After high school, I worked full time for a couple of years before attending college. In total, it was nearly nine years from the time I left high school until I earned my undergraduate degree. As soon as I began attending college full time, I was excited for the day I would finally graduate.
But by the time I was getting ready for my graduation ceremony this past December, my excitement had vanished. I was surprised at how underwhelming it all felt, but I brushed it off as recovering from feeling a bit burned out. I had almost a month of time off before beginning my job at Atomic, so I figured that was plenty of time to recover.
Two months into working at AO, I was still struggling to feel like myself. I was doing something I really enjoyed at a great company surrounded by fantastic people. I had all the reasons in the world to be happy, yet something was still nagging at me. I didn’t want to jeopardize my professional or personal relationships, so I knew I needed to do something to get back on track.
Getting Back in the Groove
After some introspection and discussion, I was able to pinpoint the factors that were throwing off my groove. The following are the most helpful steps I took to move back to my version of “normal.”
- Build a new routine. The 9-to-5 structure of a work day provided consistency from Monday through Friday. However, after years of having other things scheduled around work, I wasn’t feeling complete. A simple solution for me was joining the local YMCA and committing to attend a couple of group fitness classes each week. By becoming more active, I was also filling a gap that walking around a college campus had previously occupied.
- Make new goals. Some of the greatest fallout for me was due to the sudden lack of a clearly defined goal with a hard end date (earning my degree). Luckily, due to the nature of my employment, I was able to set another similar goal: completing the Atomic Accelerator program. In addition to that, I made some smaller goals. Improving my fitness helped me set simple milestones that would be achievable in the near future. For example, when I started exercising, I could do a whopping zero push-ups. Being able to do just one was a goal I knew I could accomplish in a short period of time, and my success was easily measured.
- Celebrate the little wins. If I only focused on the largest goal on my plate, it would be difficult to feel accomplished until it was finally complete years down the road. And when it was done, I could end up in the same situation, with a disappointing sense of, “Now what?” Back to the fitness example: When I first did a push-up without struggling, I cheered for myself with a mental “hooray!” Each subsequent push-up warranted another. All of the tiny accomplishments I have acknowledged have kept me motivated and striving for the next one. “If I can do one push up, then I can surely do two, then three, then…”
- Connect with new peers. Something else that hit me especially hard was losing a group of peers with whom I was quite close. I had some really excellent friends in my computer science program and spent most of my time with them. We would see each other in classes, working on homework in the labs, or on the weekends (which usually involved more homework in the labs). No longer seeing any of them was difficult, and I knew I needed to connect with a new group of peers. I made it a point to spend time with coworkers outside of the office and learn more about them. By doing this, I have been able to form new connections and grow a support system of peers in the workplace. This is probably the step that has most sped up my improvement.
For anyone who may be dealing with something similar, I hope my insights can help you in addressing your own concerns. For those still working toward a degree or another comparable goal, I encourage you to scope out some other goals prior to finishing that one and set milestones along the way. As for me, I know I am back on the right path and am looking forward to continuing this chapter of my life.