The day after I graduated from Miami University, my mom and I stuffed all my belongings into my car and she helped me move to my new apartment in Cincinnati. I started work the very next day. It was a small social media training company, and my duties ranged from marketing our upcoming events to buying toilet paper for the office at Kroger. I hated it. The office was quiet and dead (only two or three other employees there at once), I missed having social interaction with other people, and I didn’t care much for the work. I had accepted the offer more out of a desire to have a job and not have to rely on my parents than out of excitement or passion.
But I think, more so than the job, I hated the fact that I had failed to go after what I secretly really wanted to do, but had not gotten the guts to try – comedy, improv, writing, and creative performance of any kind. In college I had told people that I’d love to write for a show like The Office someday, and yet here I was, sitting in a cold, empty office trying to figure out HTML – a million miles away from the path I wanted to be on.
Eventually I stopped being a brat, and decided to suck it up and accept that this was my life, for the time being. I started finding little ways to bring me closer to the type of work that I wanted to do and now, four years later, I’m in Chicago, working at a job that I truly love and studying the kind of performance I used to watch enviously on Whose Line Is It Anyway? I wouldn’t change a single thing about the way it all panned out, because I am still thankful for the realizations I came to at my first job. So for anyone else out there feeling listless, directionless, and stuck, here are 10 things you learn when you fail to land your dream job.
1. Talking about what you’re going to do, and actually doing it, are two completely different things. An infinite number of people like to talk in terms “someday’s” – someday I’ll be a best-selling novelist, someday I’ll be a manager at my dream company, someday I’ll launch my app. But the people who actually achieve these kinds of dreams aren’t talking about “someday’s.” Because they’re busy doing the things that will actually get them there.
2. Hard work should be a consistent way of living your life, not a short-term solution. Working really hard on a single project and then sitting back to bask in your accomplishment is useless. Success comes not from impressing your boss one time with that cool presentation, but from showing up, consistently, day after day, ready to quietly do the work today and then do it all over again tomorrow and the next day and the next day.
3. Working towards a career you want involves a lot of small choices, not one, swift, dramatic action. A lot of little things happened to get me to where I am now. I tried stand-up comedy, I found a small improv team in Cincinnati, I decided I would eventually need to move to Chicago, I moved, I started freelancing for a couple sites, I wrote feverishly to prove I was capable of being prolific, I took classes at Second City, I signed up for every possible opportunity students were given. I’ve still got a long, long way to go. I’m still in the beginning of everything. But I’m now on the path that I so desperately wanted to be on in the first place. And all it took was a bunch of choices that had my life consistently moving in the same direction.
4. Regret and ‘what could have been’ are sentiments that are so much worse than fear, rejection, or failure. Applying and/or accepting a job that you think is out of your league is terrifying. Being rejected from grad school feels horrible. Failing to initially get the thing you want does not feel good. But nothing is scarier than driving yourself crazy wondering what could have been, if you only had had the balls to try.
5. Your dream job will still be full of challenges, stress, feelings of inadequacy, and a lot of other uncomfortable experiences. You do not ‘arrive’ at your dream job and find instant success, happiness, and peace. No matter how much you love what you do, work is work, and at times you’re still going to feel stressed out, incapable, shitty, unworthy, and a hell of a lot of other feelings. But these feelings are so much more bearable when you know that you’re doing something that ultimately brings you joy.
6. Being a ‘hard worker’ is an expectation, not a quality that sets you apart from the crowd. In an entry level position, sure, you might stand out from the coworker who spends his whole work day on ESPN’s website. But as you start getting closer to the kind of job you want, everyone is a hard worker. Everyone is busting their ass. Everyone “wants this more than anything.” As things get more competitive, you learn that it’s about giving a thousand percent to every task you do, making everything you touch better, making sure that the people you work for absolutely need you.
7. The people who talk the most about how much they love their job and their life are often the most insecure or unsettled. Stop worrying about the girl who posts an Instagram every two days about how perfect her job and her friends and her life are. Nobody’s life is perfect. Save that energy for doing.
8. Your career is not who you are. Every person who has ever taken an unexciting entry-level position after college just to pay the bills and get on their feet can tell you: nothing is more frustrating than watching people make sweeping assumptions about you based on the fact that, for right now, you’re in data entry, or retail, or you’re an administrative assistant. Working at a supposedly unimpressive and not-so-glamorous job teaches you that there is a lot more to you than how you spend eight hours of your day Monday through Friday. And it’s a good reminder that, as happy as your dream job may one day make you (if you can reach it), it will not provide you with the fulfillment, happiness, and pure bliss that most people assume.
9. You can learn something from any situation you’re in, as long as you’re looking. Every person’s experience will be different, but you can always learn something. You could discover what you don’t like to do (which is just as helpful as knowing what you do like to do), you could come across a new passion/hobby that you wouldn’t have found otherwise, you can make new friends even if you hate the job itself, you can find creative inspiration. No matter how unhappy you feel, as long as you keep your eyes open, you can at least ensure that this experience never goes to waste.
10. As with any difficult situation in your life, your relationships are what will hold you up. My first year out of school, just thinking about work made my stomach drop. My body was filled with dread every Sunday night. But what kept me going every day were the small, light interactions with people I cared about. The G-Chats with my older sister in which we commiserated about how we’d rather be doing anything else. The happy hours with one of my first friends in Cincinnati in which we talked about how everything would eventually be better. The pep talks from my dad. The Friday nights where all my friends would get together and blow off steam. It was in these moments that I truly realized how important your relationships are in getting you through the day, which, in turn, gets you through your life.