A friend recently asked me about my career path and whether I thought I had found my dream job. Instead of being able to come out and say a definitive yes or an outright no, I settled on an unresounding (and unimpressive) "maybe."
I'm 10 years out of college and I'm not on the same path I started out on. If you had asked College Me if she could see herself going down this road, she would have scoffed in your face.
When I was in school, I knew I wanted to write for a living, so when I landed a spot at the journalism program at USC in Los Angeles, I felt like I had found my calling. And two months after I graduated,I was offered a position as an assistant editor at a glossy celebrity lifestyle magazine. In truth, it was probably as close to a "dream job" as I could imagine for myself: perfect for a 21-year-old pop culture devotee. I interviewed movie stars, brought home crazy amounts of swag every day—from beauty products to gym memberships—and went to parties every night of the week.
It was exciting! It was exhilarating! It was…exhausting. And, to be honest, unfulfilling. (Surprise: Celebrities can be incredibly boring, especially when they're on the record.) And despite the freebies, my laughably low salary kept me from making rent. When I wasn't rubbing elbows with starlets, I was scarfing down budget Lean Cuisines at home with a bottle of Two Buck Chuck, unable to go anywhere on weekends because I couldn't buy gas until I got my next paycheck. I found myself slowly crawling into the gaping maw of debt.
One day, my work best friend said something that changed my life. She was a bit older than me, incredibly talented, and, having been raised in Romania, she had seen more turmoil as a child than I had seen in my entire life. "You know that you're not your job, right? Too many Americans focus on that. There is more to life than your business card. Find your own way."
I initially brushed her off ("Of course my job is my life, what are you talking about?"), but she had planted a seed. It took almost another whole year of silver-gilded poverty for it to grow, but it did eventually bloom. Finally, fed up and with no responsibilities to hold me back, I decided to make a big change. In the form of...digital marketing. And I said "I am not my job" whenever I found myself getting fed up with my new role.
Honestly I wasn't sure this career was right for me, but I had supposedly found my "dream job" right out of school and I didn't like that, either. I (like everyone else) had always thought that if you haveyour eyes on the prize, you'll climb your way up the ladder and eventually get the golden ring, corner office, insert-the-cliché-of-your-choice-here. But is that even the way it works anymore?
So I up and moved again, this time to New York.
And I hated it.
Not New York—New York was everything. I loved living in the East Village with my Craigslist roommate in our tiny little apartment. But I hated my new job, role, and company. I was managing other peoples' money, and I didn't like the pressure that came with it. I would get yelled at several times a day for problems that were out of my control and the stress was insane. I guess I just couldn't hang. Despite now living in the location of my dreams, the job of my dreams (whatever that was) felt like more of a mystery than ever.
I would go home at night and cry on the phone to my parents,who were thousands of miles away in California. I was certain I had made a terrible mistake. I should have never left LA, I thought during my mopier moments. I should have climbed up that journalism ladder and eventually gotten myself out of the hole. Maybe I could have been happy?
But here's where I am now: I found a new job in New York that's somewhere in the middle. It marries my passions with all the other knowledge I'd reaped over the years, and it pays the bills. Like so many other struggling writers in the world, I have my sights set on something bigger (writing a book), but instead of saying to myself, "You are not your job," now I think, "Jeffrey Eugenides used to have a day job, too," which helps keep me sane. You may not be what you do for a living, but you are what you do with your life. And so what if I'm still figuring mine out?