The Long, Frustrating, and Stressful Road to My Ideal Career—And Why It Didn’t Have to Be That Way (Part 2)
Last week I shared my struggles with picking a major, which was dedicated to any students dealing with the same issue. This week is the follow-up where I talk about what happened once I went out into the real world. Spoiler alert: I floundered there, too.
If finding the right career is frustrating the hell out of you, I get it. I was there for years. Read my story below for a reminder that you're not alone (and learn a quick and easy tool to help). Or if you're in a hurry, scroll down towards the bottom for your pep talk, some suggestions, and my wishes for you.
Part II: Pick A Job, Any Job—Wait, Not That One!
image credit www.flazingo.com
As my college graduation approached, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do work-wise. I wound up interviewing at daycares just so I’d have a job of some kind. On the day of commencement, I was offered a position as a toddler teacher in a daycare affiliated with a company consistently at the top of “best places to work” lists. Everyone told me I should take it, because it could be a way to get into the company itself.
It didn’t feel like a job I really wanted, but I did want the money. It was a bridge job, nothing more. I had a great co-teacher and students I loved, but I was also burned out after so many years of working with kids. Plus, remember that whole dropping-out-of-the-early-childhood-education-program thing? Yeah, there was a reason. Six months later, I quit to pursue my next big dream—screenwriting.
And thus began the next chapter of my long, wandering, frustrating, road to life coaching.
I tried using my connections in LA, but didn’t really get anywhere. In an effort to get some kind of job, I wound up calling a country club across the street from where I lived. They didn’t have anything but knew another club not too far away was looking for receptionists. As I was sitting in the lobby waiting for my interview, I remember the thought “This isn’t the right place for me” spontaneously going through my head.
The interview went well, and at the end, the interviewer asked me “Do you think you’d like working here?” Of course, I said “yes,” because what else are you supposed to say? Only when she started walking me around and introducing me to people as the new receptionist did I realize her question had actually been a job offer. At that point, my inner conflict-avoider stepped in and kept me from saying anything, even though my heart had actually told me—in words for once—that this was the wrong place.
I stayed at that job for 13 months, but that initial impression was right. I was bored out of my skull, miserable, and felt completely trapped (literally, because I was in a small area and couldn’t leave unless there was someone there to cover me. Other than a massive increase in the number of celebrities on my celeb sighting list, one of the benefits of the job was that the schedule allowed me to get an internship at a children’s television company, which was the field I really wanted to be in.
Except three months there showed me I didn’t want to do that either. Much like that undecided semester in college, I was completely lost again.
So I did what I love to do—research and overthinking. I know I explored several options, but the only one I remember now is professional organizer. I took every personality and career compatibility test I could find. I quit my job, which helped my emotional state immensely, and brought in money through temp work and being an extra on a few shows. I ended up going home for my brother’s college graduation, and decided to spend the summer in a combination job/soul search.
I wound up finding a job ad for a writer, applied, and was offered the position after just one interview. When I started, I felt like I’d miraculously landed in my dream job. I was so perky that a friend later told me my early enthusiasm had driven her crazy.
For years, things were good. Then there were shifts, and suddenly it wasn’t. I went back to soul searching and explored a ton of different options, from dog trainer/sitter to college admissions director. I’d be sure I found the right path, do lots of research and informational interviews, and then—poof!—all the enthusiasm would be gone, and I’d be back to square one.
Then one day, a friend suggested Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star, and things started to shift. A couple years after that, while reading Martha’s then-newest book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, I was doing one of the exercises. **TOOL ALERT!** Tracking Your True Nature is an exercise where you simply list things you’ve done for 10,000 hours, then list the top five worst things you’ve ever survived, then notice where they overlap.
Unlike my other career ideas, this one has stuck around for four years now, and although there have been some minor shifts along the way, the basic idea has never wavered.
* * *
In case you haven’t been keeping track, it took four college majors (including undecided), three significant (i.e., lasting 6 months or more) jobs, an internship, and two temp jobs until I finally got to my ideal career.
Although I wasn’t keeping track of the hours I spent trying to figure things out, I’m sure it was well over 10,000 hours, especially when you count all the ruminating I did.
I suffered my way through much of that time, my thoughts on a constant loop of “But what am I supposed to do?” I thought and fought my way through it all until I suddenly got hit with such a strong epiphany, something that felt so viscerally right, I had no choice but to surrender to it—to what my heart wanted most of all.
Now, about you and your hunt for your ideal career…
If you’re at that place of suffering, please know there’s help out there. There are great books (obviously, I recommend Martha Beck’s, but if you’d like other suggestions, please ask!). There are life coaches and other professionals who are trained to help in ways that friends and family just can’t. And, always, you’ve got your heart longing to lead you on the right path if you’ll let it.
I know it’s hard to let go of the reins. In our society, we’re taught, “I think, therefore I am,” but thinking alone often can’t get you where you want to be. You’ve got to listen to your heart, even when it takes you to crazy, seemingly illogical places.
It’s not always an easy path, but there are ways to make it easier and more tolerable. There are tools to use. There are people out there in a similar situation or who’ve already made it through to the other side who want to support you. And hopefully you’ve at least got one person in your corner providing unconditional love and encouragement all along your way.
So reach out for help. Ask for support. There is no shame. You are not the only one going through this. You are not alone.
Even though I believe everything happens for a reason and that what I went through happened so I could better help others like you, I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if I’d pushed my thoughts to the side. Would college have been different? Would I not have been in three separate jobs that led me to frequent tears because I hated them so much (and because I continued to stay in them even though I hated them so much)? Or would I have left those jobs as soon as the suffering started?
Obviously, I’ll never know. But what I do know is that I don’t want you to have that same regretful curiosity. I want you to start listening to your heart over your head. I want you to put the work into your dreams rather than focusing on what you’re unhappy about (past or present). I want you to begin creating a more joyful, fulfilling life, right here, right now. And if you need help, I’m here. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get back to you just as soon as I can.
Wherever you are in your journey, I wish you luck. I wish you peace. I wish you strength and determination to get through the tough times. I wish you playful curiosity. I wish you support when and how you need it. I wish you life-changing epiphanies and magic that continually lead you to people and places and studies and careers that feel like home.
You Get What You Get, But You Can Get Upset
Given all the years I worked with young kids, I can’t begin to guess how much I’ve said “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” It makes sense, right? I mean, someone’s gonna get a slightly bigger cookie, but you’re not gonna go dessert-less. Someone’s gonna get to the red blocks first but there will still be plenty of blue ones to play with.
But lately I’ve realized this isn’t always the best lesson for kids—or for anyone. I’m not saying we should start throwing temper tantrums when we don’t get what we want, but acknowledging our feelings and understanding why they’re there is a powerful way to help us get on the right track.
This means allowing ourselves to experience all our emotions. And if you’re one of the many who’d rather squelch those not-so-fun feelings, I urge you to feel them anyway. After all, research has shown emotions only take 90 seconds to run their course. That’s it.
Plus, if you choose to tamp down those feelings, I can pretty much guarantee stuff will build up until one day you suddenly explode, causing some serious fallout.
So…that minute and a half of discomfort sounding any better?
I’m gonna assume your answer’s yes. I’m also gonna guess you’re imagining yourself happily getting back to business after those 90 seconds.
Not so much.
Now it’s time to look at why those feelings came up in the first place. If you don’t understand the reason they’re there and make the necessary changes, they’ll continue to show up until you get the message—kinda like a real-life version of “Groundhog Day.”
So let’s say you’re upset about being passed over for a promotion. Are you mad because your manager doesn’t have your back? Because you know you have more experience than the person who got the job? Because you genuinely didn’t do what you needed to in order to climb the corporate ladder? Clearly, each of these reasons would lead to different actions.
Regardless of your particular situation, homing in on why you’re feeling what you’re feeling will help you figure out the next steps you need to take. And, for the record, your next steps should feel good, even if there’s some nervousness around them. If it feels like what you should do rather than what you want to do, PLEASE stop and reconsider before making any moves!
* * *
In the end, feelings are just a way for our hearts to alert us to what’s really going on—and that goes for all the emotions.
Whenever something brings up emotions that feel good—happiness, excitement, calmness, etc.—your heart’s telling you you’re on the right track. Yay, you! Keep going!
But if, for example, you’re not excited about something you think you should be excited about, that’s a sign you’re following your head, not your heart. (In general, the word “should” tends to be a giveaway that your head’s taken the lead.)
And if something brings up emotions that aren’t so enjoyable, it’s a sign that it’s time to do a little soul searching.
**WE NOW INTERRUPT YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG POST
TO BRING YOU A POWERFUL SELF-COACHING TOOL**
A great way to figure out the real reason for your feelings is to write a sentence that explains the situation, then substitute yourself for any third parties.
What this looks like—a real life application:
When I was dealing with a difficult time at an old job, my sentence was:
I feel angry with management
because they aren’t listening to me.
Given the circumstances, it made sense that I would feel that way. However, the huge shift came when I did the second part of this exercise:
I feel angry with myself
because I’m not listening to me.
At that time in my life, every part of me was yelling at me to resign: I had all kinds of health issues, my tears were uncontrollable, my brain could barely manage basic tasks, and my hands would often spontaneously spell out “I quit” (and various expletives) using the American Sign Language alphabet.
I knew exactly what my heart was telling me, yet I continued to stay because I gave into the fear-filled thoughts about all the bad things that might happen if I quit. Subconsciously, I was absolutely pissed at myself for doing this.
My epiphany helped me understand what was really going on and what to do about it. With time, it also helped me let go of those strong emotions, understand that everyone involved was just doing their best (including me), and feel grateful for that tough situation that taught me so much and ultimately pushed me out of the nest so I could fly.
Think about something you’re dealing with that brings up strong emotions. Then fill in the blanks below:
I feel ___________at ___________because _______________.
Now write that same sentence, but replace others’ names/”he”/”she”/”they” with your name/”I”/”me.”
I feel ___________at ___________because _______________.
Maybe this exercise will get you clearer on what action you need to take. Maybe it will inspire you to get help. But whatever comes of it, chances are it’ll ultimately lead you to a situation that feels a heck of a lot better than the one you’re in right now.
**WE NOW RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG POST**
Our culture tends to label anger, fear, etc. as bad emotions, but there is no such thing as a bad emotion. Feelings are just your heart communicating with you, trying to help you understand what’s really going on and keep you going in the right direction. Simply put, emotions = information.
So the next time you’re distressed, take a deep breath and know it’s just your heart lovingly saying, “You get what you get, but it’s okay to get upset. Now go ahead and feel your feelings, find out why they’re showing up, and use that knowledge to decide where to go from here.”
Career Inspiration from Famous People (No, Not the Kardashians)
Lately, when I’m not doing coaching-related stuff or napping, I’ve been writing biographies for first and second graders for an online reference site.
Not only is it a fun gig, but I get to learn a lot and be inspired on a constant basis. I thought I’d share some of my biggest inspirations (so far) in the hopes that you can get something from them, too.
Abraham Lincoln: As a kid, Abe barely went to school. Yet he learned to read, write, and do math and eventually studied law and grammar on his own. (He borrowed books from friends.) Plus, of course, he won the Civil War and freed all the slaves. Abe might have come from inauspicious beginnings, but he certainly didn’t let anything keep him from getting ahead and doing what was right.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Just because nobody had run for president more than twice didn’t mean jack sh*t to him. He ran a third time. Then a fourth. All from his wheelchair. And all because he felt compelled to help people who were struggling.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: Like Lincoln, Eisenhower came from a poor family. Like Lincoln, he didn’t let that hold him back. First, Ike worked two jobs. Why? So he could send his brother to college. His BROTHER. There was no money to pay for his own college education. He went to West Point and the rest is history—and history-making. Ike went on to lead the biggest military attack in history and thus defeated the Nazis. Check and mate.
Christopher Columbus: Okay, so this guy thought he landed in Asia, but he actually landed somewhere in the Bahamas. He also inadvertently (one hopes) ruined the lives of many natives by opening the metaphorical doors of the so-called “New World” to Europe. To be honest, those things make me like him a lot less. But then there’s the whole “I’ll sail in a direction no one has ever sailed in before” idea he had, and I can’t help but be impressed by the dude’s chutzpah. Things may have gone differently than he’d planned, but you’ve gotta admit that his vision and bravery changed the world.
Amerigo Vespucci: Good ol’ Amerigo didn’t actually discover anything new. BUT. He was the one who realized the New World was actually a totally different continent and not eastern Asia. Sometimes it takes someone with a different perspective to help you see what’s right in front of you. We all have our blind spots, and that’s okay. Also, Columbus was totally chill with the new country getting named after Amerigo. They were buds, so he was happy for his friend. That’s what you call a good sport. It’s a pretty great thing to have relationships like that.
Cleopatra: When Cleo’s dad died, Cleo was supposed to co-rule with her 12 year old brother. (And marry him, as was the custom. Ew.) Cleo wasn’t having any of that. She declared herself Pharaoh. She knew she had to fight her brother, that she needed Rome’s help to do it, and that she’d never get anywhere near Caesar’s palace. (The actual palace, not the casino in Vegas, although she might’ve had more fun there.) Anyway, Cleo had people roll her up in a carpet burrito and delivered to the palace. Once she was inside, she unrolled herself and proceeded to seduce/convince Julius to help her. She ultimately took full control of Egypt. Talk about creative problem solving!
Amelia Earhart: As a kid, Amelia collected newspaper clippings of women who worked in traditionally male jobs. So basically, she was a rebel feminist badass from the beginning. Amelia broke all kinds of records—flight paths, flight heights, flight distance, and first to [insert one of many, many firsts here]. When her plane got lost, her husband read a letter she’d left him to read only in case she died. She said “Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried.” Preach it, sista!
Florence Nightingale: Florence said God told her to be a nurse. She listened, despite the fact that women of her class didn’t work, despite the fact that nursing schools didn’t even exist, despite the fact that her parents were totally against it. The woman studied in secret for years until daddy dearest finally said, “Fine. Go study nursing.” Once she was a nurse, she went to Turkey during the Crimean War because all the English soldiers kept dying—not in battle, but in the hospital. It was filthy and there was no medicine, but the stubborn, righteous docs wouldn’t let her help. “No worries,” Flo said. “I’ll just tell the biggest newspaper all about it, and once people know how you’re essentially killing our soldiers, they’ll get all outraged, and I’ll get all the support I need, and I’ll fix this place up, and it’ll drop the death rate from 40% to 2%. Oh, and then I’ll go back to England, fight for good healthcare for all, start a fabulous nursing school, and essentially save thousands and thousands and thousands of lives. ‘Cause I’m amazing and you suck.” Okay, I might be paraphrasing. But the accomplishments are all for real. Florence was pretty damn impressive.
All these people inspire me. Some found their purpose early on, some found it when they were older. But when they did find it, they went full steam ahead. They overcame all kinds of obstacles. They figured ways around every “no” they got. They believed in themselves. I’m all for that kind of history repeating itself—over and over again, and I’m all in. Are you?