We spend our lives being told what to be. The second we hit high school we’re bombarded with questions about what college we want to go to, what major we want to study, what classes we’re taking, what career path we want to follow, and if you don’t have an answer, you feel like you’re falling behind. If you’re anything like me, we pick the answers that the people around us want to hear the most. Our parents tell us to be a doctor, a businessman (woman), an accountant, and because we haven’t seen enough of the world, we don’t know any better, so we follow their direction.
And then we fight. We fight every voice in our head telling us to pick the practical path instead of the dream. We argue and struggle to find a balance between the two, trying desperately to keep our hands on the reigns.
How are we supposed to choose something to major in during college that will set the direction for the rest of our lives? What if I choose a certain road but end up hating it? Or better yet, what if I don’t choose correctly and lose my chance at something I could have been brilliant at? Sometimes we win our battle. Sometimes we give in.
I am here to tell you that regardless of which side you come out on, hear me when I say that you have come out victorious. While it might not feel this way the whole time, no matter what happens, you can always find a purpose to what you are doing, and if you can hold onto that purpose, if you can find and identify the reasons for your work, your future, your career, you will be okay.
Maybe you had to give up your dream career path for any given reason. I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer when I was little. I grew to be 5 feet 3 inches (I round up). While it’s safe to say I won’t be swimming alongside Michael Phelps any time soon, but that doesn’t mean I pushed swimming out of my life forever. I still swim daily to stay in shape, when I get settled down with my life in a few months, I hope to coach the local swim team and inspire kids the way that I was inspired by my coaches growing up.
Just because you aren’t living out the dream you had built up for yourself, doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a facet of it in your life. We dream because we have a passion for a certain type of thing, a passion for community, for teamwork, for volunteer-work, for any number of things and our dreams are tied to these passions. But these passions can be explored in various ways that might not always seem so obvious to us.
It’s time to stop looking back on our lost dreams and think about all the ‘what ifs’, all that could have been, all that you could have done if you had just taken a different route. Think, instead, about the passions that drove that dream, think about what made you want that dream so badly. Look for the things in your life that keep you going, the things that drive you to get up every morning and use that. Anyone can make the most menial, terrible, boring job into something bigger than that if you step back and think about your purpose in that job.
If we’re lucky, we’ll find a job that fits perfectly with our passion, you’ll be able to use the cheesy quote of never having to work a day in your life because you love your job so much. If that applies to you, congratulations, I’m genuinely happy for you.
But for most of us, finding this fit is not as simple. For most of us, we’ll find a job that we enjoy doing, but struggle to continue finding meaning as time goes on. We might start out fired up and singing kumbaya around the office, but sometimes that excitement fizzles. Or sometimes we take a job because it’s practical, you need the money, but you hate the work. That’s okay.
Did you read that? Let me say it again: that’s okay.
There will be days where it’s going to be hard to go to the office, or just to go to class. You don’t know why you’re there, what the point of all of this is. You start to think about the choices you’ve made that got you to where you are and the “what ifs” and regret starts to sink in. You think about the dreams you once had and how differently your life turned out from those dreams.
Just because you aren’t where you thought you would end up, doesn’t mean that you’ve failed at achieving your dream. And just because you aren’t there now, doesn’t mean you won’t get there some day, some things just take a little longer than others. Even if you’re on a completely different path, it doesn’t mean that your path now is any less meaningful or great as the one that you could have been on. Tomorrow is a new day.
Tomorrow, you can change your life and follow your dreams. Or, tomorrow, you can find your dream in the little parts of your life now, finding purpose in your work, realizing that your work matters in the grand scheme of things. It’s not about what you’ve done or what choices you’ve already made. It’s about your mindset and how you move forward.
Sure, to you, making one extra phone call to ask if the person is interested in the job they applied for might seem boring, routine and frustrating because chances are, no one will answer or return your call. But maybe that one phone call is to someone who really needs that job, someone who’s been waiting at the phone for you to call, praying that you do. Maybe one phone call, one of the hundred that you make in a day can change someone’s life, doesn’t that give your work meaning? Doesn’t it make you sit up in your chair a little more when you’re in the office? Maybe you smiling at your customer service job is exhausting, believe me, I’ve been there, but you never know when your smile, your polite conversational banter can lift up someone’s day.
Finding a job, nailing down a career path or just staying at your job might be hard right now. But no matter where you are in your walk of life, I just want you to know that there are no wrong choices. If you can rise above and find meaning in the things that you do, in your daily life, in your job, in your actions, you will enjoy and get so much more out of the world. We all have a vision of the kind of person that we want to be and today is a beautiful day to start to work towards that person.
As George Eliot once said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been”.