Who We Leave Behind

Lost at Sea

The first time I was completely alone after high school, I remember fearing the weight of the world would crash through me — devastating what I considered my personality. I was in my college dorm a few weeks before the fall semester attending the institution’s first-year orientation. The walls were blank, the rooms were empty, and I didn’t know anyone. The lack of definition in my surroundings seeped its way into my being and I felt less defined as a result. Throughout my years in high school, I had related to myself through the lens of others. I had become so driven by others’ expectations, that when that weight finally lifted it felt like I was no longer anchored to what I understood as myself. I was aimlessly adrift at sea — uncertain what parts of my personality would keep me afloat or get left behind. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered the waves of expectations are not unique to high school or growing up. Throughout life we view ourselves in this context. A single entity submerged in the waters of culture. You can spend your whole life getting thrashed around by the current. In that college dorm room, I felt the waves were coming.

I haven’t felt that way for some time, but the familiar sensation of bobbing in the ocean returned to me when I was standing in a bar in Boston for my high school’s 10-year reunion. High school was a difficult time for me — something I share with every other person on the planet. A generous assessment of my high school experience would be to say, “it wasn’t my peak.” It would be more accurate to say I was a smelly, resentful kid with no friends. My method of survival as a teenager was to minimize my inconvenience to others, which didn’t leave much room for introspection or personal development. I floated through school on a raft of defense mechanisms and ugliness — like an isle of trash in the pacific. It wasn’t until college I realized this wasn’t an ideal foundation for the rest of my life. I dispensed of the ugly raft and began a voyage into the most unchartered territory there is: into the depths of my own thoughts. I came back from that experience as a healthier person, equipped with a better understanding of who I was, but no one at the 10-year reunion would know that. Returning to high school meant I’d have to face the worst fragments of myself I’d left behind. Some of those fragments were people I once knew. Some of those people would be at this reunion — bobbing in the ocean along with me.

The two people who came to mind were the only identifiable friends I had from middle school to early high school: Dan Vietze and Erik — the former I referred to exclusively as “Vietze.” Our friendship was built on a bond familiar to anyone whose felt like an outsider. We didn’t have a place in our school’s social circles, so we created an exclusive counterculture of our own. We founded an island of misfit toys within the ocean of our school’s culture. There we held a high value for the obscure and unknown, identifying a piece of ourselves in the neglected artists and interests in the world. This became the basis of our friendship for four years. We shared music tastes, played video games together, met up during lunch, and planned summers around each other’s schedules. This friendship was my escape from the rest of the world and for a time it was idyllic.

Like many high school relationships, my friend group had its fair share of pranks and jokes at each other’s expense. But the friendship was already built on feeling excluded from life, so when pranks exacerbated our disconnect with other people, they held more weight on our emotional state — at least for me. This reached a breaking point in my sophomore year. I was already a poor student throughout school, but after failing two classes my freshman year I got signed up for guidance counselor meetings. Through these meetings, the suggestion was made my friends were confounding my poor performance and I may want to examine my relationship with them. Suddenly the island I saw as paradise looked like hell. I wasn’t escaping from the world, I was stuck on a pile of garbage slowly sinking to my death. This thought synthesized with my general frustrations in life and directed it toward my friends. I felt empowered and decided to cut them out of my life completely, believing it would root out all other problems in my life.

Obviously, that wasn’t what happened. My friends didn’t take my declaration against them very seriously. I was being dramatic, and they knew that, believing I’d get over it in a few weeks. But the narrative I had spun for myself was too empowering to back down from. I blamed them for my worst self and the resentment renewed itself every few months when I discovered another personality fault in myself and perceived it as a piece of ugliness clinging on from the days when I knew them. Our friendship never recovered, and we eventually lost touch.

But that was ten years ago, and things were different now. I wanted to know what happened to them since high school. From afar, it seemed like both of my friends landed in different social groups during the second half of high school. Erik got a girlfriend and seemed to rely heavily on that relationship. I never saw a photo of him without his girlfriend close in the frame. Vietze — on the other hand — didn’t look like he was on a good path. There was a shed across from my high school which had the reputation of attracting drug users. I saw Vietze at the shed more and more frequently as graduation neared. By my senior year, I heard he was experimenting with prescription painkillers — a departure from our drug-free friendship. I remember wondering if I was obligated to do something, as one of the people who knew Vietze before he started on this path. I was taking psychology at the time and asked my teacher for her insight. She gave me some sobering advice:

“You want to help your friend, but he doesn’t want your help. He wants to do drugs. People like that will manipulate your concern to get more drugs. They’ll bleed you dry and drag you down with them. You can’t help people like that. Please trust me on this and stay away from him.”

This is the memory that plays in my head when someone at the 10-year reunion tells me Vietze died of a drug overdose more than three years ago. He would’ve been 25-years-old. When I’m told about his death, I realize the day I told Vietze I wasn’t going to be his friend anymore was the halfway point of his life.

Misfit Toys

When I think of Vietze, I think of him in math class. Our teacher had assigned a problem set and decided to check-in on my friend to see how he was doing. He looked like the attention had completely paralyzed him. He was unsure of himself and hesitant to speak. Vietze looked to the teacher to direct his actions and refused to put forth his own ideas unless prompted repeatedly. I think this is how most people knew Vietze — a quiet kid who kept to himself — but this was an obfuscation of his personality not an example of it.

In our friend group, Vietze was the de facto leader of our trio. We all shared clever quips and biting critiques of everything and everyone, but Vietze had a rare talent. He navigated our friendship without ever being put in a compromised position. He was rarely the subject of our jokes and often decided things for the group. He was the only one who could safely introduce new music or interests to the group without ridicule. This was an unstated power we ceded to him, but he could only wield it when he returned to the island of our friendship. In waters of real life, he held back, saving his comments for us: “That math teacher is so annoying,” Vietze said to me after class. “I can’t do the problems with you standing over me.”

This personality quirk defined Vietze and Erik as much as it defined my younger self. It comes from feeling like an outsider. We’d lambast the popular trends of our peers in private, but when we were flung into the waters of life, the truth became unavoidable: we were terrified of being rejected, left to drown without anyone’s notice. This mutual fear created our initial bond, but we never talked about it. We didn’t know there was something to talk about. It’s part of the emotional immaturity of being a kid — not to mention the vague life experience that takes over in bouts of depression (which I’ve written about before).

Without knowing it, we inverted our mutual fear into a goal to pursue. The winning strategy was to further assert our outsider status. We believed we existed on an island away from the “cliques” of high school, but we played the same game with more destructive rules. Our default modus operandi was the opposite of anything kids our age were interested in. We staked our territory early and created petty fiefdoms to call our own. Erik was the artist of our group and introduced us to hyper violent and offensive cartoons on Newgrounds or Vietze was the music aficionado, preferring 1970s rock bands or modern alternative rock — but not pop alternative rock like Staind or Puddle of Mudd — a band needed to be unknown to everyone else in the building to be cool. I was big into video games, an interest so wildly ridiculed at the time I didn’t require a further niche within the medium to further my oddity.

I can’t speak for Vietze or Erik, but in this alternate world I felt I could be myself. Out in the waters of life, I’d get thrashed about by others’ expectations. I stayed silent when people yelled at me, I suppressed my daily frustrations with life, and I felt powerless in both the structured school environment, and under the oppressive gaze of my parents at home. With my friends, no topic was taboo, our music reflected our rage, and we were empowered to do anything — even if it was only in the context of Grand Theft Auto or riding bikes around town unsupervised.

Later in Life

As juvenile as this relationship was, it underpinned what I consider some of the best parts of my personality. As an adult, I still maintain a massive appreciation for novelty — specifically things that are strange or counterculture. While this mostly exhibits itself as the dumbest collection of saved YouTube videos on the planet, it’s also the basis for my openness to new experiences or willingness to challenge my own views. My experience with my friends has also made me a more empathetic person. I think most people are right to shrug off the mean-spirited comments from angsty teenagers or internet trolls, but with an adult perspective it’s easy to see how my younger self wasn’t so different from them.

My friends and I were engaged in a classic “us versus them” dynamic. We had created a new culture where we were not only the top of the hierarchy, but we were the rule makers. We used cultural tastes to reject our peers before they could think to do the same to us. We liked “real music” and “cool things,” but they had inauthentic interests. Even if one of “them” managed to share similarities with us — it didn’t matter. Their interests were impure. They were incapable of liking the same things as us in the same we did. We had successfully “otherized” our peers and felt superior as a result. That feeling was enough to push our fears aside, if only temporarily.

As it turns out, there is a remarkable amount of overlap with “I don’t like popular kids because of their tastes,” and “I don’t like liberals because of their forced diversity,” or “I don’t like white people because of their privilege.” It’s a language of resentment that comes naturally to any person entrenched in misery. The cause of this misery might be due to how an individual is treated, or their environment, or the moment in life they were born into — but although people cannot dictate how the world reacts to them, they can control how they react to the world. I know from experience — a blanket rejection of the world is not a healthy approach and does not solve your problems.

More often than not, the banding together under hateful rhetoric is to obscure a deeper fear. For my friend group, it was fear of rejection. We had an intuition we were undesirable from the way our parents treated us, or how school administrators viewed us, or our lack of success when we pursued our interests. All of those fears get pushed aside when you convince yourself you don’t like other people. I imagine it works the same way if you hide your fear of failure by deciding the economy is rigged against you, or the only reason people doubt your ability is because they’re racist. These resentment-fueled narratives are not exclusive to a political party (consider: “My business didn’t succeed because taxes are too high” and “I can’t get a job because rich people hoard all their money”). I know throughout my life I have been tempted by variants of these narratives at moments of weakness, but I’ve managed to leave them behind.

The success of my voyage in life is not because I’m such a great person, it is partly due to luck. I happened to have a phenomenal high school English teacher who showed me I was good at writing, gifting me a passion and purpose in life. I lucked out by having parents willing to send me to a ludicrously expensive university where I found new friends who wanted what was best for me while I pursued my goals. I managed to forge new friendships with like-minded individuals who have helped me get to where I am today. Where would I be if one of those values had changed? If I never found a passion? If I never went to school? Or if one of my few friends arbitrarily decided to leave me behind — booting me off the raft I thought we were on together — leaving me to watch his life go on while the waves thrashed me around?

Every year I joke to my friends I should apologize for who I was a year ago. After my 10-year reunion, I think I owe an apology to my friend Vietze. Because I was so caught up in my own head, I didn’t recognize my friends were having the same problems as me; because I believed my struggles were heroic, but their struggles were unimportant. I could have broken our unstated agreement to never talk about ourselves and risk a difficult conversation for both of our sake. I could have been optimistic about our ability to improve our circumstance, instead of leaving them behind like a piece of garbage that couldn’t be salvaged. I feel like I owed them that, because the experience of their friendship is part of what made me succeed in life.

Just before my 10-year reunion, I was on a business trip in Philadelphia. I was walking through the corporate hotel hallways and discovered a familiar feeling. The walls were blank, the rooms were impersonal, and I didn’t know anyone. But a lot had changed since I last felt this way. I no longer looked to others to dictate my own actions. I had my own values, shaped by my own experiences. I felt the confidence of my character emanate into the world around me. I was a freighter ship cruising through the waters toward my own destination — I paid no attention to the waters crashing against me. I knew while I walked through the halls of that hotel, somewhere in the material of my vessel was the influence and memory of my friend Daniel Vietze.

And maybe, that’s all that’s left of him.


How I spend my time

Earlier this year I had a life-altering revelation: my time is limited. It seems obvious. You may already be mindful of how you spend your time, but doing the numbers for myself revealed the value of how I spend my time. There are 52 weeks in a year, each with 168 hours to allot your time. Ideally, 70 of those hours you should be sleeping (although it’s probably closer to 60). If you have a full-time job than another 40 hours go to your job. On top of that you have to commute there and back which optimistically is another hour every day but for many people it’s closer to 2 or 3 hours daily. Off that alone you have maybe 45 hours left of your week to do other things but you also have to eat and do mundane things like put some clothes on before you go out into the world. Maybe you forgot to do laundry for a while and now you have to deviate your time to that task as well. In fact you usually find time sinking into miscellaneous tasks you didn’t plan. You meet up with a coworker, or you go on a date, maybe you see a movie or attend an event in your neighborhood. These don’t have set schedules but they happen frequently enough you have to account for another 10 hours a week doing other things. Which means you’ve got 35 hours or fewer in a week to do other things. Maybe you’re really busy and it’s more like 10 or 20.  Let’s go with 30 hours. Over a year, those 30 weekly hours would amount to 1,560 hours in a year. This is where I would usually say “1,500 hours? That’s plenty of time to do everything I want in a year.”

A few years ago I got big into The Witcher 3 and I ended up playing over 200 hours of it in a single year. I love the idea of delving into something for the long-haul and squeezing everything there is to get out of that commitment. I remember playing through The Witcher 3 and feeling compelled to finish every side quest, see every plot of land and talk to every character. It was an incredible world and every second spent exploring it felt like it benefited my time. I’ve also dove deep into historical nonfiction books. I took several months reading a 900 page biography about Dwight Eisenhower, much to the groans and moans of my friends who discovered I could plant a fun fact about our former President in pretty much any conversation. These commitments were a huge time sink but they’ve had a noticeable effect on my life. I have a deeper appreciation for how fictional worlds are created from playing Witcher 3 and I have an immense amount of knowledge about one of the more relevant presidents in our nation’s history. This is the ideal of how to spend your time. The process is engaging and you get something out of it. Keeping this ideal in mind — 100 to 200 hours of commitment to truly understand something — 1,500 hours start to look a lot shorter. 

Fear of wasting time has kept me from committing to this ideal for most of my life. I’m sure many can relate to the feeling of restlessness. Not interested in any particular hobby and dissatisfied with whichever one you end up settling on. I’ve ping-ponged between interests and ended up dumping more time into doing nothing than applying that time to something useful. That’s how I end up playing three hours of a dozen different games and never finish any of them or how I’m 100 pages into seven different books and have forgotten about them for so long I’d have to start over if I wanted to finish them. You’re always second guessing your initial interest. Is this really what I want to be doing right now? Is this the best use of my time? It’s easy to say no to those questions and do something else, only for the same concerns to plague you again. It’s not productive or rewarding. 

Well now, I say no more.

I’ve started to guide my time with more direction. I’ve decided to commit myself to pairs of interests. Two books, two games, two television shows and two alternative hobbies (I’ve been ‘learning to play the piano’ for over a decade and can’t play anything other than Where is My Mind). With this format, I can reasonably expect to finish each of these two things within a month’s worth of time. Not many games are over 30 hours, not many books take longer than 100 hours to read and television shows are easy to chip away at gradually. Rather than idly stare at my options and fuss about what I’d be most satisfied with, I’m committing to things. There are days where I want to do something more or less than usual, and my think with pairing off each media group is if I’m not feeling one thing I have another option in the same field. Even with that second option available, the commitment keeps me vigilant when I’d otherwise give up.

I came across this concept of time allotment from my dad of all people. My dad started playing video games a few years ago and he plays games in a way I thought was bizarre. He plays one game, continuously, over and over, until he is completely done with it. Then he puts it down and never thinks about it again. He understands its entirety and it is now dead. It seemed like a great way to burn out on something and not have any fun but I see now that he may have been onto something with that approach.

There’s immense satisfaction knowing you have truly completed something. Not in a way where you’re flipping through the pages just to get to the end, but you actually understand the content of a creation and everything about its existence is known to you. It’s a deeper relationship and more meaningful than a flurry of half-remembered experiences.

Most importantly, as a writer, I feel it’s necessary to have some sort of log of my commitments. I’ve already dabbled with this a bit with my 52 Albums in 52 Weeks experiment back in 2016. I’m going to resurrect the concept of that approach with this new philosophy. I’ll be posting short reflections on the things I do and complete, mostly for myself, but you may find them worth reading as well. I’ll be taking a more informal approach to these log entries. I tend to get hung up on writing something truly terrific, something that flows and has importance. This is how this website has less than five entries over the past year. My standards ensure I never write anything. The logs will be less ambitious, less formal and more frequent.

I hope these logs explain my thoughts more effectively and allow for some good recommendations or critiques on how I spend my time. Maybe now I will finally finish Blood Meridian.


Depression and the movie of my life

It’s 1 p.m. on a Tuesday. I’m at my job where I work as a reporter. I’ve just finished filing a breaking news story. My editor commends me for building relationships with sources and getting a scoop on information before anyone else. I share my story on social media and it immediately rakes in good numbers, becoming the most-read story on our website. This is the fifth story of mine in the past five days that has been the most-read on our website. I’m doing well at this job. My boss said I have the most potential out of our team. He said he envisions me taking on a leadership role in the near future. This is the first real job where I felt I made a living wage doing what I love: writing, learning and talking to interesting people. Objectively, these are the best days of my life so far, but that’s not what I’m thinking about.

I’m thinking about all the ways I am a failure. I’m thinking about how this job, which I came into four years after finishing school, is paid about $10,000 less than the average college graduate’s first job. I’m thinking about how my student loans are so high I have to ask my parents for financial assistance. I’m thinking about how it’s been five years since I graduated college and I’m still reliant on my parents. I’m thinking about the dreams I’ve already given up on like writing a screenplay or producing an original short film. I’m thinking about how my father lived under an oppressive government where people were scared to say what they thought and how he convinced his girlfriend to leave everything she’s ever known to marry him on a bus to Rome so they can be sent to the United States together. I’m thinking about how the Augustyn lineage began hundreds of years ago, surviving natural disasters, world wars and the loss of independence of my ancestral homeland, Poland, only to end with me because I can’t convince someone to put up with me for longer than five months. I’m thinking about how the last girl I dated said I was so negative all the time she came to resent me. I’m thinking about when I had an argument with a family member in High School and they whispered to me “You’re an asshole, everyone knows you’re an asshole, that’s why you’re a loser.” I’m thinking I am a loser. I’m thinking about how it’s now 5 p.m., I haven’t done anything at my job for four hours and I’m certainly going to get fired.


This is what I’ve come to understand is my depression. I don’t remember when it started but I can’t remember not having it. It comes in waves that ebb and flow. Sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for a few days. Last year it lasted months. I think when I was in High School it lasted years but I don’t remember much about those days. I know when it’s around because I can feel its fog cloud my perception. The fog is for my protection from the vicious criticism I inflict on myself. I’m typically cognizant of my surroundings, maybe a bit too much. When the wave hits I detach from myself and everything else. I become a passive observer to the movie of my life, where I’m the main character, but I’m not participating in the flashing pictures before my eyes. I float from one room to the next, my eyes gaze at one sight then another, but nothing registers. I instinctively open a web browser and a flurry of tweets scroll by, an insatiable number of red notifications are marked read and pages of articles or books pass through me without my notice. I can hold a conversation but I can’t tell you what I just said. I’ll drive my car to a restaurant and hate-eat way too much food. The stuffed feeling in my stomach will anchor me to reality because I can actually feel something. I’ll find myself in the driver seat of my car and question if I can drive because I feel so disassociated with reality I’m not confident I can navigate the roads. I’ll make it back to my apartment and realize it’s dark outside. What did I do all day? What day is it? When did I wake up? How long have I been watching this movie about my life? What am I doing with my life? What’s the point?

That last question turns a mundane day to a moment of crisis. What is the point? Maybe there is no point. Maybe my life is pointless. It’s less than pointless. By being here I am inflicting harm onto others. I have so much debt weighing down on me. I criticize people so much I hurt their feelings. I try to explain myself and I make it worse. I can see their faces contorting in disgust as their subjected to a conversation with me. I have so few friends. Sometimes I think the friends I think I have don’t know how to get rid of me and our relationship is running on inertia – like if I told them “it’s ok, we can stop now,” they’d breathe a sigh of relief and leave me. I can’t imagine this not being true. I have no real value to anyone. I have no real purpose. Maybe my purpose is to show everyone that I don’t have a purpose. I’m depressed. I’ve been depressed. I think I’ve been depressed for months but I don’t remember when I started being depressed. I realize if nothing has changed in the past few months, why would it change tomorrow? Do I have anything to do tomorrow? I don’t have anything to do tomorrow. Would anyone need me tomorrow? What about a month from now? What about a year from now? I don’t think so. What about later today? No one needs me later today. I don’t need to be here later today. If I’m not here, then I won’t be depressed. That sounds nice. Why later? What am I waiting for? Why not right now? Why should I be alive right now?


A common mistake people make about depression is that it’s based in some rational thought. The depressed person has convinced themselves of a reality but if they’re shown the error of their judgement then they’ll understand things are not so bad. Depression has no logic. Only one absolute rule: you will be depressed whether it’s earned or not. It seems that the only people who truly understand what it’s like to be depressed are people who have been depressed. It can be frustrating to throw out questions about the purpose of life to anyone who will listen and only feel disappointed with their answers. The frustration is felt for both parties. “You’re being too negative” is a common endpoint for these conversations. But no one can answer these questions for you.

It doesn’t help that seeking answers will net a collection of mixed answers sending mixed signals. As a white male, I’m simultaneously advised to be more expressive with my feelings and to stop complaining because statistically I’m doing better off than most people. I don’t think this phenomena is unique to my identity. I’ve lost track of the number of women I know who pursue careers only to be judged by their lacking personal life, while married women with plans for children are mocked just as frequently. In this age of information, our varying worldviews collide with every lifestyle vulnerable to criticism. For many people it seems there’s a thousand ways to do things wrong and nothing you can do right. It’s no wonder that the millennial generation has accepted nihilistic humor with open arms, a type of comedy that celebrates the futility of trying to find a purpose in life. These jokes glorify psychological issues in the same way that a Hollywood movie gets audiences to root for the underdog, except there’s no antagonist to overcome, only a self-destructive worldview to embrace. Many rising comics frequently use mental health problems as the set up to a funny joke. I can’t say I’m above this trend. Existential dread is kind of the ace of spades for guilt tripping. It’s like: don’t worry about trying to get people to hate me, I already hate myself.

Since depression has become a punch line, it’s not always so clear who is truly suffering or to what extent. My generation faces two unique phenomena that feed into this crisis of unhappiness: an unusual amount of systematic failures and internet connectivity that ensures everyone knows when bad things happen. Have other generations faced global recessions, constant mass shootings, ballooning personal debt and dwindling career prospects in the face of new technology? Sure. But they didn’t have an IV drip of every catastrophic event delivered to them via a device they keep with them at all times. It’s no surprise that many have adopted nihilistic humor as a coping mechanism to weather the barrage of bad news. When depression is co-opted as a type of humor, how can you tell if someone feels truly depressed or if they’re contributing to our cultural discussion about the future of our generation? A friend posting “I wish I was dead” to social media might be an obvious red flag, but if a similar message is conveyed by Nihilist Arby’s or Melissa Broder, it’s not clear what type of response is appropriate. The rise of this type of humor normalizes depression and makes it difficult to broach the topic when actual worries arise.


I think another fault is people view depression as something you overcome. It plagues you for the dark moments of your life but you get better eventually, right? In reality, depression is closer to a cancer diagnosis. There’s treatment, it can go into remission, but there’s no guarantee it won’t come back. Sometimes it comes back when it doesn’t make sense. The deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington prove that. Two phenomenally talented artists with thousands of fans and an extensive loving family. These titans of success and support structures accomplished more than most people in history but the tolls of depression came to collect all the same.

It’s hard not to say the depression landscape seems hopeless. A person can fuel their own self-destructive fires of depression, the world provides heavy criticism but few answers and our internet culture makes it difficult to identify when someone is truly struggling. What can a person possibly do to combat these forces?

An outsider observing a friend’s fall to depression might feel helpless but in these instances, as cliché as it might sound, the best antidote to the world’s darkness is genuine positivity. Not to be confused with empty platitudes or childish rejection of negative emotion. Refusing to acknowledge sadness is just another form of repression and you’d have to be a fool to think an impersonal slogan like “look on the bright side” has ever helped anyone. It’s a simple fact that people don’t express their appreciation for one another as much as they feel it. For whatever reason, many people feel awkward taking compliments which discourages genuine expressions of appreciation. In pursuit of avoiding awkwardness, our friendships are devoid of the acknowledgment for why we maintain these relationships in the first place. The presence of positive reinforcement makes a difference, but that’s not all that’s needed.

It’s true that no great person became great on their own, but on some level the individual has to choose their own destiny. You may not be able to will yourself out of depression, but you have to find your own reasons for wanting to stick around in this world simply because no one else is going to do it for you. In my experience, many people who are the most depressed are the ones holding themselves to an impossible standard. They’ll look at the lives of their heroes and feel ashamed they haven’t accomplished as much as quickly. There is no universal blueprint for success and there is no guide to happiness. The only meaningful comparison is who you were yesterday to who you are today. Define your goals and reflect on the progress you have made instead of the dreams you haven’t accomplished yet. By that metric, you may surprise yourself.


When I began writing this piece, I had that job on a Tuesday and everything was going well. Of course, a few weeks later, I was fired. Not because I did anything wrong, but because that’s sometimes what happens in corporate America. This was eerily similar to where I was a year ago. Freshly out of a job with plenty of doubts about my future. My latest dismissal could have been more evidence to the self-fulfilling prophecy: Of course I was fired, I am valueless trash and they’ve finally caught onto my act. But that’s not what happened. Instead I received an outpouring of support from colleagues, sources and readers who were bewildered by my dismissal and shared commendations of my work while offering ways to support my continued success. These suggestions could have been struck down by a more bitter and resentful person, but I made the choice to believe that their kind words were genuine. This was very different from where I was a year ago, where I still had a support structure helping me, but nowhere near its current size and passion. This support structure wasn’t handed to me, I created it by being the person I am. I chose to define myself by my ability to succeed, not my occasional setback.

I may never escape depression, but it does not define me. I am already a defined person. I am the person who found a job I love and put my passion over compensation. I have a family that will support me if I need help. I am the person that didn’t let anything stop me from pursuing my dreams but found others I care about more. I am the son of phenomenally brave and ambitious parents. I am the beginning of the Augustyn lineage in North America. I am the person who doesn’t settle for convenience over happiness. I am me and I accept that who I am includes some bad with the good, but I don’t let temporary moments of doubt redefine who I am. Neither should you.

Images edited by Kaleigh Kessler