I am 26. Until recently, I was employed by a software company, working 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. Some days I loved my job, and others I despised it.
I will never truly know what I missed out on by prioritizing my career in my twenties — gap years, festival hopping, retreats in Bali — but I do have a solid handle on what I gained.
Let me save you the better part of a decade and tell you what I’ve taken away from drinking the corporate Kool-Aid and working like a she-devil, only to give it all away.
Trust your gut, no regrets
In university I bought a student painting franchise. Everyone told me not to do it; that I would work long hours and make no money. My gut told me that even if they were right, at least I would get out the other side with some pretty legitimate work experience.
They were right. I ended the summer with minus $3,000 and I worked 80 hours a week all summer. I was right too though, I probably learned more about business in that summer than in my entire undergrad. And that summer was a hell of a lot cheaper.
Grind it out and prove myself
We all have degrees, passion, soft skills and (hopefully) self-esteem! The subtext? “We are wasting our time pushing paper! We should be changing the world!” etc.
I have a few newsflashes:
- Firstly, you’re not as useful (yet) in the workplace as you think you are. *gasp*
- Secondly, you don’t know (yet) what you don’t know.
- Third, even if the first two are not true for you, special unicorn that you are, you’re still going to have to grind it out.
You need to prove yourself in an entry-level job, by doing the grunt work. Or else, you need to take on a huge challenge that’s frankly out of your league, and risk failing miserably. I did both. One is not better or worse than the other, they both result in the same thing: You learn hard skills, and you hopefully gain some humility and perspective along the way.
It’s harder than you think, but it pays off
I remember the first time I had a complete meltdown. My alarm had just gone off, I had a blistering headache and a 12-hour workday ahead of me. I had already put in 40 hours that week, and I hadn’t done laundry, had no groceries and we had run out of coffee *gasp*
Sometimes the monotony of adult life is shockingly hard. There have been mornings that I deserved a freaking medal for showing up; and days where I gave it 500 percent and still just barely kept my head above water.
But I’ll tell you this: There were days when I felt valued and challenged. There were work trips to Vegas, Dallas and Atlanta. There are moments when things just clicked with a client and I felt on top of the world.
On those days, I fell asleep feeling happy, and like I was a goddamn boss who could do anything. And if we’re going to be honest, I was making a lot of money.
So yes, it will be hard sometimes. But because I pushed through the tough days, I was able to build the trust and respect of my employer. They trusted me to manage my own success. They let me shape my career the way I wanted to.
You’re more than your career success
Although I was thriving in the workplace during these years, I was leveraging overtime at the office in order to ignore problems with my health, and my personal life. While I don’t regret a second of it, I have learned to make sure I am also making time for an identity that isn’t an “employee,” or a “manager.”
I once had a colleague wisely say to me, in regards to a stressful work problem, “Just remember, none of this really matters in the end.” Amen, brother.
You will need to reset
A few weeks ago I left my BIG career to find more balance, and realign with my passions. The catalyst was when I started realizing that I was no longer picturing what two or three years down the line in my current industry looked like.
I was losing my ambition and that spark which drove me to want to give my career the best of me. I was starting to pump the breaks instead of digging in, and I didn’t feel like myself anymore. #burnout I believe we redefine success again and again throughout our lives, and at some point, I realized that my definition had shifted.
Whether we’re backpacking in Vietnam, or fighting for the next promotion, we are so lucky to be a generation perched on top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — pivoting our lives around a beacon of success, happiness and meaning.
Who knows, maybe next year I’ll be writing you from Bali.