Living the Dream: On Finding a Career (& Life) Path

I wrote this post over 2 years ago on my old blog, Ellipsis. Can you believe it? At the time, I was exhilarated by a recent slew of job offers after months of nothing and not having a job. I thought I'd take a second look--and a second rewrite--to see what else I have to say now. 

A few years ago, I wrote a particularly sad sentence in my journal: 

I'm about 85% sure that I will never be able to say that my career is my "dream job." I'm starting to think that phrase was made up by someone who wanted other people to feel bad. 

Wow, past-Michelle. WOW. That's harsh. About yourself and about your life.

Not very long after I wrote that sentence, I attended my first Toastmasters class. Toastmasters is a group that helps people improve their public speaking skills, as well as their confidence, posture, and mannerisms. If you're an introvert like me, that sounds terrifying. However, I found it to be incredibly fun. I thought I would hate it, but I loved it. I've never been a good public speaker, but following just the basic tips offered in the first class, I actually won Best Table Topics for the week!

I could never have imagined myself doing that. I couldn't have imagined myself being able to enjoy something that was so obviously not in my comfort zone. But then again, I also couldn't imagine myself being genuinely happy at work, or where I worked.

I've spent an embarrassingly long amount of time wishing I had my "Dream Job."

What was my "dream job"?

I don't even really know. 

Now that is embarrassing. I'm kind of ashamed that I spent years being sad, depressed, and generally stupid for a job that I couldn't even put any qualifiers on. I had a general sense of what I wanted to do, but then again, not really. I have a lot of skills; I have a lot of talents; and I have a lot of drive. None of things add up to I'm going to be an... fill in the blank. They add up to I like to write; I like social media; I like people; I like marketing; I like blogging...

So how do you get a cohesive job out of that?

You find businesses that want creative, interesting people & you wait.

You might start to wonder: does this Dream Job even exist?

I've always had high expectations: for myself; for other people; for my education; for my career. It's been an obstacle for me to overcome the idea that sometimes, my expectations are just too high.

For someone right out of college, I actually did all the right things: I took a deli job; I worked internships; and eventually, I started a low-level job at a place with opportunities to grow. However, I made things difficult for myself by hating every step of the journey. I kept feeling like I should be doing more, that what I was doing wasn't right, that I was holding myself back by being afraid to follow my dreams.

Really, I was following my dreams, but with my expectations so high, it was impossible for me to see the positive in any situation I was in, personally and professionally. Nothing I did was good enough & that thinking was incredibly negative for me.

I kept telling myself things would get better, but as time went by, I became less & less positive; I stopped trying; I let myself think that this was how my life was going to be; I couldn't see how anything would change. I let myself stop blogging. I let myself gain too much weight while trying to say I was very, very healthy. I let myself hate my body & take out my feelings of failure on my body. It was a bad time. It was a bad time to be me.

But this isn't a pity party. 

This is about telling it like it is.

Even after everything I went through -- two crappy jobs that I hated, two years of 24/7 body hatred, crying almost everyday, going months without writing or caring about anything -- I still don't have a "Dream Job." Because, to be completely honest, there is no "Dream Job."

Everything is what you make of it.

A Dream Job is just another version of the American Dream.

The American Dream is this: white picket fence, perfect house, wife & husband and 2.5 kids, car in the driveway, golden retriever in the backyard. Perfect, right? Yes, in the 1950s. Not everyone wants that life now, though. Some people don't want kids or they don't want to buy a home or they don't want to get married. Whatever, society has moved on.

We've evolved. 

Which means our notions of employment should too.

Twenty, thirty, forty years ago, when you accepted a job, you were essentially signing on for life. People worked at places for 40, 50 years. That is incredibly rare now. The idea of working anywhere for ten years kinda makes me start to feel itchy. It's just too confining. That's what a job used to be though: you signed on for the long haul.

Society, however, has evolved. So when we talked about "Dream Jobs," we're talking about a concept similar to "the American Dream." And we've evolved past that. It's time for our expectations to evolve too.

It's less a dream & more a path.

Have you ever heard the quote "Aim for the moon; even if you miss, you'll land among the stars"?

I hate that quote.

Ok, I don't hate it, but I think it's pretty lame. It assumes that you should aim as high as possible & that there is no possibility of failure from doing that.

Unfortunately, that's not true. Failure happens. People fail every single day. It's a fact of life.

We've all become afraid to fail. So afraid that we set our expectations spectacularly high and then fall apart if we don't measure up.

It's ok to fail though. Everyone fails. We have to. If you don't fail occasionally, you'll never learn what works or what you want to do. Working a job you hate tells you what you don't want to do. Working a job you love, but with a manager who treats you like crap teaches you about managerial styles.

From failure, we learn how to succeed: what we want, how to achieve it, how to lead. And if you protect yourself from never ever failing, you're doing yourself an incredible disservice. By spending your time hoping for a "dream job" or trying to find your "dream job", your letting opportunities to learn pass you by.

I wasted a lot of time being miserable, waiting for my "dream job" to come along. I wish I could take back all those times, all those opportunities. I missed out on enjoying life, enjoying working for two years because I was so wrapped up in the idea of doing something specific-that-I-didn't-really-know-yet.

I missed out on following my unique, special path.

So this is my advice.

Whenever June rolls around now, I think about the path my life has followed since I graduated five years ago. Can you believe that? Five whole years! I've learned so much since then and I hope my experience can help other people. 

My advice is simple:

  • Don't worry about it & don't be afraid to fail. It's ok to make mistakes. It's ok to feel like you don't know what you're doing or where you're going. That's the point. In your moments of confusion, you'll be able to figure out what you really want & follow the path that is most you.
  • Work hard. Every second of every day. Make it count!
  • Take every opportunity you encounter.
  • Have fun.
  • It's not about a dream; it's about you. The path you follow is yours. Your understanding of success is entirely yours. Don't ever let what anyone thinks stop you from following a path that is right for you.