I recently expressed some career anxiety to a friend – a bad habit of mine, and I suspect I'm not alone in this, is tying my work to my identity.
I'm constantly worried that I'm not pushing myself hard enough, or that I'm not far enough in my career. It's something that's plagued me since I started interning and now that I'm at the very tail end of my 20s, it's turned into a bit of a panic over the past few months. I'm not worried about getting older, but I am very focused on getting to a certain place in my career.
I mentioned this to a friend recently who (kindly) replied that I needn't worry, because I'd already done what I wanted to professionally. Went to New York, like I always wanted to. Worked in fashion and magazines, like I always wanted to. Heck, lived and worked abroad and now I'm living the dream by collaborating with cool people and working from home. I'd done what I wanted to do, so why stress over the state of my career now, or in the future?
This came as a total and complete shock to me. I once read that careers are marathons, not sprints, and that's how I try to look at mine. This means that at this phase in my life, I've done things I wanted to do – but I only view them as the groundwork to what I'd like to do in the years to come. Throughout my 20s, I've been building a foundation to get to that next place in my career.
Wanting to always go further in my career inspires me, humbles me, and pushes me forward.
This is why it shocked me so much to hear my friend's response – that I'd already done my career, as if following your dreams really meant accomplishing a goal, then letting go and getting comfortable.
I'd never even considered that many people end up not doing what they set out to do. As far as I'm concerned, I haven't done my career yet. The 'leaning in' has only just begun.
At least, that's how I see it.
For me, doing what I wanted to do was always a no brainer.
But this conversation with my friend made me realize something I didn't see before: Most people don't end up doing what they originally wanted to do professionally. Maybe their priorities change, or their circumstances, or their goals. But ultimately, a whole lot of us end up doing something else. To say that we 'give up' is the wrong term in every way – often external forces are at play, and sometimes the things we set out to do don't look like the way we imagined they would. And that's fine. People change, as do their wants, needs, and desires.
But it still surprised me. I've always done what I wanted to do professionally and, quite honestly, can't imagine not doing that – following my 'goals' and 'dreams' and living my career to the fullest extent is such a big part of who I am that I can't imagine any other option. Even if it means sacrificing sometimes.
This insight has made me incredibly...sad? Maybe sad isn't the right word. More like surprised. Don't get mad at me for saything this, but it makes me wonder why we ask kids what they want to do when they grow up, or encourage them to go after their dreams when ultimately we all really know that they'll likely switch gears and head to something more practical a few years in to their careers.
And again, there's nothing wrong with this. It's just blindsided me and I can't believe I didn't see it before.
If you're lucky enough to have a career you're passionate about, then I'd love to know: Are you doing what you want? Are you doing what you set out to do? Or, did your interests change? What about your priorities? This has been on my mind in a big way the past few weeks – would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!