There seems to be a standard belief that everyone follows the same path to their careers. You go to high school, maybe work a few odd jobs at fast food or retail, graduate college or trade school, then start your "real job" and stay there until you retire (I say real job in quotations because I was continuously pushed to find a "real job", even when I was working, because my job didn't fit their ideals).
Maybe it feels that way for me because I grew up in a working class family and community. Proud workers who can say they've been at the same employer for over 20 years, many trades workers, even when they hate their job.
While there is nothing wrong with being that type of worker, the problem exists when we, the next generation, and generations to come, are taught that is the only way to success. That you must set a path and stay on it for the rest of your working life.
But, what even is a "career"?
The Oxford Languages defines career as "an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person's life and with opportunities for progress."
Merriam-Webster defines it as "a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling."
While these definitions describe a career as being held for a "significant period of a person's life" and a "permanent calling", the reality is, when we are leaving high school and entering the workforce, how do we even know what is our permanent calling?
What if the path we choose for ourselves at an age where our prefrontal cortex isn't even fully developed (hello! the center of decision making, impulse control, and planning) isn't the path we want to follow? Do we push through miserably, do we pivot? What about our college degree? It was expensive to get, we can't let it go to waste. What if I leave this job and make less money? These are reasonable questions to have and are especially difficult to answer when society and our families may pressure us to follow what is the socially accepted path to a career.
We ultimately have the ability to decide for ourselves what the path to our career will look like, not society.
All those questions you have about your career, only YOU can answer for yourself.
There may be push back, judgement, or misunderstanding for the people around you, but you get to decide your path.
Of course, that doesn't mean you can just get up and walk away from your responsibilities, like providing for a family or paying the bills, to pursue your dream career. I truly believe we have to take responsibility for our choices, but, what this does mean is that it is NEVER too late to make a new choice- to make a change to your career, to pivot, or leave a miserable job to find a more enjoyable one, even if it pays less.
We spend an average of 90,000 hours of our life at work. If you work the traditional 40 hour per week full-time position, that ends up being around 43.27 years of your life.
If you're going to be working for almost 44 years of your life, wouldn't you want it to be doing something that you enjoy? Something that doesn't make you wake up everyday trying to find ways to get out of going to work?
It's time for us to start making choices and to stop apologizing for those choices!
So what if your job isn't aligned with the degree you have? College isn't just about learning a specific skill, it's about learning how to think critically, to be open, learn responsibility and professionalism, and so many other things beyond a piece of paper. Don't let anyone guilt you or make you feel you wasted your time or money. Just by having a degree can set you out and help you get a good paying job, even if it isn't in your original plan- you know, that you made at 18. The reality is, life changes and so do we.
Thinking about leaving your miserable, good-paying job for a less-paying position?
Will you be happier? If the answer is yes, then it might be worth taking the pay cut. A job is only a job and your mental health is more important. Not to mention, many people take their stresses out on their partners and children. If you find yourself being that person, it could definitely serve your family better to have you be a happier person, even if you're making less money.
Do you have a lot of education and have worked hard in your career but find yourself a stay at home parent now? Great! It could be a better personal and financial decision for you and your family. It doesn't mean your education or successes are wasted, those things can be useful beyond working.
I use these examples to illustrate that we don't need to fit the norms or expectations of others if it is serving us better.
One of my favorite bloggers and designer, Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess, always says, "good for you, but not for me".
There is so much truth in that statement because what is good for someone else may not be good for you. You have the ultimate choice in your life and your career and you never have to apologize to anyone why you made that choice.
Photo cred: pixistock