You’ve probably seen this article, or a version of it, on the internet at some point:
You’ve probably also heard about Abraham Lincoln and all of his failures before becoming a senator and eventually the POTUS.
Still, is there anyone who didn’t graduate college, move to a city (or back in with their parents, just to save money while they got started), and think, “Okay, time to get on the fast-track to success?”
This is where approximately every person I know went, one or two years out: “WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!”
Maybe you got a temp job, starting out, and you just realized it will never become permanent or salaried, so you feel like you lost a year. Maybe you haven’t been able to even get a job yet. Maybe you thought you wanted to go into accounting but you hate taking tests and you just flat-out cannot study for another one. Maybe the thing you always told yourself you wanted to do is actually not making you happy, and you have no idea what to do about that.
I know people who have encountered this feeling at ages 16-33, and I’m sure there are more above that range who I just can’t think of specifically right now.
Here’s the thing I want to say: We all have more time than we think.
Sure, human lives are short and you should be making the most of your time if you can. But in the last few years the myth that our lives (and careers) are linear progressions–child, student, worker in one field at one company, spouse, parent, grandparent, retiree, corpse–has pretty much exploded. There are people with decades of experience in fields that just don’t exist anymore, having to figure out what to do. It’s really hard and really scary, but for the most part, they’re making it somehow.
It’s becoming more and more helpful to think about our lives in terms of experiences and skills rather than positions held. Networking is, of course, the other big piece of the puzzle, and the more you get out and do stuff–different kinds of stuff–the more diverse your acquaintances and friends become and the more opportunities you open yourself to.
I could give examples from other peoples’ lives (my friend who works in marketing who is going to Yale Drama, my friend who was a math tutor on Craigslist before going to grad school and then landing a gig in Sweden teaching swing-dancing) but I can talk most authoritatively about my own.
Situation: Recently moved to Chicago after college.
Needs: Enough money to eat and pay rent.
Wants: To meet and work with talented people in the theatre.
Dream Job: Eventually, running my own theatre and remaining artistically involved. At the time, something I enjoyed that allowed me to be comfortable that would ideally be around creative people (anything involving the theatre a major plus).
Job I Got: Waitress at a corporate make-your-own-stirfry restaurant.
You might be able to tell that I didn’t start out in my ideal job situation. Still, I was pretty happy with it at first. Waiting tables was the classic actor’s job; it was lucrative (ideally), had flexible hours, put me into contact with a lot of people, and I liked the people I worked with. In the economy of 2009, I was thrilled to have gotten this job within a few weeks of moving to the city.
It didn’t take me too long to learn a lot about myself.
I learned that I don’t like having to put on a happy, chipper face at the drop of a hat. I learned that I don’t like not being able to control when I am busy and when I’m mind-numbingly bored. I learned that while I do like people, I like working with people with whom I will interact again in the future, in case we run into any misunderstandings that need resolution and to keep them from behaving poorly because they know they’ll get away with it. I learned that I really hate not knowing how much I will make any given day or week. I learned that a job that requires you to work Friday and Saturday nights in order to make enough money to live on is not the best job for someone who wants to be performing or networking or watching performances in live theatre.
I learned that my family has a predisposition to depression and anxiety disorders, and that I am prone to panic attacks.
Learning all this over the course of several months was pretty terrible. In fact, it was my life’s low point (so far, touch wood). But now I know all of this, and knowing it has helped me figure out what I do want and what doesn’t make me feel like the world is spinning out of control.
Once I got a different job and figured out my life a little bit more, here’s some other stuff I learned:
I learned that for no reason should you be going to work filled with dread every morning. Sure, some days will be rougher than others, but if every part of you wants not to go in, you’re not doing the right thing. You don’t need “tough love” or to “grow up.” Just recognize that this is the wrong thing.
I learned that I don’t mind working hard and working extra hours when I actually feel engaged in my work.
I learned that there are lots of kinds of “smart,” and that smart people can have any background and can have gone to any college, even one that wasn’t a liberal arts college.
I learned that I am still really young, and that my life could go any of a million ways, and that I can completely change courses much later on, and that all of that will be okay.
And I learned that my friends and family truly love and support me even when I’m no fun to be around for months at a time–that I still deserve their love and support when I’m having a hard time, or haven’t been very kind to them lately, or have lashed out. That when they’ve seen me at my lowest point, they haven’t run away.
I would not trade that knowledge for a year with the cushiest job in the world.
Somehow, from there, I’ve gotten somewhere pretty dang nice. Let me be more specific. I started looking for things to do that I wouldn’t dread, worked hard when I found them, paid attention to new opportunities and kept creating new relationships. Now I have a job I really enjoy and a theatre company I’m achingly proud of. My life is not necessarily a rose garden sans thorns–two jobs means a lot of potential for stress, and I have interpersonal and inner ups and downs all the time–but it’s so much more stable and happier than it was when I was right out of college.
It didn’t happen in a year, or even in two years. I’m four years out of college now, and other people my age are at other stages in figuring out their lives.
But it happened.
If you aren’t where you want to be right now, please don’t add to your list of stressors the fear that it’s too late to do anything else. There’s a lady who graduated college in her 80s. There are people getting married in their 90s. You have time.
Right now is just the time to figure out one step. Your next step.