We all chose our current careers or jobs for a variety of reasons. Some of us have known what we’ve wanted to be since we were children. Maybe an enthusiastic parent gave a rousing presentation for career day, or maybe it was as simple we wanted to follow in our parents’ footsteps. For those of us who didn’t map out our lives during adolescence, maybe our career decisions were molded by more extemporaneous factors.
Your career is like a long-term relationship that ends in marriage. It goes through all the stages of any normal relationship – attraction, courtship, marriage, the honeymoon, and real life.
Some careers are marketed much better than others. Like that sexy stranger who catches your eye from across the room, the first thing you typically notice is the presentation. What are they wearing? Are they revealing too much, or is it just enough leave you wanting more? We probably first met our respective careers when they were dressed to kill and looking impeccable.
Maybe your career was so stunningly beautiful that it left you dumbstruck. It came with the potential to earn tons of money, fame, and/or notoriety and those lures were too enticing to pass them up.
Regardless of your motivation, you were smitten and the relationship had to play out.
This is the stage of the relationship where you start “going together.” Going to where? No one knows, but you’re going. You start learning more about it in school and spending all of your free time with it. You’ve been neglecting your friends to be with your new infatuation because you’re completely and hopelessly sprung.
Eventually, you put a ring on it – a promise ring – and begin applying for internships. You’re doing everything you can short of full-on marriage to prove how dedicated and true you’ll be to your partner.
After roughly 4 years of serious dating, you guys decide to get married. It’s the right thing to do and you feel ready to take on the world together, so you take your vows and confidently strut across that stage to receive your degree. You accept a job offer and begin your journey together.
For better or for worse, you’re in it for the long-haul.
Now that you’ve graduated, you’re well on your way to a lucrative career in the field. Every day, you set aside time to brainstorm and formulate plans for how you’ll become a titan of the industry and dominate the landscape. The future is ahead of you. You’re constantly learning and improving, and you just can’t get enough of your new spouse.
At a certain point, your union begins to bear fruit by way of successful projects and promotions. You’re climbing that career ladder at breakneck speed, and nothing can stop you. You’ve got financial security and a level of autonomy that most people would kill for.
Does it get any better than this?
A select few of us are blessed enough to stay in this phase of the relationship. These chosen few selected their partners perfectly, and they provide each other with an effortless balance. They’re the embodiment of “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Lucky bastards.
For the rest of us, the saga continues…
You entered into this union with your eyes wide open, so you thought you knew exactly what you were getting into. You figured that you’d pay your dues, hit a few bumps on the road, and everything would be okay. What the hell, right? You could brush it off and resume your climb up the ladder. But something is changing and you can’t quite put your finger on it.
Instead of racing to see your spouse, you now find yourself idling outside while trying to mentally prepare yourself to deal with the onslaught waiting for you on the other side of that door. You still haven’t figured out exactly what’s affecting you so negatively, but you’re certain it has something to do with what’s waiting for you inside.
Some of us reach a crossroads at which our careers don’t fulfill us like they once did. In fact, we often grow to hate them. What do you do when confronted with that stark reality? What do you do when work becomes…work?
Cheat: We try to start a new career on the side without completely breaking up with the first one. We find a sidepiece. As fate would have it, when we don’t dedicate ourselves to something completely, our endeavors tend to suffer. Nobody wins.
Flirt: We toy with the idea of cheating or leaving, but we never go through with it. Many of us know that we’re unhappy in our careers, but we lack the intestinal fortitude to make the leap and take a risk.
Stay for the children: After investing so much time, energy, and money into a career, the thought of it all being for nothing is enough to turn the strongest of stomachs. We refuse to have shed blood, sweat, and tears in vain, so we make excuses to stay and try to make the relationship work.
Get separated: Too much of anything can lead to burnout. There are times when we need to step away from our careers to gain some perspective and reevaluate our goals. Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder, and sometimes it provides an escape route.
After some time alone, you might realize how much you’ve taken your partner for granted, and you can return stronger than ever. Sometimes you just need a vacation. For many of us, the story ends here.
For the rest of us…
Divorce: After a trial separation, you may decide that you’ve reached your breaking point and enough is enough. You’re finally ready to start putting your happiness first, and it’s time to pursue your dreams instead of someone else’s.
Sometimes it’s okay to be a quitter. If something you’re doing is ruining your quality of life, you’re better off cutting your losses and starting fresh. Those of us who reach this stage are left with a lot of demons to confront.
Where did we go wrong? Why didn’t we see the problem sooner? Why couldn’t we admit that there was a problem in the first place? Answering these questions is important, but at this stage, it’s time to celebrate your newfound courage.
The truth is, most of us don’t do what we want. We do what we can. We pour syrup on the shit sandwiches that are our professional lives to convince ourselves that we’re happy and everything’s fine. That’s the adulting way.
When you let your dreams die, a little piece of your spirit follows them to the upper room. But it doesn’t have to be that way forever. We each can decide our fates. You can go down swinging and knowing you tried, or you can stay in that unhealthy relationship for the stability. The choice is yours.
A Jaded ’80s Baby
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