2020 and COVID-19 made a lot us question the work that we do and, more specifically, why we do it.

For some, this led to a kind of career existential crisis, for others it was the gentle nudge (or forceful push!) they needed to leave the season they were in and step into the unknown – despite knowing how scary it would feel.

With that in mind, here’s our incredible MM community, in their own words.

“Ko wai ahau? Who am I? I’d be lying if I said I knew the answer to this question before the pandemic, let alone in the thick of it all. At the height of things here in Aotearoa, I was lucky – that I am very aware of. My partner and I had food, clean drinking water, we were employed and we could work from home. We had a home. But my mental health, which I was already struggling with pre-COVID, suffered terribly. The work I was doing didn’t put me near the virus physically, but mentally I felt like it was in my face every single day: The constant media coverage of lockdown extensions both here and overseas, endless numbers of people losing their jobs, homes and livelihoods - it felt overwhelming, depressing and all-consuming, and I didn’t realise how much it was affecting me. I was falling apart. Eventually, after a long overdue mental health diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, things started to get better, but in order for things to get “better”, things also had to change. If the world wasn’t going to return to its pre-pandemic state, then neither could I. For a lot of us who consider ourselves privileged, the pandemic stripped back the layers of our everyday lives and placed the minutiae of our existence under a microscope, and what I realised was that I had placed far too much significance on things that didn’t actually matter, like reputations and relationships, instead of what I felt truly called to do. So I left my relatively secure job to learn te reo Māori full-time. As a wahine Māori, it’s something I had wanted to do for a while but had always found an excuse for. I wholeheartedly believe that indigenous systems, knowledge, and general ways of being are needed now more than ever. For our people and Papatūānuku, Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua. I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on my past.”

“Over lockdown, I started thinking about how I want to spend my time; I’d fallen pregnant in January and my eldest daughter turned ten in May, and while I felt fulfilled in my job -working for an organisation that looks after something very dear to my heart - when I returned to the office after lockdown I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to be physically closer to home. I wanted to resign when my baby arrived, but I knew I couldn’t stop working completely as I was our family’s sole earner. So I wrote down on a piece of paper what I wanted to focus on, and not long after that I was offered a job that was walking distance from home, allowed me to bring my baby to work, and was aligned with my values. It hasn’t been easy; I had to take a 33% pay cut, so things are tight, but I know without a doubt that it was the right move for myself and my family. On a separate note, I now buy all my gifts for loved ones from local makers to support the community and my family and I are living much healthier; we’re of the mindset that if the virus was to reach our family we want to be in the best possible position to fight it.”

“I’ve worked full time for a company alongside being a freelancer in my spare time for the past two years - juggling these two jobs to try and figure out what it is that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning. Over the past six months I’ve been extremely focused on my freelancing and it’s made me realise that I don’t want to work for anyone else - I’m a creative and I want a career that will allow me to explore my creativity, that challenges my brain and pushes me to plan and think strategically. The hard part is that my freelancing isn’t growing fast enough to allow me to pursue it full time and I’m not in a position to leave my current job as my partner is doing a PhD which means I’m the main bread winner.”

“I’m an architectural designer who was made redundant as a result of COVID-19 and the impact the subsequent lockdown had on the commercial architecture sector. After seven months of unemployment I went back to study and managed to secure a job writing assessments for a resource consent planning company. The role pays the bills (I have a mortgage to service), my colleagues are friendly and I can leave work at 5pm, but I’m miserable. I desperately miss designing. I feel like a part of me is missing, or that I’m only operating as half of my true self. But I also feel extremely guilty for feeling this way because I know that I should be grateful for being employed during such an uncertain time. I know things won’t necessarily be this way forever, but I’m worried that as more time passes, the longer I’ll have been out of architecture and design and things will get harder. I just want the job I loved back. I want my career back.”

“The events of the past year have sent me right back to square one in my career. I thought I was on the right path and doing well in my career in sustainability, but 2020 opened my eyes to the state of the world again, and I realised my skills weren’t being properly utilising in the role I was in. I realised I could do more; use my creativity to make more of an impact. So I quit my job, moved back to Scotland and am now starting from scratch. It feels scary, but it also feels like a clean slate.”

“I work in healthcare so consider myself fortunate to have had a stable income throughout the pandemic, but have spent a lot of the last year reconsidering my career choice. Instead of worrying about a lack of work, I’ve been more concerned with too much work, and the impact it has on me. This past year made me realise just how much I’ve had to sacrifice during my years of study (which is ongoing), alongside full time work. My career means that I miss any semblance of a normal social life or work/life balance, often miss major life events and have a schedule that is completely out of sync with my friends in other industries. But alongside that, I’ve seen the financial struggles of those in less stable careers than mine and the constant media coverage of how hard it is to buy a house, and as a consequence I’m too scared to make a career change. Essentially I’m now worried that I’ll be stuck working forever in a job that demands so much of me, but will struggle to make ends meet as the cost of living continues to skyrocket.”

“In the first lockdown, like many, I spiralled into the fear that I would lose my job. If the company needed to trim down, I thought I’d be the first to go. In hindsight, this was irrational because I’ve been with my company for years and they wouldn’t be able to function without me or someone else in my role. But regardless of knowing that, I spent a lot of last year in a constant state of panic. I cried a lot. I cried because I didn’t believe I was worth anything without this specific job, or working for this specific company. I cried because I felt like all my skills were tied to this job and without it, I had nothing to offer. I cried because I had given so much of myself to a career that I still felt unseen in. Ultimately, I resigned from my job, and now I find myself questioning: Why did I tie so much of my self-worth to who I was in that job when I love all of my friends for who they are, not their career? Why couldn’t I give myself that same grace? Why did I think my identity was wrapped up in my job but at the same time also consider myself expendable and replaceable by my company? I haven’t got the answers yet, but in the meantime I’m enjoying trying to figure it out.”

We hope these testimonies have reminded you that – despite how it might sometimes feel – you’re never alone in the season you’re in. There’s always someone else feeling just as stuck or stagnant or restless as you do. And ironically, it’s often only by leaning into our vulnerability and acknowledging how stuck we feel, that we’re able to set ourselves free.

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