• atekirdag

On success and failure as a career changer

Updated: Mar 29

What is your most substantial accomplishment?

"Describe your most substantial accomplishment and explain why you view it as such."

This was one the questions that was asked in my application for graduate school of social work.

and it was the most difficult one.

I wrote many drafts... maybe 10? or more... I read them all, multiple times. Something was wrong or missing... I was either not going deep enough or just plain mumbling things.

It sounded vague or fake... or both.

What was going on? I love writing - how come I can't manage to write a good 500-words essay?

I was perhaps looking it in the wrong way - it was not the word count, it was the content.

I wanted this essay to be really good - I wanted it to be 100% me, genuinely.

(and how can someone be genuine, effortlessly, if that is the very thing that she is struggling with and working on constantly?) yeah - hold on to that thought, Kumsal!

What was my most substantial accomplishment?

Was it my PhD?


I didn't think for a second to write about my PhD in this essay, as my most substantial accomplishment. Yes, I am proud to have a PhD degree, all the process and what I learned through my training. But I don't feel like it was my most substantial accomplishment - having those three letters means absolutely nothing on their own.

So what was it?

I remember writing something about finding your voice, your way... along the years... blah blah blah.

Finding my way, my voice... what does that even mean? how cheesy and dumb... and I am not going to put some dumb thing on this important essay!

so I started thinking - Seriously, Kumsal -- Why it was too damn hard to figure out your most substantial accomplishment? (I was finally going somewhere!)

Then, I sat down and though about why it was too hard for me to figure this out - my most substantial accomplishment.

Then I wrote exactly this; that I never felt that I was owning any of my "successes" as they never truly belonged to me. How I followed what was expected from me, by my family and every other person I know... rather than speaking up and going down the path I truly wanted. I wrote about how tragically I ended up to be a total disappointment + failure in many ways for many people, despite my glorifying PhD and postdoctoral fellowship...

Oh, that breath of fresh air coming alive - THE TRUTH.

I was finally getting to the heart of the matter.

I went on explaining my therapy journey which made me who I am today. I have always been so proud about it, unapologetically and openly, and what I learned through this intense process, so why not write it down here?

Through the process of therapy, I learned how to speak up for myself, to protect myself and love myself (it is still a work in progress...)

If I have never started to therapy and met with my therapist at the time I wouldn't have,

learned to put boundaries to anyone,

never had a child probably,

never left my career behind,

never dared to embark on this journey to become a mental health practitioner (which is something I dreamed of since I was 16 years old) .

I would not be me, basically. and this is what I am proud of the most.

There you go - that vague sentence of finding you way, self... this is what I meant - THE JOURNEY.

The journey of becoming ME.

Finding the courage to be true to myself. Stop being nice to people who hurt me, and leaving things behind that didn't really belong to me.

That is my most substantial accomplishment.

Phew... those 500 words. As I finished it, I read it, again and again. many times.

and I admit crying many times.

There is nothing more powerful than truth. and there is nothing more freeing that telling the truth. Aloud.

Ironically, did I failed at something to accomplish this?

oh hell yes! on so many things and so big.

In order to change your track, you have to stop, and turn. sometimes totally quit altogether.

I left my career, my life as I know it. I left people who never truly loved me. I left people who tried to hurt me. I left people who tried to make me something that I was not truly.

and I feel like a failure for sure. for leaving so many things behind. but on the other hand, I haven't been proud of myself in my entire life like this.

In other words, I would rather stay true to myself, than "be on the mountaintop"...

Well, how can we hold these two together, is the point of these essays. I believe we can hold these two at the same time. Both feelings. The ambivalence.

Life is never black or white. Nothing is clear cut or neat (as I would have liked...)

It is many shades of grey and we have to navigate those areas.


I still don't know if I will get into the program or not, and that is not the point really.

Every time I feel like a failure for leaving my career behind,

Every time I question my decision to do this again and again,

Every time I need to feel ME,

I open this 500 word essay and read that thing.

And I am telling you, it is my medicine!

After reading it, I remember why I am doing this, I remind myself who I am.

and that it is okay to be afraid. and that I need to continue to stay in the feeling of failure for while, in order to change things.

After all, the biggest failure would be not knowing when to let go or quit.

So, my most substantial accomplishment has never been a degree or something that is tangible or exterior.

It has been always inside me. It has been my journey. Journey within myself. What I dared to do, and where I want to go. That is my accomplishment.

and that, my friend, that can't be taken away from me. That, can't be taken away from anyone.

so, what is your most substantial accomplishment?

whatever your answer is, I invite you to think again.

and I hope whatever your answer is, you own it. Unapologetically.


March 28, 2021

The essay

"Describe your most substantial accomplishment and explain why you view it as such."

For a long time, I was afraid to disappoint other people, especially my family. I faced harsh

resistance and judgement whenever I tried to chart my own course in life, so I dutifully followed other people’s expectations for my career and life choices. My survival mechanisms were to fit in and be nice. Eventually, conforming to other people’s expectations all the time took a huge toll on my mental health. I suffered from low self-esteem and imposter syndrome. I was dissatisfied with my life despite many outstanding career achievements. After graduate school, I made a difficult choice and accepted a postdoctoral fellowship in the United States. This was a grave departure from these cultural traditions but separating from my parents and all their influence was the first real step towards my psychological independence. I felt it was time for me to pursue my dreams and goals, despite the obvious clash with my cultural and family values.

Arriving in the US, I felt confused, resentful and lost. I decided to get mental health support from a social worker. For four years, this therapy has been one of the most challenging and rewarding journeys of my life. During this intense inner work, I dared to ask myself some very difficult questions for the first time, mainly I had to decide how I would like to live my life going forward. I uncovered many truths about my dysfunctional family dynamics, understood their deep and lasting effects on my psychological functioning and explored real reasons for my feelings of unworthiness and need for other’s approval. I began to process these childhood traumas and start healing through extensive grief work. Eventually my anger and resentment lifted, leaving in its place a peaceful acceptance of people as they are and personal permission to embrace myself as I am.

I embarked on creating my own family on my terms, relying on my relationship with my partner and the therapeutic support from my therapist. By doing this, I was able to create healthy boundaries and learn to express my needs and feelings in kinder and assertive ways. I learned that getting free from the past, healing and moving forward is possible. I now believe healthy relationships can be formed even in dysfunctional families with conscious effort and effective boundaries. Recently, I welcomed my daughter to my life. I believe my nuclear family now can provide a safe family environment for my daughter; the kind of love and support that I yearned to have from my own parents.

Now I feel free to truly embrace who I am and dare to change my narrative to align it with my true self and values. Becoming a social worker would allow me to realize my lifelong passion to help other people feel empowered to realize their true selves. Allowing myself to write the next chapter of my life as I would like, finally being authentic to myself, is the most substantial accomplishment in my life.


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