For anyone who’s ever felt inadequate while filling in that little ‘job title’ box.
As soon as we set foot in the classroom, the pressure is on.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” our teachers ask.
As adults, every form we fill out – whether it be a doctor’s registration form or an airport arrival slip – has that little box where you have to write your job title.
The first question a stranger asks when they meet us, is usually, “So what do you do for a living?”
This question may seem innocuous enough, but to a person struggling to find their career path, it’s anxiety inducing. In today’s society – where success is intrinsically linked to having a successful career – failure is a feeling many of us are experiencing.
Over the course of a decade, I spent a lot of time stressing over finding my calling. To date, I have been a barista, a florist, a waitress, a saleswoman, a deli manager and a nurse. While all these jobs paid the bills, afforded me a house of my own, and allowed me to meet a lot of great people, for years, I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d failed because I hadn’t found a ‘proper career’, one of those job titles that painted me as inherently successful and having my shit together.
Around age 23, after a long stint of job hopping, I enrolled to study nursing. In my mind, becoming a nurse would make me a success. I’d finally have a worthy profession to write in that box on my next car registration slip, and feel good when someone asked me what I did for a living.
I passed all my exams with excellent grades, and yet, something didn’t feel right. During student placement in hospitals, I couldn’t wait for the day to pass. I couldn’t find passion in mixing up medication in the drug room, and I certainly couldn’t see myself happily giving injections to people day-in, day-out. But that little insecure voice in my head told me to persevere, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have a true career, which automatically meant I would have to resign myself to being a failure at life. So I ignored my intuition, graduated top of my class, and went out to work in the nursing industry.
Yet every day I dreaded going to work. At the end of every shift, I exhaled in relief, and any time off work was spent fraught with anxiety over having to return. Nevertheless, society congratulated me on my successful career, with acknowledging, impressive smiles at parties when I inevitably mentioned my job, but inside, I felt like I was slowly suffocating.
Pursuing a career I had no real enthusiasm for zapped all the joy from my life. I had followed prestige, not passion, and like many of the fragile ego’s pursuits, it left me feeling completely miserable. So, after two years of nursing, I hung up my stethoscope.
This was when the feeling of failure really kicked in. Big time.
My family and friends just couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to be a nurse anymore. “You can’t just give up your career!” they said. When I explained I didn’t like the job, I watched confusion sweep across their faces, followed by looks of judgment. Acquaintances I’d met when I was a nurse asked me how my work was going. When I told them I wasn’t nursing anymore, they often scrunched up their faces and asked, “So what career are you going into now?”
When I was a nurse, I would go to dinner parties and people would fire enthusiastic questions at me about my job. But after I quit nursing, I began to notice people didn’t engage me like they used to. It was as if the only interesting thing about me was my career; as if my identity was synonymous with my job title. I began going to social gatherings less, because without a conversation-starting job to tote, I felt self-conscious. The feeling of inadequacy seeped into every part of my life, to the point where I stopped seeing people I used to know, in case they asked me about what I was doing with myself these days.
I spent years feeling dejected. I looked for other careers, new areas to study, for jobs that offered progression into a position that somewhat resembled success. Already saddled with a hefty student debt, I couldn’t afford to return to study, so I contemplated moving interstate to start again, in a place where no one knew of my failings, where I could leave the feelings of inadequacy behind. I decided that if I hadn’t figured out my career by age 30, I’d do it.
But then a funny thing happened about a year before my thirtieth birthday. I woke up one morning, took a look around at the life I’d built, and it dawned on me: I am so much more than a career.
I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister. I am a passionate writer, a dancer, a karaoke superstar. I am that friend you phone in a crisis. I am a DIY queen, an excellent cook, an avid gardener. I’ve traveled to lots of exotic places, have renovated houses, finished full-length novels, and have worked with people from all walks of life. I read about politics and economics, I practice meditation, and regularly do volunteer charity work.
No, I am not a professional anything at the moment. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a success. Yes, I have failed at a few careers, but I’ve gotten the hell back up and tried something else, time and time again.
These days, my only objective is to follow my passions, not chase a coveted title. Who knows? Maybe one of these passions will lead to a ‘proper career’ one day? But if they don’t, then I’m okay with that. Because I’m so much more than the letters I write into that stupid little box every time I fill out a form.
Image via tumblr.com.
Comment: Do you agree? Is there too much pressure on people today to achieve career success, as opposed to happiness?