Career, expectations and finding meaning…
One of the areas of my life that’s given rise to most anxiety over the years is career. I’ve always been fairly ambitious in as much as I’ve always wanted to ‘do well’ and as a people-pleaser it’s sometimes been hard to figure out if I’ve wanted to have a successful career for myself or to make others proud of me. Probably a bit of both.
I recently listened to Ali & Connie Roff’s podcast, ‘Shoulding on Ourselves’ in which sisters, Ali & Connie spoke about career anxiety and I related to so much of what they said. ‘Should’ is a dangerous word. It instantly piles on the pressure. When I was at 6th form it was expected that most people would go to university. After all, I was at a public boarding school which prided itself in being a ‘stepping stone from school to university.’ I could hardly let my parents spend a fortune on my education and then not go to uni could I?
As it happens I’m glad I did go to university, but did it help me get to where I want to be in my career? Possibly not, but then I did meet some incredible friends and, at least, I always get a giggle out of the shock on people’s faces when I say I studied Philosophy!
Again, my degree course came down to a ‘should.’ I’d be told that I really should pick a well-rounded academic degree that kept my options open. And so that’s what I did. My degree was fine but I found true meaning in my extra-curricular activities. I joined the campus TV station and, with friends, created ‘Welcome to Venus.’ It was York University’s answer to ‘Loose Women’ and I bloody loved sitting on that panel and putting the world to rights.
This fun hobby sparked my interest in the world of TV and so I started my career in television once I finished uni. Once in the world of work I was ‘shoulding’ on myself left, right and centre.
I think my starting salary was something like £12k as a runner. Meanwhile I had several friends who got on to grad schemes or started on a very respectable salary working in the City. In the early years of my career I spent a huge amount of time comparing myself to my friends. I was looking at other people and feeling as though my life should look like theirs.
The Curse of Having Successful Parents
Something that Ali and Connie spoke about in their podcast was about their successful parents and I totally related to what they were saying.
My dad is a bit of ‘rags to riches’ story and did very well for himself and my mum had her own business. I always looked up to both of them for their work ethic but I also thought that the life they’d created for us was ‘the norm.’ This created a whole lot of ‘shoulding’ from an early age.
My parents have never been pushy parents at all. My mum always used to say, “you can do anything”. This made me feel empowered and excited but also like there was a whole load of pressure on me to create a successful career like my parents had built for themselves. I had a very privileged starting point and the expectations were sky high.
Time to Get a ‘Real’ Job
When I compared myself to my peers I would feel like they had a ‘real’ job and I didn’t. Looking back, I can’t believe I thought that and I’m actually so proud of my time working in TV but I was constantly plagued by the fact that I ‘should’ be doing something else.
I then went into PR for a while which fitted my perception of what a ‘real job’ looked like. I mean, what even is a real job? Again, the ‘shoulds’ kept rolling in. I ‘should’ be progressing quicker and earning more money. My biggest ‘should’ with this little chapter is that I ‘should’ be loving my work but the truth was I really wasn’t.
I was constantly thinking, ‘is this it?’ and going to the same office day in and day out felt quite strange. In TV there is always an end in sight as the production ends and the shows goes out and then onto the next. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that this could be all there is and I didn’t feel like me so this was a problem.
The Search for Meaning
I have always wanted to find meaning in my work and do something that truly aligns to my passions and values and this desire was getting stronger and stronger, but even this piles on the pressure.
If I went into all the ins and outs of my career history we’d be here a very long time so let’s flash forward to the present day. I’m working full time at a job I do genuinely like and for the first time in my life I work sociable hours and usually without too much stress or pressure, in comparison to previous jobs. However, if this was my only job I know I would feel empty. Yes, it allows me to bring my coaching skills to work and my love of organising but it’s not enough.
Coaching and self-development are my passions, as is writing and I sometimes pinch myself that I’ve managed to weave all these things into my day-to-day life. I may not be earning the big bucks and am not currently reaping much in the way of financial rewards for my ‘side hustle’ but this little set-up I’ve made for myself is meaningful and aligns to my values and, to me, this is the most important thing. The main thing is that I know where I’m headed and I know what my ideal career looks like. It’s a portfolio career that weaves in many of my passions.
So, what do you do?
The question of ‘what do you do?’ fills me with utter dread. I hate it. Ask me anything else but this. Often, I just tell people what my day job is or sometimes I’ll say I’m a Bridal Coach. It depends on my audience to be honest. I am so much more than both of these things.
I spend a lot of time working on my content I put out online whether that’s blog posts, videos or my daily nuggets of personal development Insights on Instagram and Facebook. This all takes consistent hard work and I do it because I love it. My progress may feel very slow at times but there’s no such thing as an overnight success, right?
So, what I ‘do’ is actually very varied and that’s the way I like it. We try to pigeon hole each other. When someone tells you their job title you will instantly build a picture of them but we are so much more than our job title. If someone tells you they’re a banker you instantly think you have them sussed, no?
Reflecting on my career and all those expectations I placed on myself has been quite an eye opener and I am pleased to say ‘should’ does not enter my thoughts nearly as much these days.
Let’s all do away with the ‘shoulds’ and instead focus on listening to our intuition, allow ourselves to be drawn to things that spark joy. If you don’t get meaning from your career or your current situation weave in some things that do bring meaning. Not even to earn extra cash, simply to increase your happiness levels and give you something to leap out of bed for in the morning.