One year ago last Friday was the last day I worked at my office job (an administrative assistant at a high school) to work for myself as a web designer. I have not regretted leaving for even a minute, though I have missed my coworkers and the students I spent my days with. It was my dream to work part-time and I did it. It was also my dream to work for myself from home and, as one of year ago, that’s exactly what I’m doing.
It’s surreal in some ways to realize that I what I wanted for years I’m finally doing.
I’ve shared my entire career journey on this blog, which has actually played a huge role in figuring out what I want my life to look like. Sharing my dreams and struggles and leaps of faith and fears in this space has helped me realize what I want (and don’t want). The support (and, more practically, referrals) has been essential to this journey. I had no idea what this little blog was going to do for my life when I started it almost 7 years ago. So, thanks for being a part of that.
Reminiscing aside, I thought I’d share on something that I’ve been asked about by several of my friends over the years. Questions like: “How can I like my job? How did you get the courage to start your business? How can I follow my dream?”
I am no life coach or career advisor, but I can tell you what I’ve shared with these friends in hopes that maybe one of these aspects will resound with you if you’re searching for some of those same answers. I’m going to share a few ideas that I’ve found to be true and useful in uncovering this whole issue of career and fulfillment. Because life’s too short to not do what you want.
Disclaimer: I’m no expert (or life coach. Or career coach. Or cross country coach.) Take it with a grain of salt. Don’t get mad at me. Your mileage may vary, etc etc. (I think it’s important for me to point out that I am not able to do this because I married someone who is supporting me. On the contrary, I’ve out-earned Mike most of our 7 years of marriage, though things are a little more equal these days. I only share this because when I was looking to work for myself, I felt like everyone I was looking up to would say, “I’m doing what I want!” followed by “My husband’s job supported us when I started and provides the health insurance!” which was fine and good, but discouraging for me as my husband has been a student for almost all of our marriage, not earning a sizable salary.)
Anyway. To the thoughts!
Some Thoughts on Making Your Life What You Want
– Listen to your gut. Knowing what you want is the most important first step. Not what the bloggers you read want, not what your mother wants, not what you used to want, what you want now. Let yourself dream without restricting yourself yet. Journal, talk with others, and spend some time sitting with options. Think about how you’d feel if you left your job or started a new one. Sit with that. Think about how you’d feel if you stayed at your job for another year. Sit with that. Do you feel excitement? Dread? Fear? Suffocation? You probably already know what you want to do, you just have to silence the chatter in your brain to let yourself uncover it. Sometimes it’s hard to admit to yourself what you really want. (Me? I used to want to be the best at everything. Old me would have wanted to get into a competitive career just to prove to myself that I can do it. New me knows that a work-life balance and autonomy are way more important to me at this stage in my life.)
– Realize that the environment where you work is almost as (and sometime more) important as what you’re doing. You might love what you do, but have awful coworkers or managers/administration, terrible hours, your physical work environment is depressing, or whatever. If this is the case, you might want to consider looking for a new job in the same field. It’s not that you need to change what you do, you just need to change where you do it. (Similarly, you can have a crappy job with awesome coworkers and benefits and that makes it much more palatable!)
– Make your current job resemble more of what you want. Take those dreams and get practical. Not everyone wants, or has the option!, of leaving their job and working for themselves or starting down a new career path of their dreams. Think about what would make you happier at your current job and take baby steps in that direction. This will look different in every job-dream job combo. For example, I used to work as an educator who loved graphic design, so I really threw myself into the layout and design of the classroom newsletter and volunteer training materials. Take what you love and weave it into your current job – it will make your daily life more enjoyable, will develop the skills you want to hone, and maybe your coworkers will even notice your talent and ask you to do more of that sort of thing.
– Apply and interview for jobs that you think you might like, even if you’re not actively looking for a job. This serves two purposes: it’s good practice and it’s a good way to see what is out there. When I was dissatisfied with my day job, I interviewed for a job at an IT firm, a job where I’d work with clients on their websites as well as manage social media for the firm. It seemed like a dream job and the fact that they were very interested in me (and wanted to pay me a decent salary without batting an eye!) was exciting. However, after listening to my gut, I knew that even though I was interested in some of the aspects of an office job – good health insurance! coworkers! – I wasn’t interested in the long days or 45 hours a week(+ commuting) away from my son. So I turned it down. But it was a great boost to my ego that they found all of this website and blog stuff I’ve been doing as legitimate job experience and not just a mom at home playing on her computer. I took that and put it in my back pocket as encouragement in case there is a day in the future that I want a job in a firm.
– Remember that (mostly) nothing is permanent and that fear shouldn’t get to dictate all of our decisions. I think this one is the most consistent theme that comes up in these conversations. Fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of making a mistake in leaving, fear of regret, fear of change, fear of what other may think, and so on. A little fear can be healthy. Fear of being losing a job or some other misfortune motivates me to keep a healthy emergency fund. Fear of a car accident prompts me to be strict about car seats. But when you let fear dominate every aspect of your life, you’re not steering the ship, fear is.
Again, not everyone wants or needs to work for themselves. There is no one size fits all dream. For some, it’s being a stay at home mom. For others, it’s working full-time in a corporate job where they get to travel a lot. Getting to think about what you want from life and your work is definitely a privilege, but if it’s something you really want, it’s worth considering and not just doing what you’re doing because you’ve always done it.