What do you do when you’ve spent sixty grand (give or take a few tens of thousands) on an education, land yourself the “perfect job” and then realize you picked the wrong career?
Few things can be more devastating than coming to the comprehension that your years of hard work and determination have launched you down a road 180 degrees away from your own personal fulfillment and happiness. But the first, most important, and most challenging step has already been addressed: admitting it.
If you’re reading this and nodding your head, you’ve already done the hardest part. It took me three years – and for some people, it could take longer – to come to terms with the fact that I was not happy pursuing a career in film, despite the fact that I was in $65,000 worth of debt for my BFA in Film. It was a long, painful, stressful process that happened gradually, only after I honestly evaluated my career choices and job experiences and saw a pattern of continual discontent. I held several decent positions relevant to my field, even some that were close to my “dream job.” Yet, even so, I found lack of fulfillment in each job, and was dumbfounded, depressed. I continued to seek out film jobs, even though most of the job listings didn’t truly excite me. I found faults with each position, and blamed these excuses on my unhappiness. But in reality, I was slowly, reluctantly noticing that my chosen path was not what I had dreamt it would be.
How do you move on? Once you admit it, don’t fool yourself any longer. Why waste your time working in a job that makes you miserable? Why spend years building a career that will never satisfy you? If money is your only motivator – good luck. Take no offense, but I believe a life rich with truly soul-gratifying work is more valuable than any large house, expensive car, or retirement plan. You are the only one that has to wake up every morning and go to work. You are the one that has to live this job. If it takes you a few years and a few detours to get there…even if you spend most of your life searching, know that your efforts are worth it and just the process of figuring it out is half of the adventure.
Next, formulate a plan: however obtuse, however daunting, and however outrageous. This is your life, dammit! Be honest with yourself, and pay attention to what you really do enjoy. If you are really uncertain and haven’t a clue what you want to do, don’t sweat it. Take your time and figure it out. In the meantime, explore ideas and hobbies that interest you, even if your only means is taking out books at the library, or researching online. See what’s out there, and look for connections, however obscure, to what you’re already doing or your current situation. Talk to people, soak in as much as you can, and get excited about the next step. Don’t dwell on the time you’ve wasted, but appreciate the circumstances that have brought you to this turning point. Come up with short-term and long-term goals, and figure out what you can do to get there.
Don’t react too quickly. Allow yourself some time to sit there in limbo and explore your options. Avoid applying to go back to school or moving to some random place too quickly without really letting the realities sink in. You’ll need time to weigh your choices and determine your route. Let things fall into place and make your move when it feels right and all signs point to yes.
Don’t make the same mistake twice. From now on, keep your eyes open at all times and pay attention to yourself. Know the difference between a challenge and unhappiness. Follow your gut, make time for the things you love in your daily life, and continue to learn. Promise to be honest with yourself and tweak your plan when you feel it’s right. If you never stop exploring and doing what fulfills your deepest needs, you’ll earn a life of happiness… even if you never really find your dream job. It really is all about the journey, not the destination.