I have been labeled an “overachiever” by family and faculty for as long as I can remember. My parents wanted me to do well, but I pushed myself harder than they ever did. My father struggled with alcoholism, leading to a tumultuous relationship between my parents, and a distant one between he and I. I worked hard to become great enough at something that marriage never became a necessary path for survival.
Once I knew the Music Industry was something I wanted to be a part of, there was no slowing down. I received a scholarship to Drexel University as a founding student in their now-renowned Music Industry program.
However, being from New York at a time when the student body was mainly locally-sourced, plus someone who was dead-set on avoiding any consumption of alcohol, didn’t exactly help me make friends. I am a slow eater and a slow adapter – a slow digester in every sense of the word.
Finding it difficult to make friends freshman year, I fell into what I later realized was a deep depression. Instead of gaining the Freshman 15, I lost weight and slept 16 hours at a time on days off. I went to class, work, and back home, avoiding any undue socialization. Since the age of 12, I also dealt with Trichotillomania – pulling out hairs, biting fingernails, and picking at your skin; it always became exacerbated during exam weeks.
While it may have pushed me further into my shell, stress motivated me. I found out I had taken enough courses to graduate early. My boss at Atlantic Records decided to bring me along to his new gig at Astralwerks. I would begin the Monday after my last exam as the Midwest Sales Coordinator.
Everyone told me to slow down. Even the higher-ups at Atlantic told me to take some time to travel and rest before jumping in. But I didn’t listen. I had just turned 21 and was moving into my very own office. I hired interns, managed the national street team, and yet was too scared to pick up the phone when somebody called.
My anxiety had gotten so bad that I kept busy with work even after I got home, usually sleeping three hours before my alarm rang. I was back at home with my parents, and my dad’s drinking. I would cry myself to sleep each night and sometimes sneak into the bathroom to cry during a lunch break. I had no sense of self-worth, which made any small error at my job feel that much worse.
When I started at Astralwerks we were short an East Coast Sales Coordinator. One month later they filled the position and our department took her out for a celebratory drink. I had barely tasted alcohol before that evening, but I wanted to fit in and cheers’d with a screwdriver.
I was getting a 12:30 am train back to Long Island. I would have to transfer trains, and my mom would be waiting at my destination at 1:15 am to bring me home. My eyes closed for only a few moments and I woke up as the doors were closing, the train pulled away, and I was headed to the south shore of the island, 40 minutes from my home. I’ll simply state it was a very stressful trip home.
The next day I went to work, pacing my office and biting my nails – I had to quit. I waited until everyone but my boss had gone home. I went to his office with a list of pros and cons for staying at the job. The cons won in a landslide.
However, none of the cons touched upon the real issue – I was burnt out.
I began reading the list, shaking like a leaf in the wind. I barely got through #2 on the list before I started sobbing uncontrollably. I felt humiliated and emancipated simultaneously.
My boss handed me some tissues, let me finish, and then handed me a number to call. It was the company’s mental health program. He told me to call it in the morning and make an appointment. In the meantime, he said I could call him if I needed support to get me through the weekend.
While it didn’t solve all of my problems overnight, as evident by me quitting that job five different times, I am so grateful for that moment. I called for help the next day and met my therapist for the first time a few days later.
I wasn’t used to asking for help and I considered myself fairly self-aware. But therapy gave me something I could never give myself – permission.
Permission to change my mind. Permission to put myself first. Permission to feel any/all emotions, especially fear and anger. Permission to love, be vulnerable and fail, even all at once. And, most importantly, the permission to be slow digester.
In this industry of hustle and grind we could all be reminded about permission, which has become my mission as The Rock/Star Advocate – to give others permission to be more than their passions.
Suz is the founder and CEO of The Rock/Star Advocate (@RockStarAdvo). As a mindset coach for music industry professionals, she helps them develop the confidence and clarity they need to create a sustainable career in the music industry. Her latest book, The Rock/Star Life Planner, is a year-long workbook designed to help creatives set & achieve realistic goals while maintaining a work/life balance.
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