It is time to discuss this ‘career’ thing.
I wrote this post after sharing my own struggles with finding a career path on Instagram. You can find the post here. Just because I am sharing this with you, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have my days where I want to quit everything and become a full-time meme account. My views come from reading, observing (obsessively) other people’s behaviours and my own. It is important for me and for everyone else, I believe, that we discuss uncomfortable things without turning it into a self-development Ted Talk. It’s ugly, and it’s okay. I invite everyone to share their thoughts and opinions on the matter; this is firstly a place of discussion.
The Real Reason Why You Don’t Have A Career.
It always starts with a very simple question.
‘So what’s next?’
It’s usually thrown around awkward dinner tables; loved by loved family members and strangers that haven’t figured you out yet.
It’s more polite than the old-fashioned ‘so what do you do?’ ; less threatening than the ‘when are you going to get your life together?!’
However, inquiring people–strangers or not–on what directions they might pursue in life should be classified as torture, for it leaves the recipient of unnecessary questions second-guessing their whole life, crippling into despair.
The truth is, talking about careers sucks. Actually, talking about careers when you can barely pick a format for your résumé sucks.
Years of ‘When I grow up, I want to be..’ essays in primary school tricked us into the idea that we would have been ready for the big question; that by the time we hung our graduation ropes and college degrees on our parents walls, a holy land of job opportunities would have magically appeared in front of us, like the Yellow Brick Road.
So what are you going to do?
A loaded question that can shape the way we perceive ourselves, as it’s the lens we often use to perceive others. Although we know that our time will come and that we just need to keep looking, we can’t help but keep circling around for answers. We patiently listen to other people’s plans, follow their accomplishments on our timelines, and when the amount of information and the feeling inadequacy bottles up, we explode into a self-loathing mess.
Feeling inadequate about your career leaves you feeling envious, filled with rage and despair, longing for a world ruled by anarchy, where job applications that take longer than two hours and petulant cover letters don’t exist. A fantasy world where we–the brave and mighty heroes of our stories– finally land the job of our dreams, the one where we don’t pray for an unpaid internship to turn into a job opportunity.
Are we really self-entitled and whiny as our grandparents suggest we are as a generation?
Maybe. Or maybe not.
When we cry over another automated email rejecting us for a position we got psyched for, we may be shaking with frustration, but where does it really leave us?
When we fail to find answers on why we–the perfect students and the motivated interns–are struggling to transition into adulthood, we stall at one very simple question.
What is wrong with me?
We may not like to admit it in front of our peers, or under the gaze of an apprehensive family, but we are certainly thinking about it in the privacy of our anxious mind.
In fact, we spend so much time dwelling on that question that it becomes easier to self-doubt and heavily criticise, rather than swallowing the hard truth and move on.
We find ourselves wasting more time than usual; drowning the void of life uncertainty in a blurred mess of drunken nights and Netflix binges, ignoring the imminent reality check that will soon be hitting us in the face when we log into our bank accounts.
Not having a purpose. Floating between jobs and relationships. Feeling like you are just a Law & Order cameo appearance waiting for a role in a Scorsese movie to happen.
It sucks. But there’s nothing wrong with you.
You are just asking the wrong questions.
Musing for Amusement by Robert Doisneau
Asking the wrong questions.
It is obvious that our lack of purpose, especially in terms of career prospects, isn’t completely caused by us as people.
Yes, we may have not landed the right internships, or mastered French during our college years; but deep down inside we know that it’s a bigger battle than the fight we have against the perception of ourselves.
In fact, our despair isn’t tied to our characteristics as a person, nor to what we have accomplished in life. Our feelings of inadequacy rise from the inaccurate assumptions we hold on careers and our concepts of success.
The way we look at successful careers is often similar to the way we look at relationships.
We mostly believe that relationships are fruits of hard and consistent work; that there is this holy partner waiting for us somewhere around the world, ready to accept all of our flaws with unconditioned love, and kiss our sorrows away.
We feel so special and worthy of such love that we blind ourselves from the evident truth. And when we are faced with endless fights, cheating and fall outs, we can’t help but feeling miserable and frustrated; our heads circling around with the same question:
What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get what I want?
Do we set ourselves for failure? Surely. But it’s human to aspire for greatness. To reach for what it can’t be easily reached. Since childhood, we have been programmed to desire beyond the limits of our imagination; trusted our parents’ telling us we were special, that of course we would have been a terrific scientist. Heck, we could even become female Prime Minister, if we wished!
Wish, work hard and, don’t worry, things will come. You fill find your path. The career that will give you everything you aspire to in life.
But you already know how the story ends. Like Cinderella patiently waiting for her Sweet Prince to run back, we are sitting there waiting to hear back from a job for which we applied almost six months ago.
It’s not that there are no happy endings in our lives, it’s just our heads are filled with a lot of non-sense. From poor examples of relationships (i.e. Sex And The City), to inaccurate depictions of success (i.e 90% of social media)– we grow up reaching for something that isn’t even there.
Don’t believe it?
Test yourself with the following questions:
What does success mean to you?
Think about a successful person. How do you think they got there? And could you get there as well, if you followed the same path?
What do you mean when you say that you want to ‘get a good job, you know?’
You will find that answers vary depending on the person’s interests and passions, but every single one of us certainly shares something with others.
When we try to answer questions like that, especially the ones that require further explanation on our future plans, we can’t help but drown in pathetic vague answers.
When we struggle to put our future plans into words in front of our parents, it’s not because we have failed to achieve a set career to talk about with them, and now we are visibly ashamed to admit it.
It’s just that our ideas of good jobs and right path, and whatever self-development term we throw around nearing graduation–they all reek of vague. Shells emptied of real meaning, which have held so much significance to us, especially during our transitioning into adulthood.
The long and unnecessary unpaid internship programs; the writing summer camps; the extra-curriculum activities that would have put President Obama’s schedule to shame; our internet popularity and our desire to build long-lasting friendships.
We believed we were set for a successful race, but the tune has changed.
We didn’t get the job that we wanted. The career that we longed for turned out to be dull and unsatisfying. Promotions meant less family visits and more cheap coffee.
And between a sigh of misery and zoning out during a meeting, we get it.
We didn’t know any better. We were naïve. Hopelessly dreaming about a future that wasn’t even near to what we imagined.
Everything we believed about success and career paths, especially the one we have gathered from the outside world, has turned out to be inaccurate. Vague. The biggest scam of all.
One of the interesting things about success is that we think we know what it means. A lot of the time our ideas about what it would mean to live successfully are not our own. They’re sucked in from other people. And we also suck in messages from everything from the television to advertising to marketing, etcetera. These are hugely powerful forces that define what we want and how we view ourselves.
ALAIN DE BOTTON
WHAT IS SUCCESS, ANYWAY?
You’re not special. You may never become a Nobel-prize winner, or a New York Academy ballerina. Your high-paying finance job won’t be like The Wolf of Wall Street, and your debut novel may not even sell on Amazon.
This so-called success might not even happen to you, nor to anyone you know.
That’s because this #success you are raving about doesn’t exist.
A success only made of fame and collective praise may exist on tabloids and social media feed, but it surely doesn’t present itself like that in the real world.
In 2016, success is a timid tech genius in an American Apparel hoodie who has built a social network in his dorm room. It’s an online lifestyle coach who has accumulated millions
scamming teaching single mums and broke professionals how to make money online. Success is a viral prank video on YouTube getting endorsements from multinationals. Success is also pretty girls getting paid $2000 to post a picture on Instagram.
Our ideas of successful careers have never been this complicated; but that’s all we are able to see.
Sometimes it’s your neighbours’ pictures of a tropical holiday on Facebook. Other times it’s Kylie Jenner’s flashy Ferrari received for her 18th birthday. You can even get it running into an old friend!
Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat – no matter where you decide to exist on the web, you can be sure to find out at least one person who will trigger the existential circling around the ‘Why am I not successful?’ question.
But among this pool of achievements and flashy trophies of success, you can be sure that you won’t be able to find a thing in there: failure.
In fact, failure and the actual work that goes behind a ‘success’ is never shown on social media, unless it is for a purpose: to flaunt the success itself. To share an inspiring story of a college dropout disrupting another traditional market with a start-up; that’s when we hear about failure.
And quite frankly, it’s because nobody wants to hear a sad story about a college graduate finding an entry-level job. Exactly like we don’t want to hear about a suburban couple marrying at Niagara Falls.
What we want is the underdog story–the hero that beats the odds and makes it to the top victorious and showered with what he/she deserved. Our love for this kind of narrative isn’t just due to the Disney happy endings we have been brainwashed with as children, but because we see so much of ourselves in those hard times.
We recognise the struggles of finding your own voice in a chatty and overpopulated web; the longing to be accepted and understood; the need to provide value to our surroundings–and to find this so-called path.
But there is no path. There is no Yellow Brick Road, or breaking success. There isn’t a special job waiting for you to be seized.
There is you, and that’s it. With the things you can do and can’t do. At the moment, there is a you who has your head filled with non-sense about success and career and all that, but that can change.
Not with an online course on passive income, nor with a graduate program, or meditation.
What changes you is action. And to act, you need some good old perspective.
This is part one of a series of posts on how to deal with career anxiety. In the next post we will be discussing more on how we can turn our perceptions around. Stay tuned on the Gram. (@challengeyoass)