I began my full-time work life in August 2010. College didn’t work out for me so I took a job as a receptionist in an allergist’s office in Midtown, Manhattan. Younger me was excited for her first taste of real money, independence, and a new venture. After 15 years in school and living to impress my parents and teachers, I was finally able to get a taste of what it would be like to impress myself. I had zero ideas that I was about to embark on one of the most character building journeys of my life.

I have never fit into the standard description of what society paints a female. I am not dainty, I am not delicate, and I definitely have no clue about fashion. I have self-proclaimed “resting bitch face” so working as a receptionist felt impossible. I quickly realized that the standards for the working woman were higher than I could have ever anticipated. I came to the table with a solid education, an ability to pay attention and quickly learn, and a small amount of people skills. This felt like enough of a starting point but it wasn’t. As a woman in the workplace, you are required to smile, required to dress the part, required to act the part. The world has a laundry list of standards it expects you to abide by and I was in over my head. I began looking for validation once again only this time in my bosses and colleagues. I started drowning in the sea of standards once again.

My anxiety grew in a professional setting. I started to develop deeply rooted insecurities. An array of questions flashed through my mind every day. Am I pretty enough? Do I smile enough? Am I smart enough? Despite, how inappropriate the scenario, I’ve had a boss flat out tell me that she does not like me as a reason to let me go. I began to live in a cloud of second guessing myself which made working in general hard. It’s been an uphill battle of wondering if I’m enough. After six jobs, I finally started to realize that I wasn’t going to find it in the position or the authority over me, but rather in me and the set of standards I would set for myself.

While I don’t fully agree with the set of standards women in working environments need to uphold, I do understand them and try to abide by them. However all standards aside I’ve learned that you cannot find the value in anyone’s opinion of your depiction of said standards, you have to set them yourself. I’ve had a messy journey navigating what’s right and what’s not right for me in a professional setting. I have seen, heard, and felt anxiety and nerves in the last 10 years but I am happy to say I’m better for it now. Every critique, constructive or not has shaped me. I am forever a work in progress but the lessons learned have allowed me to shape my own standards and not live for anyone else’s. You spend a large portion of your day at work so it should be an environment where you can flourish and learn.

Ultimately, you have to make your own decisions in every aspect of your life. You have to decide what works and what doesn’t and make the necessary changes for success. Jobs are not permanent. They can be changed, careers can be rerouted but self-love is forever.