Starting your career can be an incredibly exciting time in your life. You just received your diploma, possibly moved to a new city and you’re finally starting out on your own; this is what you’ve been working for. But what happens when you realize the career you thought you wanted is in fact quite the opposite?
Ever since my junior year in high school, I knew I wanted to be a marketing major. I figured it was my calling. I went through the motions, completed a few marketing internships and received my degree. My original plan of moving to New York City was put on hold so that I could be a consultant for my sorority after graduation. This was something I wanted so badly, even though it had nothing to do with my degree. It was simply something I truly enjoyed. The more I reflect on my experience as a consultant, I realize that it was one of the best and pivotal decisions I have made in my life.
That experience made me feel alive. I was surrounded by so many inspiring women who all had the same vision I did. I was constantly challenged in the best way possible and I grew so much over the course of one year. I’d find myself wishing that I was able to make a career out of my position, but knew that wasn’t truly possible.
Once my time as a consultant was over, I moved to NYC to work in a sales development program. “I’m going to be good at this,” I thought, because I was good at DECA when I was 16, but the logic makes zero sense looking back on it.
I quickly realized that sales was indeed not my calling, and my work suffered because of it. Every day I was faced with challenges that didn’t make me better; they tore me down. For the first time in my life, I had to deal with the mental challenges of not being great at something. I made mistakes at work, which totally threw me for a loop. Sure, I’d made mistakes before. I’m human after all. But I’d never made them consistently, especially when my job was on the line.
Every morning I would wake up and dread the day. I never understood what people felt when they said they were “miserable” until then. I craved the days when I was a consultant, because it was something I was great at. I was working with women who wanted to better themselves by being a part of something bigger, and that inspired me every single day, despite the challenges. I missed the rush of giving a presentation in front of 300 people, working one-on-one with officers who’d just had an “ah-ha” moment, or having truly meaningful conversations about how we can make an impact for the greater good.
I couldn’t continue with the way my life was going, so I took the time to identify what was missing from my career that I absolutely needed in order to feel fulfilled. I realized that I loved being a consultant because I was able to develop women and make them the best versions of themselves. Nothing gave me more pride and sense of accomplishment than seeing a woman or chapter succeed, and knowing that I had some role (even a minor one) in that.
So what did I do? Somehow timing was on my side, and a training and development position was open at my company. After putting a lot of thought into it, I raised my hand and applied. This was surprising to a number of people in my life, including my parents. I was told that this was a mistake. Sales was my calling, remember? To add another layer, making the switch from sales to not-sales tends to be looked down upon where I work. I heard comments such as “you better hope you get that job in HR, otherwise your sales career here is over.”
Being faced with such a high risk situation took a toll on me. I contemplated for a very long time and tried to seek guidance from my support system, but without much luck. My parents were against it and my friends in sales didn’t quite understand the position I was in. To quote Harvey Dent, “the night is darkest just before the dawn” and I couldn’t have believed it to be more true in that moment in my life.
Thankfully for me, the dawn came, and I got the job. I found myself again and it felt refreshing. My role was to quite literally develop employees and manage the training efforts of the sales development program. While my role doesn’t have a connection to a greater calling, I still feel the same sense of pride and accomplishment when I see an employee that I’ve worked with in training make their first sale or get promoted. My job has provided me an unprecedented opportunity to make an impact at my organization, and that is ultimately what makes me get up in the morning.
Looking back, I realize my first job as a consultant helped me identify that organizational development is my true calling. What seemed like an isolated, temporary job decision became a pivotal career experience that helped me get to where I am now.
So what happens if you find yourself in a similar situation?
First things first, it is OK to realize that your degree and your calling are not one and the same. Try to isolate your feelings for your current role, and reflect on aspects of jobs (or extracurricular activities for that matter) that you enjoyed.
Then research types of careers that tap into those things. Reach out to people on LinkedIn to set up informational interviews, read books, blogs, etc. The more research the better!
Sheryl Sandberg said in her book “Lean In” that your career isn’t a ladder, with only movement upwards or down. Your career path is a jungle gym, going in all different directions to ultimately get you to where you want to be.
Take the risk of changing your career to something that makes you feel a sense of purpose. It was incredibly difficult for me to go against what my parents thought was best, but I had to do what was best for me (and they will tell you they are now are eating their words). Don’t let anyone influence your decision, because this is ultimately your life. You are the one living it every single day. While the risk may not be easy (it is a risk after all), it will be worth it.