When I started Peaceful Dumpling as a side project a little over a three years ago, I was still working a demanding and intellectually creative, but also emotionally highly stressful job in book publishing. I had a vision that down the road, I may get to work on Peaceful Dumpling full-time–but I had little idea as to when that might happen, or what to expect after that point. For instance, I could never have told you a few years ago that I would leave my editing job and devote more time to PD while exploring other career opportunities. And I definitely could not have guessed this as my career path, seven years ago as a recent grad.
And yet, I’ve recently realized that this unexpected course makes perfect sense in the grand scheme of things. When I was little, I dreamed of becoming an artist, a writer, a teacher, or a dancer, to varying degrees of specificity. Who knows why kids have yearnings for certain roles and not others, but those were the only ones in which I could see myself vividly. And now, after many detours and almost in spite of myself, I’ve managed to connect each part into one coherent career in lifestyle. Nothing has happened “according to plan” and yet, I have arrived at a place deeply connected to my earliest dreams. For those vague dreams in my subconscious to connect the dots and manifest themselves, I only had to take some real risks, those that truly challenged my profound fear of uncertainty (or more honestly, fear of becoming a penniless pauper with just two trunks to her name–as I was five years ago).
When I was absorbed by the breathless task of planning and executing, it was all too easy to feel confused and insecure. By taking a step back, I could learn to let go of fears and accept that things are okay.
If you ever felt in the same boat, here are some things to feel okay about your career.
1. You feel like you’re going backwards or stagnating.
When you’re growing up, things happen in order. You went up a grade every September; you learned algebra, geometry, then pre-cal. In adult life, however, things don’t always unfold as “logical progression,” always moving one step ahead of another in a straight line. You don’t get into med school, or you go there and hate it. You don’t get the job you think you deserve, or get passed over for promotion. You realize your heart is really not in management consulting or arts administration or what have you. Setbacks happen normally in life, just like rainy days or burnt toast–not because you failed. And more often than not, this setback will be the reason you go on to do even better things.
If you’re still upset about the apparent backward step, remember this: life is not a march, it’s a dance.
2. You don’t always feel happy about your job.
A job is not a hobby–no one loves her job 100% of the time. Some days you really just won’t feel like going to work, but you’ll have to. This doesn’t mean that you’re settling–it means that you’re an adult. The important thing is that you’re content, happy, and fulfilled about your job most of the time, regarding most aspects.
On the other hand, if you feel dissatisfied or downright distressed about your job, you should rightly note your feelings and use them to motivate changes. But this too doesn’t mean you should feel bad about your situation. Whatever problems there are, remember that they are temporary until you move to change them. They’re not going to last forever.
3. You don’t know what you really want.
Knowing what you want gives you a sense of control over your path. Not knowing, on the other hand, can make you feel like driving in heavy fog: panicked and lost. Instead of trying to drive faster, take the opportunity to slow way down and learn something more about yourself. Get comfortable with the gray area. Stay alert to your feelings instead of ignoring them–and get juicy with it. Take this as an invaluable opportunity to learn to feel happy even in uncertainty.
4. You’re afraid of never becoming what you wanted to become.
When you’re 22, anything seems possible–and then at various points after that, you start to accrue the fear of not becoming what you dreamed of. But if you keep doing what you’re doing, the sense of accomplishment will come eventually. And even people who accomplish extraordinary things suffer from disenchantment, like Arianna Huffington revealed in a recent NYTimes interview about her acute sense of anxiety after writing an international bestseller at 23. No one is immune from insecurity, whether early bloomer or late bloomer.
There is no right age to start anything, or achieve anything.
5. You compare yourself to others and feel the pang of envy or insecurity.
As long as we are social animals, we will always be seeing ourselves through the prism of others. But it’s important to remember that you’re not here to live anyone else’s life but your own. Your fulfillment isn’t to live the second best version of someone else’s life, no matter how perfect it might seem on the outside–it’s to live the best version of your own, imperfectly marvelous life.
To be nobody but
yourself in a world
which is doing its best day and night to make you like
everybody else means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.
Have you ever felt any of these about your career? What other fears have you dealt with?
Also see: 5 Ways to Be Happier at Work
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Photo: Send me adrift. via flickr