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One hundred years ago you were supposed to know what you wanted to be when you grew up—before you could legally vote. This was largely because you were considered an old maid at age 20 and probably barren if you didn’t have five kids pulling on your skirts by 30. And most people entered the workforce and then were stuck without a lot of options or chances to change their mind.
But let’s face it: You have so many options today compared with, hell, even 30 years ago. Our culture is changing at an exponential rate, so it’s only fair that you get to change with it.
While I’ve had admittedly few jobs in my years as a productive member of society, they have been so wildly different from each other and from what I thought I wanted to do and from what I was going to school for.
My OG Plan (and What Happened to It)
During college, I wanted nothing more than to be a crazy hippie girl who was going to write the new great American Novel. I was a creative writing major, I was idealistic, and I had so much more free time back then. Then, I took a two-year hiatus from school, followed by two years pretending I’d like to be a counselor. (Like I was ever really going to enjoy listening to a bunch of crazies moan about their craziness? Maybe in the gossipy sense, but that’s totally against psychology regulations.)
It’s actually kind of mind-blowing for me that I wound up, now at age 29, right back where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do, right from the beginning: Sitting at my roll top desk, writing to make a deadline (preferably in my pajamas in the middle of the night).
Sometimes I think about what it might have been like if I’d actually finished my counseling degree, instead of incurring a completely useless mountain of student loan debt. I’d actually have to shower in the morning. But seriously, I’d be making five times my yearly salary and causing some major positive change in the universe.
Secret: I would be so wildly miserable I wouldn’t know what to do. But I’d have a degree in it, so I’d feel obligated, and I’d just keep going on, being miserable and trying to help other people not be miserable. Is that even possible?
I totally love writing about hemorrhoids and heart disease for Alot Health. It’s not what I imagined, but it’s kind of what I needed. And I can still write the Great American Novel with my exponentially greater free time, Game of Thrones style.
If You Aren’t Happy, Change
So here’s the deal: If you’re in school and about to graduate, and you realize you hate your major, do something about it. If you’ve been a nurse for 20 years and you’re tired of blood and snot and whining, do something about it. If you can retire next year but can’t stand the thought of spending one more day doing what you’re doing (unless your pension is at risk and you’re going to have to work another 30 years for the same benefits), DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Obviously, earlier is better, but a lot of us feel forced onto a path we find out was never meant for us. Our 18 isn’t what 18 was 100 years ago. We’ve evolved. We live longer. We mature later.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should change jobs every week, because that’s crazy and you will never have any stability and eventually — pretty quickly, I should think — people will stop hiring you. It does mean that if you’re miserable or even just slightly unsure that you’re going to be happy, take a step back and make some changes—big ones, small ones, doesn’t matter.
Spend some time doing what you think is your forever job, in some capacity, as a trial run. Figure out where your passion is. Whether it’s soap making or horseback riding or being a captain of some rich jerk’s yacht and reveling in your resentment because you’ll never have your own yacht, go after it. Make it happen. Drop what you’re doing. Life is really long now. Don’t be miserable.