When you enter the working world, there’s the assumption that every career move you make will take you further up the ladder and/or hand you a larger paycheck. In reality, it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you find yourself doing something that doesn’t feel right, and you have to make a decision to do something else that will (hopefully) be a better fit. It’s a scary decision to make, but it’s one that can’t be avoided.
Realistically, that decision isn’t always a step up on the career ladder. Sometimes it’s a lateral move. I made a lateral move just a year and a half out of college.
Here’s My Story
I decided I wanted to be a writer when I won a state fiction contest in the third grade. I went to college to study writing, but eventually decided to pursue the more lucrative “professional writing” track in order to become an editor. This, I thought, would help me make some valuable contacts and leave time to write on the side. After graduating college, I took a job as a content editor for a website. Success!
My job as an editor was a great introduction to the web publishing world. I was able to put my education into practice (which is always an added bonus) and honed my technical writing skills. After awhile though, it began to feel like a chore. I know it’s called work for a reason, but words are my first love—so working with them should never be something I dread. To remedy this, I started writing one or two pieces a week for the website on top of my regular responsibilities. This appeased me for a while; ultimately though, it frustrated me because I wanted to write more.
After months of thinking it over, I decided to tell my boss I wanted to make the transition to full-time writer. I got lucky here. My boss was receptive to my request. I still had to wait a few months more for everything to be switched around, but she made it happen for me. Now I spend 40 hours a week writing articles for my company, and though there are still challenges and daily frustrations, I feel much more optimistic about my career trajectory.
Some people might say I took a demotion. While it might seem like I did because I now report to an editor instead of having writers report to me, it doesn’t feel like a demotion. I didn’t take a pay cut (thank the good Lord), and I’m no longer dreading the hours I spend at my desk. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still head to the beach any chance I get. I actually enjoy the work I do now, though.
The Benefits are Amazing
The Career Benefits
I’m not talking about my 401(k) options or health insurance, though those are pretty great. I’m talking about control over my career. When I head into work each day, I’m pretty much in charge of my schedule. Aside from a few meetings and editor-prescribed deadlines, I choose the order and manner I work on my assignments. I come up with about 70% of my assignments, and have two editors that essentially give me free creative reign. Although they still bleep out my curse words (That’s some real shit, guys.). These aren’t exactly standard demotion side effects.
On top of all that, I’ve never felt more in control of my own career. My writing isn’t in the New York Times (yet), but it’s out there in the world. I have the opportunity to write on the topics I care about. I can write down what I think and share it with others. I love what I do. So even though it looks like I’m on the bottom of the totem pole from the outside, I’m really not. I still have a say in what happens and in what I write. I still contribute to the website and help it prosper.
I chose this path; it wasn’t doled out as a punishment.
The Creative Benefits
I’m working 40 hours for my paycheck, but I’m also cultivating my personal brand and practicing the craft I’ve been working on since I was 9 years old. It’s a win-win for both myself and the company. I’m constantly working on my writing. Each assignment I take on at work benefits my personal writing. Each personal project I tackle at home in turn improves the quality of my official work. It’s an endless cycle of growth and development.
As a writer, I can be fully creative every day with my job. Honestly, I’ve never felt more plugged into my writing and creativity. I’m a firm believer in the muses, but I also think they’ll only show up for the people who do the work. Now that I’m being paid to write every day, it feels like the muses are just hovering around me 24/7. If I’m right, props to them for the long hours.
The Personal Benefits
I’m more in control of my career, I feel more creative than ever before, and most importantly — I’m happy. Even when there are moments of high stress, I’m happy to do what I do. Since I love writing about a million times more than I do editing, I’m no longer ruled by stress or dread. I genuinely look forward to going to work (most days, because come on, it’s not the beach).
Editing all day long left me frazzled, and I often would work slowly because I was so miserable doing the work. That left me with more work to tackle at home and little time to work on my personal writing projects. Now, I work faster without those negative emotions; I rarely have to take work assignments home; I come home from the office and still have the energy and motivation to work on my personal stuff.
I’m no longer so stressed out I want to cry—and that’s an amazing feeling. I might not be making millions or managing a team of people, but I am managing my own life. Choosing to pursue the one thing I’ve always wanted to do despite the fact society doesn’t fully encourage writers is the best decision I’ve made in my young professional life.
Take the Leap
All of this is to say if you aren’t happy in your current job, but are afraid to switch to something else because it’s not a technical step forward, just go for it. It’s better to take a chance on a career that will actually make you happy than it is to stay in an unhappy place. So what if you don’t announce a huge promotion and a raise? You will be able to announce you’re following your dreams (and career goals).
Personally, I think that’s a whole hell of a lot more exciting and impressive than being promoted to manager or whatever.
As long as you can still support yourself financially, there’s no substantial reason not to pursue the career you want. Do you want to own your own bakery? Then leave your miserable job in advertising. It’s hard to be successful in a career if it makes you unhappy each day. Even if you’re slaving away at it for 12 hours a day, five days a week, you’ll struggle to reach the pinnacle of success you’re feeling pressured to reach. You stand a more promising chance of success and happiness when you’re dedicating your daily hours to a service, project, or company you come alive for.
Here’s Your Permission Slip
I know what it feels like to want something, but feel like you don’t have permission to pursue it because it might not make enough money or lead to a fancy position. This is me giving you that permission. You have the right to go after the activities and career that will make you love every moment of life. You have permission to create a life that embodies a different kind of success. You have permission to make a lateral move in your career. Hell, you have permission to take a step back in your career if you think that’s what you need to do.