Someone—something—once told me that careers are shiny, definitive pillars of selfhood.
They emerge eventually after the intellectual, social wanderings of college. They solidify everything we learned there and speak to what’s beating in our hearts: what we care about, what we’ve learned.
Careers, I once believed, were inevitable as blinking. I would fall into mine easily and hungrily. I would have a set of delicious pencil skirts to match. I’d have a leisurely commute; I’d accrue travel mugs like lipstick.
I don’t need to convince you that this wasn’t—hasn’t been—the case. (I’ve got a load of travel mugs, but not so many skirts.)
I’m not here to say that careers don’t matter or that they can’t be outward expressions of our worldviews and identity.
But I am here to say some things you may need to hear if you’re trying to hunt this elusive beast called a career. I’m walking through the woods with you.
Slow down for a minute: let’s talk.
Who really wants you to find your career?
Think about it for a quick sec. Are you the one eager for a nine-to-five? Or are your parents? Society? Your partner? Your university? Your guilt?
I don’t have to tell you that the one person who should want you to find your career is you.
Yes, we are all urged towards careers, in some capacity, by pure and simple survival. Careers bring in compensation, which can provide food, shelter, life essentials. They can validate years of education. They can bolster communities.
All the same, you are the only one responsible for a career. You are the only one who can choose whether to seek one out or abandon the whole idea altogether.
You also get to choose your timeline.
It can be hard to disentangle yourself from parental expectations or societal norms respecting careerdom. It can be hard not to feel somewhat hazy and unworthy if you don’t know what the hell you want to do with your life—yet.
(I have felt this way many times.)
Still, don’t forget your own agency here. You even have the power to change its name. Why not chase a passion instead of a career, for example?
There is great value in unconvention.
You may be sending out cover letters like a career fair robot. You may be answering phones at a call center.
You may be watching the unemployment checks slide into your mailbox with no small amount of trepidation. (You and at least 4% of the population, by the way.)
You may even be thinking, offices are stifling. And cubicles suck.
Don’t forget the value of unconvention. (Yes, I’m making that a word.)
Careers are wandering, crafty, amorphous beings. They can consist of highways and morning commutes and office chairs that make your back hurt.
They can also consist of mountains and café internet and sewing in your basement. (See where I’m going with this?)
Your career may not emerge from a job listing on Indeed. It may emerge when you least expect it, with a set of teeth you never imagined.
You may become a digital nomad, in every sense of the word. You may start a business, take up chocolate-making, work at a vegan café.
You may do all three of these things at the same time. You may mop floors at a middle school on weekends and work on your Kickstarter for clever selfie sticks on weekdays.
Don’t be afraid, dear friend, to walk outside the boundaries of convention. A career is not black and white—only our perceptions of one are.
You can take your time. You can take all of the time.
I have slept on more couches than beds in the last five years of my life. I have at least twenty different versions of resumes saved in Google Docs. I have said into so many phones, to so many people: I don’t know what I’m doing.
I have felt an immense pressure to fall into something meaningful, all for the sake of fitting in with the crowd, to feel purposeful, to validate my past.
Much of that is on me.
I wish I had given myself permission to take my time. Some careers begin in your fifties, for example. Others never get up off the ground. And that’s okay.
You have all the time in the world.
Let the uncertainty rise around your ankles. Stop using the word career. Stop looking at the clocks and calendars. Breathe outside the boundaries of minutes.
Don’t expect an “aha” moment.
I thought that My Career would reveal itself in a definitive moment. It would walk through the door, smelling like an Abercrombie and Fitch store and looking something like Orlando Bloom on a good day.
I’d recognize it immediately and feel as if suddenly everything made sense.
It doesn’t happen this way. I hate to break it to you. (My twelve-year-old self is particularly offended that careers don’t look like Orlando Bloom.)
You will probably not have an “aha” moment. Your career may stumble in without any arms. You may not realize when it appears. You may not suddenly experience utter and complete validation.
Sorry. (It’s easier once you know this.)
But I will say that the right career, when it comes, will not stop you from feeling vital and true. It will move you forward. It will show off what you’ve got.
Claim every step of the journey.
Even if you are serving over-priced lattes to bleary-eyed commuters, even if you are unemployed, even if you are doing everything you didn’t do in college—you are doing the right thing.
Every step of this journey is yours. Claim it fiercely. There is no shame here, no guilt. Every minute you are being shaped into your truest self.
If you aren’t applauding, then I am.