Countless times I wished for the mindset a job is just a job. Work doesn’t travel home; it remains in the cubicle. It doesn’t need to give you this great purpose in life, it needs to support what gives you purpose. At 28-years-old, this outlook hadn't stuck. The time had come to accept it never would. Everything in my life is connected; and, as much as I tried to separate work life from personal life, it's a skill I could not master.
After leaving the land of college, I exhausted myself in the sports industry in and around Philadelphia. I kicked off my career working for the Philadelphia Eagles, had a stint with IMG College, crossed over to the sponsor side working for AAA Mid-Atlantic activating professional and collegiate sports partnerships before finding a home with a small sports marketing company providing sports marketing consultation and activation for corporations such as Dunkin' Donuts. I had on-field access to professional sports games, traveled the country on account of NASCAR races and Super Bowls, worked alongside dedicated people, and always had free coffee. A ton of mistakes were made, I cringe thinking about some of them, but I learned fast, worked hard, and pursued success with passion. My success at the time was keeping my bosses, team and clients proud. I was good at it.
There was a flaw, however. The stress and workload never left my chest. It followed me home. The unfavorable change in my physical and mental state became increasingly noticeable to others. It took me a trip to the emergency room at 3am with a migraine so debilitating walking proved difficult to realize something was wrong. It wasn’t a proud moment. Prescribed anti-depressants and preventive migraine medication then became part of my daily routine. I was forcing myself to be perfect in one of the most fickle industries on earth. This self-applied pressure grew until I could no longer keep fighting.
My decline started as passion faded for my career in sports. This fact took a long time to realize and was tough to accept. Sports had been the essence of my life as long as I can remember. Both of my parents have roots in sports and the sore joints to prove it. From the day I could swing a bat and shoot a basketball, I played, traveled, watched, and played some more. Everything revolved around sports. It followed me through college where basketball was life. My degree even has sports in the title. From childhood to college to career, it seemed impossible this love, once the center of my universe, no longer entirely fulfilled me.
The time came to improve myself, my relationships and my mental health. Some say I wasn’t tough enough; it’s work for a reason. I say, I wasn’t my optimum self. Navigating the sports industry led me here and for that I am grateful. Heading back to the drawing board, what I gravitated towards was clear. Writing and personal style were passions of mine and filled the time sports did not occupy. With time and an ambiguous plan, I made a drastic decision. I left a celebrated career. I started over as a part-time stylist earning minimum wage in Pittsburgh, a city chosen as a compromise with my husband. I launched a blog, or as I prefer, an open journal with style. My rash decision and shaky plan was often met with shock, followed by confusion. Support and acceptance took longer for some than others. I can’t say I blame them.
It has been an interesting ride. Leaving a stable comfort zone is both terrifying and exhilarating. Humility has been the leading lesson. When starting fresh, it’s tough to accept most people do not care about your previous experience. The glamour of sports no longer propelled me into the limelight and that attention is difficult to let go.
Milestones, no matter how small, help. My open journal with style, Wavy Alabaster, has led me down a fun, unforeseen path of transforming friendships; each word laying the foundation to pursue a career in freelance writing. Most importantly, my health and happiness have returned as I marry my personal life with a professional one. Doubt continues to creep into my decision, even two years after the initial leap. But, that uncertainty is silenced each time my husband asks, "Are you happy?" and my answer is yes with a glass raised.
Jessa is a freelance writer and creator of Wavy Alabaster, an open journal with style. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, Ben, and their beloved pup, Opal.