I’d like to think that when people look at me, they see a woman who’s got her stuff together – someone who is sure of herself and her career. I am a HR professional and career coach and have the opportunity to do something for work that I love and am good at. I’ve hit the career lottery, but I can assure you, this hasn’t always been the case.
Throughout my time in college, I just knew I was going to become a therapist. I declared the right major, got the right grades and was accepted into an Ivy League clinical psychology program when I graduated.
Everything in my life seemed to be falling into place, which is why I stunned everyone around me (including myself) by writing a letter to the admissions office, asking to defer my acceptance into the grad program for one year.
The idea was to accept a full time job, where I’d be supporting a trading desk at an investment bank in NYC. I had it all planned – I would only stay there for one year while I saved some money to provide a cushion for when I went to grad school for my Masters and then Ph.D. Never mind that I had no interest or experience with anything related to Wall Street – that was irrelevant. Fast forward 10+ years later, and I never made it back to get those degrees.
Although my career path has been unexpected to say the least, I have learned a lot about the world of work, human beings in general, and myself over the past decade in Corporate America.
I learned that although I will say I need 7 hours of sleep every night to function optimally, I am actually okay with only 5. I also learned that I do my best work a couple hours before the deadline, and I even learned how to perfect the art of politely putting someone in his or her place over email (hands down, my most prized accomplishment).
Besides these obviously life-changing lessons, I’ve also managed to pick up a few other valuable gems along the way. These gems, I’m convinced, could have saved me at least one of the secret meltdowns in the very back stall of the ladies’ bathroom in the early years of my career.
Although I try not to wallow in regret and I wouldn’t change any of the career decisions I’ve made (well, maybe I would have passed on that one job in high school where I had to dress up like a giant rat and sing happy birthday to kids hopped up on pizza and game tickets), I would have loved the opportunity to chat with the younger version of myself to share some essential lessons on career (and life in general).
I’m sure I could go on for hours with encouraging words of wisdoms and advice, but the biggest career lessons I’ve learned can be stripped down to 3 main points.
#1 IF YOU DON’T MAKE YOUR OWN CAREER CHOICES, SOMEONE ELSE WILL MAKE THEM FOR YOU.
This is a concept that I really wish I’d grasped earlier on in my career. I spent the better part of 5 years going through the motions every day and letting my career be dictated to me by my company, my boss and my family. If I’m being honest, the decision to abandon defer grad school and enter corporate America was solely to please other people. I never felt anyone truly believed in my dream to become a therapist, and even those that did, were still convinced it would never make me any real money.
Sure, I was paid well on Wall Street, but my hours, wardrobe, interests, and social life were controlled by my job. What good is making a lot of money if you’re working 12-hour days and weekends, never given the chance to enjoy it?
#2 TAKE RISKS SOONER RATHER THAN LATER.
The beginning of my career – before the husband, the kid and the mortgage – would have been the perfect time to explore any (or all) of my dreams and passions. I have always wanted to work abroad, become a teacher, work for a non-profit and join the Peace Corps.
While I know I can still accomplish at least one of these things and there’s no expiration date on going after a dream, I have to admit that it’s a lot more challenging to do so with a 2 year old in tow, no matter how adorable she may be.
#3 KNOW WHEN IT’S TIME TO WALK AWAY.
I knew on my second day at that investment bank that it wasn’t the right fit for me. Yet, even with that knowledge, it took 5 years before I did anything about it. That’s 5 years of not working in my purpose, 5 years of mindless, soul crushing work and 5 years of unnecessary stress that led to weight gain, health issues and sad times. Looking back, I can tell you that I was paralyzed by fear – of failure, change, and the unknown.
Would my career journey have been easier if I knew then what I know now? Sure. Would I have ended up in a drastically different place than I am today? Maybe not. Eleven years after graduation, I can tell you with 100% certainty that I have zero interest in being anyone’s therapist. I also believe that I would have come to this same conclusion even if I went off to the Ivy Leagues instead of Wall Street.
We spend most of our waking hours at work, and while it would be amazing if every person were given a step-by-step, specific blueprint of how to navigate the 40-50 years they spend at work, this just doesn’t happen. The best we can all do is to learn from our mistakes and have the courage to change direction when the current path isn’t working. This is my goal every single day and I hope it is yours as well.