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.
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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!
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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.”
Just Ask: A Tutorial
cropped version of original photo by Otama (https://www.flickr.com/photos/otama/402299217/)
I’m currently in the final stretches of a fundraising campaign that will enable me to go to a fabulous conference next month. And no, I’m not asking you for money. I’m sharing because this experience has been a great reminder of what can happen when we ask for what we want. Something that looked impossible a few weeks ago is now happening—all because I had the courage to share my story and ask “Can you help me?”
I’ve been amazed and humbled and inspired by people’s generosity. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. And I want you to know that your version of this can happen, too.
It can be hard for us to ask for what we want. Our society prides itself on go-it-alone-ness. Often, we think we don’t deserve what we’re asking for. Or we can get caught up in the negatives that could happen when we ask: people will say no or think we’re too forward or a million other possibilities that don’t sound so fun.
Ask anyway. Otherwise you risk missing out.
Get clear on what you want and why you want it before you ask.
The clearer you are on the what and the why, the easier the ask is and the more likely you’ll get the answer you want. Think about it—if someone asked you for something but was all wishy-washy and apologetic about it, would you feel compelled to help?
I find the best way for me to gain clarity is by writing. Sometimes I write out my what and why, sometimes I write down the way I want the conversation to go, sometimes I just make a list of bullet points. Whatever it is, it all helps me come from an authentic place and be ready for any questions that might come along the way.
Know you deserve what you’re asking for.
This doesn’t mean getting all cocky and entitled; it actually comes from a place of love and compassion: trusting you deserve whatever good comes your way just because you’re you and you’re awesome.
For many people, this is a hard concept to grasp. If it is, please join me on this little adventure:
Picture yourself as a little kid. Now, does that child deserve to have his or her needs met? 100% yes.
Next, does that child deserve to have whatever will help him or her grow and live a joyful, fulfilling, love-filled life? Absofreakinlutely.
You are STILL that child. Sure, maybe you’ve made some mistakes along the way. Maybe you’ve internalized messages from others saying you’re not worthy. Maybe you’ve even got a long list of why you shouldn’t or won’t get what you want.
NONE OF THAT negates the fact that you deserve whatever your soul longs for.
So talk to yourself like you’d want someone to talk to you as a child—fill your heart with compassion, understanding, generosity and love. However long it takes, however many ways you need to say it, keep telling yourself you deserve it all until you fully believe it’s true.
Don’t get all graspy.
Come to the ask from a pure place. “I need this NOW!” is the energy equivalent of a temper tantrum. It isn’t gonna get you anywhere, and it’ll likely send whomever you’re addressing running away as fast as their legs can carry them.
Instead, ask once you’ve reached a place of calm confidence. Be genuine. Ask from your heart, not your head. Go into the ask considering the act of asking as a win, regardless of the result.
Let go of the result.
I have to admit—this is the hardest part for me. Here’s how I tend to approach it:
- If I get a no, at least I asked, and I’m proud of myself for trying.
- If I get a no, then I’ll likely be in the same situation I was in, so nothing was lost.
- If I get a no and there’s fallout, then clearly I’m on the wrong path and/or interacting with the wrong people. It’s a great chance to take stock and change course as necessary.
- If I get a no, it’s because a better yes is on its way. (Cliché, but I’ve also found it’s true.)
- If I get a yes, I get what I want! YAY!
Who to ask and how:
So who should you ask? Everyone. There have been many instances where I’ve gotten help from people I’d never have expected it from. There have also been numerous times I’ve gotten help from people I didn’t even know.
I’m a big fan of asking the Universe, too. I write it down in my journal, make requests during meditation, and silently ask when the idea pops up in my thoughts. I’m not big on formal prayer, but if you are, obviously that’s a great time to ask, too.
How should you ask? Clearly, politely, and from a place of integrity. Stand in your truth and show your passion for what you’re asking for. You’ve already done the work in getting clear on your what and your why, so let that shine through.
For the record, I always ask that way, regardless of whether I’m posting a fundraising campaign or silently thinking my request while I walk my dog. I’ve seen for myself that the clearer, more respectful, and more genuine my request, the more likely I am to get what I’m asking for.
What to do when you get a no:
First and foremost, remain calm and gracious, thank the person anyway, and move on.
Then remember that a no is NOT the end of the world. It’s just the end of that particular little journey. There are still a million ways your journey could go. To that end, there are a couple options for next steps:
- Accept the no and keep going towards your yes. Take stock of what happened. Maybe you asked the wrong person. Maybe the timing was off. Maybe your approach could’ve been clearer. Maybe your energy was more desperate than open. Once you see how you could’ve approached the situation differently, regroup and try again while keeping this new perspective in mind.
- Accept the no and change direction. Do a little soul searching. Is this really the right path? Or are you meant to travel down a different road? If so, what does that road look like? The right answer will always make you feel freer and lighter.
What to do when you get a yes:
Be grateful every time, no matter how small the yes. Consider celebrating with a happy dance, a high five, or cartwheels.
But don’t let it stop there. Find a way to give back to those who gave to you. Depending on the person and how they’ve helped, you can repay them with a genuine thank you, a great review, a service, or a gift.
It’s also important to pay it forward. Just as others have been kind and generous to you, be kind and generous to others whenever you get the chance. It’s the best and most fun way I know to have a positive impact on the world.
Over the years, I’ve become a big believer in “just ask.”
- A month ago, I missed a bill payment for the first time in my life. I called to apologize, pointed out my otherwise perfect payment record, and asked if there was a way to void the late fee. Without hesitation, the customer service rep deleted it for me, pointing out that everyone makes mistakes. I stayed on the line after she hung up so I could give her a great customer service review.
- I had a freelance client I’d been working with for a couple years. I decided I wanted to raise my rates, did the research to ensure what I was asking for was reasonable, and sent him an email about my new rate in response to a new project request. I was nervous, but my client was totally on board. It was a great reminder that I should always ask for what I’m worth because, well, I’m worth it.
- Back when I was trying to figure out what career I wanted, I was a big fan of informational interviews. I would ask friends and relatives if they knew of anyone I could talk to. I almost always got at least a phone interview. People generously shared their time and stories with me, and I got a much clearer picture than I ever would’ve had I just done the research online. If we met in person, it was usually at a coffee shop, so I paid for their drink. I also always sent a thank you note to follow up.
- Fundraisers: In high school, I raised hundreds of dollars for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of my grandmother’s long struggle with the disease. In college, I was campus chair of the United Jewish Appeals Campus Campaign and raised a record amount of money that helped both Jews and non-Jews locally and worldwide. And, of course, there’s the fundraiser that inspired this post.
I’m always passionate about whatever it is I’m raising funds for. I share my story, always make sure they know exactly where their money’s going, and thank them in the moment and with a follow-up once the fundraiser’s over. In my current fundraiser, I’m offering various coaching sessions as thank you gifts, which enables me to help those who’ve donated achieve their goals, too.
To be honest, I still often get nervous when I ask for what I want. But I've found the regrets come when I don't ask, never when I do, even when the answer has been no. That's why, despite the nerves, I remain fiercely loyal to the mantra that's bettered my life over and over again: just ask.
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If you’re someone who has a hard time asking for things, I encourage you to go through these steps. I’m willing to bet your life will change in many wonderful ways!
I’d love to hear how it goes, so please share your stories in the comments or email me at email@example.com. (Yes, that’s me asking!)
If you get stuck along the way, you can always schedule a coaching session with me. And all potential new clients get a free, no obligation consultation session. It’s a great way to find out what coaching with me is like, get some help in the process, and practice asking for what you want—wins all around!