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!
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.
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.
PART I: THE SEARCH FOR THE RIGHT MAJOR
Back when I took the PSAT my sophomore year in high school, there was a section where they asked about your personality and interests. Along with your test score, you were given suggested careers based on your answers.
Mine said something to the effect of “No careers found.”
Now I don’t know if that was a curse or an omen, but I spent the next 17 years trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Not long after those results, I had to do a report on a career I wanted, and I picked sports and fitness nutritionist. That interest lasted only slightly longer than it took to do the actual report.
When I got accepted to college, they asked for my major, and I said communications because why not? But then I took a psychology class my last semester in high school and enjoyed it so much that during college orientation, I changed my major to psychology.
I loved pretty much every psychology class I took. Even statistics wasn’t awful (and I’m really not a math person). I especially loved the child psychology-related courses, of which there were exactly three at my college. I decided I wanted to pursue that more intensely, so I looked for programs at other universities, found one that sounded great, and transferred my junior year.
And that’s where I got totally lost. I’d actually transferred into an early childhood education program, and as I got into it, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted. I liked my professors and there were certainly parts of my classes that were interesting, but overall, I just wasn’t feeling it.
I wound up dropping the major and was officially labeled “undecided.” I was completely lost and unsure of what I should study instead. I didn’t want to go back to psychology for reasons I can’t fully remember, and there just wasn’t anything calling me. I reached out to my school’s career center for help, but it didn’t get me any closer to figuring things out.
Ultimately, I chose to major in communications (the original major I’d never actually started). I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I reasoned that it was a degree I could put to use in any field. Plus, there was a concentration in media studies and production, and I loved watching TV, so why not learn more about it?
Well, the major never really clicked. Other than a great independent study in screenwriting with a wonderful mentor, I just didn’t love what I was studying, and getting through my classes felt like a chore to complete rather than an opportunity to study something truly interesting to me.
But I kept thinking things like “I can’t switch majors again” and “I don’t know what I want to do, so this’ll be fine” and “My school has a limit on how many semesters I can take, so switching isn’t even an option” (which they may have overlooked had it occurred to me to ask). I let my thoughts convince me I had to continue my chosen yet ill-fitting field of study.
Would I change it if I could go back? Part of me says no, because those experiences led me to who I am today—a life coach who can use what I’ve learned to help others get out of (or possibly even avoid) the same experience. Plus I get to be a graduate of a really great school, and I’ll always be grateful for the privilege of having a college education.
But another part of me says hell yes, I'd change it. I feel like I missed out on the opportunity to learn about things that ignited my spirit simply because I thought--thought--I needed to stick with the plan. Honestly, 17 years later, thinking about it still makes me sad.
I wish College Me had gone back into psychology or followed the path of some of the other classes I loved—anthropology, family communications, astronomy. Or studied something new like animal behavior, a class which was in the lecture hall before my geology lecture, and which always seemed fascinating.
[Spoiler alert: Becoming a life coach led me back to these topics—even animal behavior and astronomy! In other words, I got lost for a while, but life coaching—via Martha Beck’s books, working with my own coach, and going through training—helped me finally find my way back.]
In the confusion and frustration of my college experience, I’d silenced my heart, which I have no doubt would have led me back sooner if I’d let it. Instead, I’d given my head the lead, and it wasn’t listening to anything but those untrue, often fear-filled thoughts that ran through it at an almost constant clip.
I was relieved by the time commencement came around, and it was more than just the idea of being done with my formal education. I thought things would get better once I graduated, once I was away from both the school and the studies that had never clicked, once I landed a job I loved. I was so completely wrong. I may have been done with studying, but I was still deeply entrenched in believing I could think my way to making things better. There were many more years to go and many more lessons to learn (and relearn) before I was finally able to find my calling.
So how'd I finally get there? Stay tuned for the next installment of this two-part post: “Part II: Pick a Job, Any Job—Wait, Why’d You Pick That One?”
Katie Baron: life coach, freelance writer, animal and nature lover, musician, relentless optimist