing our successes, failures, mishaps and misfortunes, we allow ourselves to be grow, transform and perhaps most important to me as an extrovert, is to be able to connect with others.

Photo by Norman Tam

I’ve been sharing my story as it unfolds to friends one-on-one, to workshops of 25+ young professionals looking to make value-based career decisions, and at events of 200+ people over the last year. Telling my story has helped me not only come out of my depression, but to clarify my life’s purpose. Owning my journey, giving unfiltered real talk, networking and meeting new people has been transformational in my healing process. It’s my personal mission to tell as many people as I can about what I’ve been through, to help them in turn realize their own personal and professional potential.

I’m 30 now. It’s been a year and a half since I got laid off. I took a lot of weird twists and turns, ups and downs, but I remained hopeful and open-minded. Being extraverted and expressive, the best thing for me was sharing my struggles publicly and connecting with others who endured similar experiences. If you asked me a year ago whether I thought I’d be here today, I would say no. What I do know is that in hindsight, this has been the most transformative year of my life to date and I can’t wait to see what else is in store.

Photo by Norman Tam
Me realizing that I suffered from mental health issues in the workplace as I produced this video.

P.S. — Here’s a link to a video I produced on mental health in the workplace. What I shared in this article worked for me, but something different may work for you. If you are feeling any of these symptoms, please consider seeking help from a professional.

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