Throughout my primary school and college careers, adults told me to make one thing my biggest priority: my career. At age sixteen, guidance counselors wanted me to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, pursue four more years of school and put in $100k to train myself in this career, and go off to a job that I was expected to be passionate about forever.
How I wish it were that simple! But life is so much more about your job–if you love what you do, and your job is happily the most major part of your life, kudos to you. It’s just not my style; I need to be around my people, my family, and have time for myself.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, it may help you to know that I am currently un-learning the one-track career mindset, and you can as well!
A Little Backstory
If you’ve been following along, you’ll know I was recently laid off (read more about it in my post, “Laid Off, But Still Hungry“). I was working a 9-to-5, doing graphic design for projects I wasn’t passionate about. The corporate structure was stifling; people who thought they knew good design ripped apart my work, and didn’t trust my creative efforts. Everyone was miserable, and my co-workers admitted to feeling “stuck” at this job. They constantly told me to get out while I could, while I was still young and before starting a family.
Two years later, I was laid off due to a company down-sizing. Of course the panic set in, but I said to my co-worker:
“Is it bad that I feel relief?”
I know that I would have never left that job without finding another one, and the design work just wasn’t out there. I decided to venture into something completely different, and figure out what I love along the way. It hasn’t been wholly easy, but my position as of this blog post being written gives me the chance to make a huge difference in people’s lives; something that my old job could not offer me. I took this as a sign that I needed to get out of design and rethink my entire career.
What is a Career?
In my experience, a career has been defined as long-term work in a specific chosen field in pursuit of expertise and profitability. I was so afraid to change my career, that it left me stuck in a miserable job for two whole years! After the layoffs, I was forced to rethink everything.
I picked up a copy of Careergasm by Sarah Vermunt, a career coach based in Toronto, Canada. I poured over the pages, looking for some hint of advice and direction in my quest for a new career path. One of the first pieces of advice she gives:
You need to get in touch with what you actually want. What you want will be different from what I want, and what your mother wants, and what your best friend wants. That’s why following someone else’s advice (whether it’s dispensed by your dad or a guidance counselor or a sophisticated career assessment) doesn’t always work. You are unique: Nobody but YOU can get it right.
Why was I applying to design jobs that I knew I wouldn’t get anything out of? What possessed me to send cover letters to hiring managers for positions that didn’t speak to my heart? For a good two weeks, I was stuck in a cycle of apply-and-regret. Graphic design was fun for a while, but it wasn’t what I truly wanted, and that was where I was failing to reach my full potential. More-so, I was failing myself.
As of now, I see my “career” as a path to doing what I truly love. I know I’ll most likely have jobs that I loathe along the way, but it’s all in an effort to find gratifying and feel-good work. I’ve officially taken the dive, and the butterflies in my stomach are mostly from anticipation, not fear.
How This Mindset Has Changed Me, and How It Can Change YOU!
My Spending Has Decreased
In the two weeks without employment, I was enduring anxiety attacks nearly every day. Not knowing where my life was headed, or if I could pay the rent, or my bills, or my student loans… it was all very scary, and something I never really had to think about. I longed for stability and the guarantee of a salaried paycheck at the end of every two weeks. The lifestyle I had been living for the past few years was not maintainable, and I felt like I should take any job just for the paycheck.
Within the weeks I was unemployed, and even now that I am making less money, I have not felt the need to spend money on frivolities and “stuff.” I’ve purchased some clothes for work, and a bag for my laptop… and that’s about it. I actually have more money in my account now than I did at my salaried job! I am a lot happier in my workplace, and do not feel the need to spend extra money in an effort to compensate for being miserable.
My Ambition Has Increased… In a Different Way
Instead of sitting around and waiting for life to work itself out, I took as much action as I could. I called my student loan company to put a forbearance on my payments. I applied for unemployment benefits (which, by the way, does not cover even a fourth of what I was making–but I understand why it wouldn’t) and began looking into every job listed on sites like Indeed and ZipRecruiter. The jobs I applied to were completely different from the ones I’d held over the past three years. By opening myself up to new experiences, I was allowing the wheels in my head to turn in a new direction.
I Have Become More Optimistic
My design career seemed like a dead-end, in many ways. There was no room for growth in my last job, and no room for salary increase, either. There was nothing to work toward, and I lost all motivation to design well.
With this new multi-track career mindset, I am much more optimistic about my future. The world holds so many experiences that I have not yet seen, and the possibility of finding that one job that I adore has opened my heart to positivity that I thought I had lost. I was sure I had become jaded, and now I am able to see that nothing is permanent, that I’ll never be “stuck” if I don’t allow myself to feel that way. It’s all about perspective.
Time is On My Side
I always thought I wasn’t a good enough designer, that I hadn’t learned enough formally, that I had run out of time in the design world and would never amount to anything. Now, I realize that I have only just begun in my journey toward meaningful work, and time has nothing to do with it! Taking my time and slowing down has opened my mind to facing the reality of what I truly want and don’t want, and I know it will prevent me from a lot of regret down the road. I now have time to concentrate on my writing and fostering my creativity, and this in-between holds a lot of value. I am young, I have time, and it’s never too late to find a job I’m happy in.
In this instability and within the up-in-the-air anticipation, I have never felt more secure in my life. There is no “safe” career; layoffs and downsizing can happen in the blink of an eye. Each job is a risk, but along with risks can come rewards. More often than not, you’ll learn from your job: what you don’t want, what excites you, what you’d change… the list goes on. These in-between jobs on the path of your overarching career do hold value, whether they’re awesome or not!
Just remember: this is your life. Not your mother’s, not your father’s… yours. You will fair much better in a job doing what you love than in a long-term career doing what you hate. Foster your truth and give yourself time. You’ll be doing meaningful work in no time!
If you’re looking for direction, go out and pick up a copy of Careergasm. It’s a page-turner, and will leave you with new perspectives and valuable lessons.
Need some career/life advice? Drop me a comment; I’d be happy to share my perspective! Thanks for reading!