I got out of bed at 9:37am this morning. Which doesn’t sound that remarkable until you understand that (a) I am a naturally early riser, and normally by the time 9:37am rolls around, I’ve crossed at least seven things off my to-do list and (b) it’s a weekday and I’m not unemployed.
The reason I stayed in bed so long is thanks to the sleep-preventing combo of a sick toddler and the worst allergy season ever in the history of ever (achoo). But that’s not the point of this post. The point is: I was able to stay in bed until 9:37am on a weekday without a boss sending me an angry email. And I am so grateful for that—being my own boss really is the perfect fit for my personality. It doesn’t work for everyone—I actually have a number of friends who tried it on their own, and went back to the office by choice—but it’s right for me.
I don’t do a lot of career talk on here anymore, because, let’s be honest, you’re all just here for the food. But I woke up this morning (at 9:37am) and knew I had to write this post. At the start of 2016, I set an overarching business goal for Wholefully—be helpful. And every decision I’ve been making about my business has comes back to one question—is this helpful?—and I think it’s making me a better writer, a better content creator, a better marketer, and honestly, just a better person to be around.
Anywho. When I decided to write this post, I did so because I SO wish I had someone tell me these things 10 years ago. It would have been so helpful. Ten years ago, I had just graduated from college, I was in my first job (that I loaaattheeeeedddd), and was long-distance dating this cute Canadian boy who’d eventually become my cute Canadian husband.
On paper, I should have been off-the-charts happy. I had graduated with an art degree, and I actually managed to get a great job right out of college in my chosen field in the exact city I wanted to live in. But, my gosh, I was so unhappy in my career. Mis-er-a-ble.
Unfortunately, I kept burying that unhappiness way down deep for years and years because I didn’t want to ask myself the big questions and I was petrified of disappointing the people who loved and believed in me. It has only been in the past two years or so that I have really started to ask myself what I want from my career and started to act on it—and man, oh man, did I wish I had done that sooner.
That’s a really long intro to explain to you why I feel qualified to dole out career advice at the ripe, old age of 32 (I just had to actually do the math to figure out my age…). So here are the 10 things I wish I could go back and tell my 22 year-old-self—and hopefully I’d listen.
1. Just because you’re good at it, doesn’t mean it has to be your job.
Welcome to the crux of my former career unhappiness—my profession (graphic design) was something I was good at, not something I was passionate about. It didn’t start out that way, I used to be really passionate about design. Like magazine-subscribing, conference-going, complaining about crappy letterspacing with my friends over coffee, kinda passionate.
But then something changed. I don’t know exactly when (actually, I kinda do, it happened during my last semester of college), and I don’t really know why, but it changed. And I was no longer passionate about design, but I was still good at it. That’s when things went off the rails.
You know when you’re driving in a new part of town, and you realize your turn is right up ahead, but you don’t have enough time to turn, so you just keep driving on your current path because you don’t really know what else to do? Welcome to my career from 2005–2012. I stayed the course because that’s the path I was on. Everyone told me I was great. I was winning awards. I was getting great jobs. I was successful so I must be happy, right? Nope. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean it has to be your career. Talent does not equal happiness.
2. If others are disappointed by you, it’s their problem.
One of the biggest fears I had that held me back from admitting I was in the wrong career was that I would disappoint people. I was on this path to greatness. I was going to do big things in the design world and live in these big, important cities and eventually own a big, important design firm where I did work for big, important clients. I was going to get out of my little podunk hometown and actually make something of myself. I’ll show them!
Except, no. By following that path, I was disappointing the most important person of all—myself. If I would have followed what people thought I should have been doing, I would have been miserable. I’m sure some of my professors who lovingly poured their hearts into my education and my peers who thought we’d all be gracing the covers of design magazines now (they are, I’m not), were disappointed when I decided not to stay the path. But guess what? That’s their problem. I can handle disappointing them. I can’t handle disappointing myself.
3. Your parents don’t know everything.
This is a hard one to write because, I, literally, have the best parents in the world, and they are definitely reading this (hi, guys!), but here’s the truth: no one’s parents know everything, not even my awesome ones. It’s a lesson that I don’t think most people learn until they become parents themselves, but it’s a lesson I wish I could have learned earlier on in my life.
The transition from parent-to-child relationship to parent-to-adult-child relationship is a hard one to make—for both parties. But I think as the adult child, it’s particularly hard to understand that the advice your parents are giving you when you become an adult is no longer authority-driven and instead more like peer-to-peer counseling. You don’t have to listen to your parents anymore. And what they are saying might not even be correct or applicable. You can still respect their opinion, but you don’t have to follow it. It took me WAY TOO LONG to figure that out. Like. Last week it finally sunk in.
My parents worked incredibly hard to give all four of their kids the opportunity to go to college and live charmed lives—and I am forever grateful for that. However, I think seeing my parents work in jobs they didn’t love (in particular, my Mama, who would literally commute for hours a day for decades to work a job that wasn’t a good fit for her), gave me the false notion that that was the only path. If I wanted to be a good, contributing member of society, I had to sacrifice and stay in a job/career I loathed—no one likes their job, what makes me think I should?
I was so wrong. My parents didn’t think like that, it was just the decision they made for their lives and family. To my parents, there were things that were more important (many times, exponentially so) than career happiness. They had priorities and they chose them, end of story. And that’s the lens they viewed (and still view) career choices based on. So when I’m getting career advice from them, I have to remember that.
Because the truth is, I’m not like them in that way at all. I want to be over-the-moon passionate about what I do for a career. I want to love Monday mornings. I love being a wife and a mom and a gardener and everything else I define myself as, but I also love my job. Career satisfaction is vitally important to me. I wouldn’t consider myself a workaholic. And I would never put my career ahead of my family, but I also think there is nothing wrong with wanting a robust, successful, happy-making career. It’s a priority for me.
4. Don’t ignore the windows.
You know that phrase “when a door closes, a window opens”? Well, not only is that totally true in my experience, but it’s also really easy to miss the window. In hindsight, I see at least three big, giant, floor-to-ceiling windows in my career that I’ve missed because I was so caught up in the door closing.
Story time: the year is 2008 (you can probably guess where this is going), I’m the newest designer on staff at my job. I’ve been, honestly, kicking ass, but there are lots of rumblings of lay-offs. I get called into my boss’s boss’s office one afternoon, and after about 10 minutes of we’re-so-sorrys and you-really-are-doing-greats, I was told I was being laid off.
Normal reactions: sadness, shock, fear, worry. My reaction? I couldn’t wipe the flipping smile off my face. I hadn’t quite fully realized I didn’t love my career yet, but in that moment, when I was told I was losing my job, it came fully into focus. I was happy I had been given an out. Happy I was being forced to move on. Happy. Happy. Happy. My other colleagues who had been laid off were sobbing to each other, and I had to go into my office and shut the door so my giddy phone call to my husband didn’t seem insensitive.
That right there? Big. Window. A few weeks later, one of the more senior designers in my department quit to go to another job, and suddenly a position opened up. My boss called me and asked me if I wanted to interview. My gut told me I shouldn’t. It would be silly to ignore the window. But my bank account (more on that in #5 and #9) told me if I wanted to eat ever again, I needed to say yes. I was hired back on, and spent five more years there—this time, with the very clear knowledge that this path wasn’t the right one for me. Those were some of the darkest years of my career. You can’t get caught up in the what-ifs, but I do often wonder how different my life, my career, and my happiness would be if I wouldn’t have ignored that window. Always look for the window. And don’t be afraid to take it.
5. Sometimes it is all about money, and that’s fine—or maybe it isn’t.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about finances. Because the truth is, we all gotta eat. And sometimes, to do that, you have to maybe take a job that isn’t the right fit or that doesn’t make you happy. My personal rule is that that is a fine decision, but it has to be a stepping stone in my bigger plan. If I’m taking a job because of the money, it has to fit into my bigger picture somehow. Example: my husband was laid off from his job right after Juniper was born. We needed a quick influx of cash, so what did I do? I put a crapton of ads up on my fledgling blog and hoped for the best (all while bawling at 3am with a nursing Juniper on my lap). That career decision was 100%, entirely, completely about the money.
BUT. It was also part of a bigger plan. The first stepping stone to turning my blog into a modestly well-paying career was putting a lot of ads up. I knew that having a bajillionity ads up on my blog wasn’t a long-term, sustainable solution, but it was exactly what I needed to do then from a financial standpoint. It was a fine decision. Sure, I got some not-so-kind emails from readers after the change, but I knew it was the right decision for my family, and after a nicely worded explanation, most of those emailers understood, too. And now, two years later and with a little more financial solvency, I get to make the right decisions for my career (which is why you’ll see almost NO ads at all in a redesign I’m launching this summer). It was a stepping stone.
But, like I talked about in #3, this is all about priorities. I wish during the last semester of college, before kids could graduate, schools made them sit down and write out a list of their top three life priorities—and to make all decisions going forward based on those priorities.
When I was 22, my three priorities probably would have looked something like this: (1) have a great family (2) be happy in my career (3) be financially independent. And, shocker, they are still the same now. Notice how financial independence is on the list, but below my family and my career? That’s not a mistake. And I’ve made some financial decisions that Dave Ramsey would shudder at in order to support my top two priorities. That doesn’t make me flaky or immature, it just means my priorities are different from Mr. Ramsey’s. And maybe you have different priorities, or the same priorities in a different order, and that’s fine. And it’s also fine for your priorities to change over time (mine haven’t, but yours might). Maybe right now your priority is just having any job that pays you so you can afford rent. But maybe in 10 years, it’s having a wonderful family.
6. People change careers all the time. It’s both normal and healthy.
Just because you change careers it does not make you a failure. That’s worth repeating. Just. Because. You. Change. Careers. It. Does. Not. Make. You. A. Failure.
When I was in the middle of college, I had heard the oft-repeated but unsubstantiated tid-bit that people change careers on average seven times in a lifetime. I would laugh. Who does that? I’m a designer. I’m going to be a designer forever. If I’m not a designer forever, then it must because I’m not good enough/driven enough/creative enough. The only way I’ll not be a designer is if I totally crash and burn.
Except no. Humans evolve throughout their lifetime, and the chances of a person enjoying the same career they did at 45 as they did when they picked the path at 20 years old is tiny. Some people do it, but not most. Growing and changing is healthy. And that growth and change has to apply to your career, too. I’m not a designer anymore, but I still design almost everyday (shameless plug: did you snag your free copy of the 13 Simple Smoothies eBook I designed? FREE.) My career has evolved.
One of the biggest things being a parent has taught me about life is that it’s all seasonal. We are each in a current season of our life—it doesn’t mean it’s always going to be this way, but it is what it is right now. I recommend stopping thinking in “always” and “nevers” and start saying cheesy stuff like “this career is a great fit for me in my current season of life”. No one wants to eat crow.
7. Find the good in every situation.
I’m not here to compare workplace horror stories—we all have them—but what I am here to say is there there is something good in every, single situation. Even if it’s something as simple as, “I never, ever, ever want to be like my boss. Ever.” That’s something good. Learning who you don’t want to be is just as important as learning who you do want to be.
The older I get, the more I realize that gratitude is the answer to so many of life’s conundrums. I’m not talking the, “you should just be grateful to have a job, because I can’t even get one working at the drive-through” type of leveling that isn’t healthy for anyone.
(#7a: Don’t let anyone negate how you are feeling. Just because someone has it “worse” doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to your feelings.)
I’m talking true, deep gratitude over something positive. If you look hard enough, you can find it. And it’s the key to getting yourself through the struggle and sacrifice of a job or career path that isn’t working for you. Every career decision you make is a stepping stone to career happiness.
8. Be the best (whatever) you can be when you’re being it.
Oh, hai. Here’s a diatribe on work ethic. Suck it up, kids, and work your ass off. Seriously. From personal experience, let me tell you that nothing stings more than when you give your notice to a job and they say, “Yeah, you haven’t been doing as good as work as you used to do, so we kinda expected this.” Be the best you can be when you’re being it. I don’t care if you hate your job. I don’t care if you hate your boss. I don’t care if your cubicle mate flips off his shoes, puts his feet on his desk and clips his toenails during his lunchbreak (okay, yes, so just one workplace horror story). Be awesome. Be so awesome that when you come home and complain to your partner about how much you hate your job, you can end the conversation and say, “But hey, at least I’m a rockstar.” Be the best you can be and you’re going to feel more confident. And confidence will make you a much happier person.
Be so awesome that when you give your notice, they are devastated to lose you. Be so awesome that they offer you a big, fat raise to try to get you to stay. Be so awesome that you can honestly say you sucked every ounce of professional marrow out of that gig. By not doing your best, you are only hurting yourself. It doesn’t seem that way at the time. Between your boss and their boss and your slacker co-worker and that gossipy chick down the hall, it can feel like it’s just better to phone it in, but you’re only doing yourself a disservice. Trust me. From the other side. Be awesome. Be always awesome.
9. Dreams aren’t impossible
With a little bit of distance, I can tell you now that one of the reasons why I went into design and why I stayed in design for so long was because I thought my real dreams were impossible. I chose the safe, smart, comfortable career route, because I had convinced myself that what I truly wanted could never possibly happen. The truth is, I had dreams of working in food WAY before I ever started a food blog. Back in college, in my design classes, all my class projects were centered around food. I’d do a logo for a fictional bakery or a poster for a coffee shop or a cover for a cookbook. Food was my passion even back then, but I didn’t feel like it was a realistic career path, so I chose what was realistic.
Even with the decision, my passion for food crept into my career. I started a blog that occasionally wrote about food (probably because I was afraid of getting too close to my dream to actually call myself a food blogger). And then I wrote a lot more about food. And then I started writing for magazines. And then I started developing recipes for companies. And then I wrote a cookbook. And another one. And now millions (!) of people each month come to read what I have to write about food. My real dreams have come true.
It sounds cliche to tell my 22-year-old self to dream big, but I wish I could. And I wish I could really get it through to her that nothing is impossible. If you would have told me at 22 that I’d be where I am, doing what I was doing, I would laugh at you for the ridiculousness of it all. Not because it wouldn’t sound amazing, because it would sound to wonderfully far-fetched.
Stop thinking your dreams are far-fetched. They aren’t. And by thinking they are, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Are some dreams harder to achieve for some people? Yes. But that doesn’t mean they are impossible. And dreams don’t always come to fruition the way we think they will.
10. Ignore everyone else.
You are the only one that knows how you want to spend 2,000+ hours per year of your life doing. Really listen to yourself. You can ask for advice and opinions. You can talk it over ’til you’re blue in the face, but the only one who really knows what flips up your skirt is you. You are the authority on yourself. So start acting like it!
I think the biggest act of self-care we can do is make sure we are happy, or at the very least, content, in our careers. A bad job or career path is toxic. It infects every aspect of our lives, no matter how much we try to build up a wall between the office and our home. Ignore what anyone else says (including me), and make it a priority to take care of yourself. Listen to your heart.
Alright, so there you have it—3500 words of advice I wish I could give to a 22 year-old me. Not that she would listen. She was pretty hard-headed. Which is TOTALLY different from now. *wink*
What career advice would you go back and give yourself 10 years ago if you could? Go forth and be awesome, friends.