We hear it all the time: this year is my year.
The sentiment is repeated, tweeted, and memed so much that it has become almost cliche. It’s also a pressure that often leads many to feel unfulfilled if their plans don’t work out exactly as they imagined. Unfulfilled—and lost.
“[Feeling lost] could be frustrating at any age,” says Dr. Alan Castel, professor at UCLA and author of Better With Age. “[But] I always think of humans as problem-solvers, we’re drawn to mystery novels or movies. You might not know what’s going on in the first 10 minutes of the movie but that doesn’t mean you leave the movie.”
Dr. Tasha Holland-Kornegay, a mental health therapist and author of Hey Take This Book, It’ll Help You Feel Better, says that feeling lost is a through line in many of her sessions—especially among Black women, who she says can consciously or unconsciously internalize negative racial sentiments.
“There are harmful societal expectations on Black women,” says Holland-Kornegay. “For instance, some feel like they should shy away from ambition as if they aren’t capable of great things, while others feel like they should be restlessly ambitious as if to prove something to themselves and the world.”
“We’re all nuanced people with our own desires and fears—finding time to explore these is essential to finding confidence and a stronger sense of self,” says Holland-Kornegay.
With this kind of duress, it’s easy to feel lost. But that’s not always a bad thing. If handled properly, it’s a great opportunity to do some much-needed exploring.
“Black women walk into the world with so many cultural expectations foisted upon them that it’s difficult to feel comfortable becoming ourselves,” adds Kornegay. “We’re all nuanced people with our own desires and fears—finding time to explore these is essential to finding confidence and a stronger sense of self.”
Tiffanie Stanard, 36, has been an entrepreneur for 15 years and spent the last six years building her tech company, Stimulus. At the beginning of 2020, she was traveling, working, networking, keeping up with events, all the while trying to figure out her direction. Not only with her company but her personal life.
“I honestly feel like I have not been living for the last few years,” says Stanard.
She was so overwhelmed that she remembers tweeting that she wished the world would stop. It did, somewhat, in the form of a global pandemic. The shutdown allowed Stanard to sit in that confusion and start asking herself questions she hadn’t thought of in a while.
“What do I love to do outside of business? Who are my friends? A lot of friendships ended all these years,” she asked herself. “Should I revise them? Were they supposed to end? I took a break from dating because I wanted to really focus on building this company. Should I start again?”
She wasn’t alone. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in September 2021 alone. “The Great Resignation” has become the new buzz phrase and the most common reasoning is that people have had more time to do some soul-searching or as Texas A&M psychologist Anthony Klotz called it, “pandemic epiphanies.” When your life and livelihood is at the whim of a highly contagious virus, it can shift your priorities and perspective.
“It’s like discovery learning,” says Dr. Castel. “It’s better for someone to learn something on their own because that leads to a deeper level of retention and an awareness that you discovered it, as opposed to someone telling you.”
Standard says she began speaking with a therapist and professional coach. With the grind slowing down, she started paying more attention to her body and realized a lot of her mood swings were related to fibroid symptoms.
“I’m still dealing with it,” she says. “But mentally, I feel better for the first time in two years.”
Kareen Eustache, 28, felt that she was on autopilot. She vividly remembers those days of papers covering her desk, outstanding tasks, and long hours.
“I could never understand, how is it that I’ve worked so hard and I still have more work to do?” asked Eustache, who is currently an intervention specialist in Brownsville, Brooklyn. “Sometimes working harder is not the solution, the solution is to stop.”
She noticed that she couldn’t develop herself professionally because her focus was going in several directions. During the pandemic, she was forced to focus her energies.
“ was the year that I woke up,” she says. “I realized that whether it was in a professional or a personal space, I struggled to speak to my needs because I was always trying to meet the needs of others.”
Eustache says making a change involved creating boundaries, taking time to listen to herself, making a plan, and doing research that armed her with knowledge and insight into what she was feeling. Since then, she’s become a more effective teacher by tailoring her methods to each student.
“I am more of a leader,” she says. “I am more of a planner and I’m more organized than I ever thought I could be.”
“I think feeling a little bit lost or unsure can be beneficial,” says Dr. Castel. “It’s like discovery learning. It’s better for someone to learn something on their own because that leads to a deeper level of retention and an awareness that you discovered it, as opposed to someone telling you.”
In 2020, in the throes of the pandemic, I produced a documentary with a tight budget, a moving set, Covid-19 regulations, and a team of 13. Like it was normal. It was not normal. I started 2021 thinking it would be the year that I would build on the momentum. I would catch up on my relationships, my finances, and my goals. It would be my year. I was ready. I was motivated. I was inspired. I was drained.
I decided to rest for a month. One month just turned into 12 months. Last year was not the most I ever worked but it was the most I’ve traveled domestically. New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles, Maui, New York, Philadelphia. Some places for the first time and some have become my second home. I had adventures and met new people. I took the time to explore and figure out where I wanted to settle because I didn’t have the answer. I still don’t but I’m enjoying the journey.
I would get messages from people saying I look so happy. Feeling lost pushed me to reevaluate what is important, to change how I work, to smile in ways my mother hasn’t seen me smile since I was a kid, to boldly pursue love without all the answers, and to start therapy to help me get some. I claimed that right despite anything denying my right to do so. That was the definition of my year. I thought I was lost, but really what I was doing was finding and re-finding me.