It’s a series of questions we ask ourselves constantly, especially in our twenties – am I in the right career? am I fulfilled? am I doing something that matters? am I making a difference? am I actually happy doing what I’m doing?
I began asking myself these questions the day after I drove away from my university, because the day after I drove away from my university, I started my first job (not an ideal entrance into the real world, would highly NOT recommend).
I started my first Real Person Job at a social media marketing company, and from day one, I was miserable. Now part of the reason I was miserable was because I was just going through something that every twenty-two-year-old goes through – the transition into realizing that if you’re going to be an adult and pay your bills and not be a mooch living in your parents’ basement, you have to get up every morning and go into a building and give eight or nine or more hours of your time to someone else from Monday through Friday. After my sheltered, easy four-year experience at school where my job was to write papers and read books and ShArE my ThOuGhTs, I now had to go into an office every weekday whether I wanted to or not.
So that was part of the reason I was miserable, and that was okay. That is a normal thing to go through in the beginning and it’s not unfair or unjust – it’s just life and it’s just adulthood. The actual experience of getting up and doing that every day does get easier, and you do get used to it.
But the other reason why I was miserable, the reason that was deeper and more intimidating and something I wanted to desperately avoid, was because I knew, somewhere in my gut, that I was in the wrong career. I was spending all of my days talking about event logistics and Google Adwords (is that still a thing? hi this was 2012 so now you can figure out my age) and calls to action and landing pages. These concepts are perfectly neutral and are things that plenty of people love and get joy from. But they were not interesting to me, I did not care, I didn’t want to be doing anything related to this work. And that’s why I was miserable.
But the other reason why I was miserable, the reason that was deeper and more intimidating and something I wanted to desperately avoid, was because I knew, somewhere in my gut, that I was in the wrong career.
For a while I tried to tell myself that I was just in a rut. But a rut is different. A rut is when you feel blah or a little bit listless. A rut is when you’re having a hard time motivating yourself for a few days or a week or even a couple of months. A rut is when you miss feeling excited about going to work or when you feel frustrated that you haven’t been doing your best.
A rut is when you aren’t performing at your highest potential and you hate the feeling and you’re desperate to climb out of it.
I wasn’t in a rut. And the reason why is that I didn’t care about performing at my highest potential at that job. Because I didn’t care about that job. I didn’t care about that industry.
I wanted to write, to spend my days using my words to somehow make a living. It didn’t always have to be creative writing – I was still really excited by the idea of copywriting or technical writing. But I wanted to find some way to get paid to do what I truly loved and what felt most natural to me. I didn’t want to spend all my time selling social media training programs to people from various businesses and corporations.
I was in the wrong career.
I was totally lost, totally apathetic, and totally uninspired by the work I did everyday. And that’s how I knew I was in the wrong career.
It was at once a wonderful and terrifying thing to admit to myself. Wonderful because I was able to realize it wasn’t that I hated working, it was just that I hated working there. And it was terrifying because now I had to figure out what I truly, honestly did care about. I needed to find the thing that I would love so much that it would be okay if sometimes I fell into a rut. Because even if there were days that I felt blah or listless or lazy or like I was not doing my best, I knew I would at least care that I wasn’t doing my best. Because I would be in a field of work that still mattered to me, even when my motivation wasn’t completely there.
So I left that job. Summing it up in a short sentence makes it sound easy, but it wasn’t great. I worked in retail and I took up a nannying job and I moved home for four months and then I moved to an entirely new city and applied for job after job after job. I found something administrative that I could do to pay the bills until I figured out what it was that I really wanted to do. And once I got that administrative job and my brain was free to focus on what I loved, I started writing. For some smaller publications, and then some bigger ones – all for free. And eventually, after countless days of hastily writing articles or essays while riding the train to work or sitting on my lunch break, I got a job, in the career that I actually cared about. I got paid to be a writer, and I’m still paid to be a writer.
I’m in the right career. But the important thing is that I still fall into ruts all the time. I have days (or weeks) when I feel as though I have no talent, when I have no ideas, when writing feels impossible, when I feel insecure and overwhelmed at how much more successful other people are. But the thing that gets me through it is that I want to be better, I want to improve my skills and crawl towards my full potential every single day.
I’m in the right career. But the important thing is that I still fall into ruts all the time. I have days (or weeks) when I feel as though I have no talent, when I have no ideas, when writing feels impossible, when I feel insecure and overwhelmed at how much more successful other people are.
I don’t know what to tell you about leaving your career, about how to do it. But after my own experience, I do know how to tell you if you’re in the wrong career. And it’s as simple and as complicated as this: if you’re miserable in a deeper sense, if you absolutely and completely don’t care, if you have no desire to rise up to meet your potential at anything more than mediocre – choose better for yourself.