Once, as a little girl, a grown up asked me what I’d wanted to be when I grew up.
“The tooth fairy,” I’d said. Obviously.
With that, I entered into an ugly cycle of dreaming about a career, realizing it wasn’t going to happen, falling hard for something else, and then realizing it wasn’t going to happen either. After dreaming of being the next big tooth fairy, I wanted to be a veterinarian (who can’t stand the sight of blood), a famous singer (with crippling stage fright), and a constitutional lawyer (without the actual grades to get into law school).
I settled on journalism in college, and jumped into the field headfirst. I wrote for my university’s newspaper, served as an editor for the magazine, interned with the city’s major paper. Almost every friend I had in college was a fellow journalism major. When I graduated in May 2011, I even had a job reporting with the primary newspaper in one of the biggest cities in the country.
It took a grand total of two months for me to learn that reporting in the real world was not my calling, and it broke my heart. I felt suffocated under the overwhelming weight of the shame, the humiliation, the failure of spending time, energy and money on a degree I knew I wouldn’t use. I cried a lot. Even now, four years later, it still sometimes hurts to think about the dreams I had and how quickly I knew they wouldn’t come true. Whether I wasn’t good enough or just didn’t have the gumption to make it work, I had to accept that my life was making a sharp left, and I either had to get on board or lose sight of the train completely.
If there’s any comfort to be found in my story, it’s that I’m not alone. “Life detours,” as I like to think of them, happen every day to people in all different stages of life. Even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and it’s how we right the ship that defines our humanity.
Two and a half years after I broke up with my career path, I found a new one that has brought the joy and fulfillment I’ve always wanted from a job. In that time, I learned a lot about reconsidering our lives when the going gets tough.
First things first. When the initial panic sets in, you have to get back on your feet for the day-to-day. If your career path ended up like mine, that means finding a way to pay the bills while you figure everything else out. Getting the tedious details taken care of frees you up to focus on the bigger picture.
Open your mind. As a mass communication student, there was a silly rivalry between journalism and public relations majors in the department. So when I thought about PR as a career field, I’d always rolled my eyes and brushed it off. Lo and behold, it ended up being the exact niche with which I found my calling. Be sure you’re not writing off opportunities for unfounded biases.
Take inventory of yourself. One of the reasons journalism didn’t work for me is my sometimes-introverted personality. Writing, however, has always been a strength. Take inventory of what worked and what didn’t, and be honest with yourself. That knowledge will be so powerful when you move forward on a new path.
Be kind to yourself. Look, something you thought would work didn’t. It sucks. Just remember that one mistake doesn’t make you stupid or incapable or bad. The greatest members of humanity all faced failure; it’s how they recovered that made them wonderful.
Finally, get some perspective. You’ll find something. It may or may not work. If it doesn’t, you’ll start the exercise over again down the road. Look around you and get some perspective. In my case, that meant realizing that my job was a small part of my life. I have great friends, a supportive family, a roof over my head and food on the table. Counting your blessings is a great way to relieve panic and remind yourself how good you really have it.
I don’t know if there’s a cut and dry way to handle the disappointment of a route gone wrong. And I assume there will be a time in my life where I’ll come upon this exact disappointment again. What I’ve learned in the meantime is that in the end, we’re all going to be ok.