My mom has given me some of the best advice, but I never fully understood it until recently. She would tell me this: “Do what works for you, and do your best – even if it doesn’t look like someone else, that’s OK.”
Like most of us, I’ve had lots of ups and downs over the years. Pair that with being a former gifted kid and current, recovering perfectionist, and I’m still learning how to bring things into better balance.
I’ve been working with Productive Flourishing for over a year now, and I can say without a doubt that they have shown me how to lean into my strengths, help me work with my growth edges, and find that better balance I’ve been searching for. I am extremely grateful for them taking a chance on me, and I wanted to share my story of how I got to where I am today.
Life Before PF
I started at Productive Flourishing as a pretty naive 24-year-old, already feeling burned out on life, and with not a lot of experience or direction. I was suffering from depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, and feeling overcommitted and overworked. Over the years, I had a variety of jobs. I spent time as a camp counselor, working with kids, and in the service industry, working weird hours and with an eclectic group of co-workers. I also had one administrative job under my belt, but otherwise no professional internship or training other than my college degree in international studies.
Growing up, many of my mentors were people I didn’t see myself as being like, so everything I knew about work ethic I learned myself. It feels empowering to reflect back on this now, but I spent years working in fear of making one mistake, miscalculation, or wrong move and staring at termination. My typical response would be to flee the scene, to find something “better” or easier, or just different, rather than working through the hard parts of growth and learning. I would make excuses, try to leave early, and hide from my manager (not my finest moment).
I was desperate for a change because I thought it would be the solution to my problems. What I didn’t realize at the time was switching jobs meant I’d run into the same type of problems, just in a different setting and with different people. I truly felt lost and unsure of how I wanted to move forward with my life.
And Then… COVID
I was laid off from my administrative job during the first week of COVID restrictions in March 2020, and even though I had been at my workplace for nearly a year, I really had no idea if I had ever been good at my job. I questioned if I was ever going to be capable of creating security for myself, or if the skills I learned were even useful in another context. Did I just waste a whole year of my life?
To add to the stress, I was in the middle of coordinating a move with friends, which ultimately didn’t work out. And just like so many of us, I had lost my creative and social outlets of live music, karaoke, and practice with my band. I was no longer doing anything in my normal routine. I was no longer volunteering or picking up odd jobs on the weekends, and I had already decided that I wasn’t going to go back to school anytime soon.
After a few months of thrashing, in July 2020 I committed to looking for a new job. I needed the income, of course, but more than that, I needed a place that really and truly wanted me, accepted me, and where I could truly be of use. I knew I needed to work in a space that prioritized clear communication, that treated their employees as humans, and that was as far away from a kitchen as I could possibly get. (No shame on folks in the service industry, I just can’t work on my feet like that anymore.) So I spruced up my resume and started applying to any jobs that fit my new criteria.
Enter: Productive Flourishing
When Josephine, our Ops Manager, called me one summer afternoon, I was expecting a call from unemployment, so when I picked up, I was pleasantly surprised that someone (a real person) was calling to update me about the job application I had submitted a couple of weeks prior. At this point, I had applied for so many jobs that I had to refresh myself on who or what Productive Flourishing was. After completing the work sample and digging more into the company, I realized they were right up my alley.
Shortly after I got hired, I learned that, of a pool of over 300 candidates, they chose me to work on their sweet, small, and tight-knit team. It’s still hard for me to believe that this group of professionals, in a field I knew very little about, took a risk on me. So, ya know… no pressure.
Healing in a Supportive Community
Upon being hired as an administrative assistant, I started small. Naturally, I made some mistakes. I asked a lot of questions and got really nosy. Maybe too nosy. I had never been given this kind of professional responsibility before. I was used to working in overcrowded restaurants, or cleaning up kids’ toys and taking out the trash.
After a few weeks, I started hitting a wall. I could not figure out how to plan my day anymore (and working for a planning and productivity company, no less!). Tasks were getting dropped, and I felt scattered like I never had enough to work on but still not ever finishing anything.
My insecurities were showing — not knowing if I was doing my job correctly. I would spend hours crafting “great” email responses in our support email, or trying to over-simplify systems that were too complex for me to understand at the time. I was also spending far too much time trying too hard around things that, in retrospect, I already know how to do well. Surely I was missing something.
It turned out that I was missing a key piece of information: I don’t need to know everything, and that is OK. When Steve, our Chief Operations Officer, told me, “We are going to be building the plane as we fly it,” I gave myself permission to not be perfect at everything I do.
As a recovering perfectionist who was previously labeled “replaceable” in every job I worked, despite my every effort to move forward, I knew I had a lot of healing to do, and I am so glad that I feel safe doing it while working here.
Here are some things I’ve learned since working here, and that I’m proud to share:
- I am worthy
- I am capable
- I know better than I think I do
- Talk less and listen more
- Read (with your special eyes)
- Take the time, even if it takes a lot of time
- Everything you’re doing to help yourself do the work is a part of the process
- Planning is a part of the plan
- Planning will not fix your problems for you, and having a good plan doesn’t mean you’ll have a great result
- Having no plan might mean the same, if not worse
- Reflection is key to growth
- Growth is painful
- You are a whole human being with real human problems that don’t go away when you ignore them
- Just showing up can — and will — make a difference
- Doing the work is work
- Everything is a project
- Do what works for you
- Your best doesn’t always look the same
One Year Later
Working in a non-toxic environment for the first time in my life has been a game-changer, professionally as well as personally. Between August 2020, when I started at PF, and August 2021, some crazy cool things have happened. The chronic pain I experienced every day for about 10 years went from about a 7–8 on the pain scale to being almost non-existent. I also stayed put in one house for over a year (a feat for me, because I had moved just about every year for the past 6 years). My anxiety levels dropped and I found that I had more brain-space to create healthier habits, like consistently making the bed, going on walks, and reading books. My relationship with myself deepened because I was able to see the places where I wasn’t paying attention to myself or my true desires and strengths. I now feel more capable and less afraid to show my true colors.
I also had some big “ah-has” at work. I went from thinking that my most valuable skills were in customer service to realizing (because of the opportunities presented by my co-workers) that I am more of an Essentialist. With this shift, I was moved to the Ops Team because that’s what I realized got me fired up and excited to take on more work.
But with all the exciting growth, things still get hard. Tasks get missed, things get dropped, and sometimes I make a bad judgment call. I’ve learned a lot from each mistake I’ve made. As it turns out, not everything that fails is a failure, it’s just another opportunity to learn. Maybe I’ll learn that a few more times in a few different ways, but at the end of the day the opportunities to not only be seen but to see myself have been immensely fulfilling. The trust between Team PF is strong, and we hold each other accountable while still holding space for each other.
If you resonate with being a hard worker but don’t feel like your peers and colleagues see you, I want you to know that you are not alone, and I want you to know that there is a place out there that can’t wait to have you on their team. If there’s anything I learned in my time at PF, it’s that you are not fatally flawed, you are not a failure, and you can do anything you set your mind to. Like my mom used to remind me, your best work is not the same as someone else’s, and when you start to peel back the layers, take out the head trash, and find that best work, you will change your life.