By Ryan Burch
The only person in charge of your life is you.
One of the hardest parts about going through a transitional phase is having to explain your job status to everyone, and then having to defend your decisions to those who may consider them unorthodox. Although most people are supportive, many can’t stop themselves from passing judgment. Most recently, I’ve noticed that it’s particularly hard for people to understand my decision to pursue passion before a (steady) paycheck.
Due to long-standing societal norms, people often seem most comfortable with the notion that you will 1) graduate college, 2) secure a full-time career, and 3) continue working this way until you achieve success and/or start a family. Although this model is rewarding for many, it doesn’t work for everyone.
We live in the era of ubiquitous information technology, and traditional career and educational models are quickly evolving. Meetings and classes can be held online, virtually everything is shareable, social networks are connecting people across the world, and it’s becoming more acceptable to work and learn from home. Technology is making it possible for people to pursue non-traditional career paths while still remaining interconnected online.
While professional settings are becoming more flexible and new careers are emerging, the choices we make in our private lives are becoming increasingly scrutinized. With social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter booming, people have become accustomed to knowing everything about each other’s lives. Although social networks are revolutionary in many ways, they have infiltrated our privacy and created a culture of comparisons. Feelings of shame and insecurity are byproducts of constantly being exposed to the updates and accomplishments of our peers, and it’s easy to feel inferior about our jobs and lives.
As a result of this “culture of comparisons,” I believe it’s harder than ever to leave a job or find a job, and much scarier to graduate college. There is an increasing amount of pressure to land a great gig and prove to others that you are successful. What’s more frustrating is that even LinkedIn seems to be turning into a platform for surface updates and interactions. Every day, I face a barrage of emails and notifications about profile views, birthdays, and job changes, and I keep getting endorsed by people I’ve never even worked with! I’ve seen more social activity on my LinkedIn page than activity relating to actual jobs in my field.
It feels like profile views, “likes,” and friend requests are now supposed to serve as measures of professional worth, instead of our real-life accomplishments and abilities themselves. While I don’t intend to discount the value of social networks (and I have had quite a bit of success using LinkedIn in the past), I do want to encourage other jobseekers to use these platforms the right way — without winding up lost in the shuffle.
It’s wonderful to use a site like LinkedIn to set up in-person interviews or to forge a connection that will actually be valuable in your career. But, if you’re spending too much time looking at other people’s profiles or scouring the newsfeed, you’re likely to feel overwhelmed and insecure. There will always be someone to compare yourself to, and there will always be somebody who has an opinion about you.
Admittedly, I've been having a difficult time explaining my career decisions to certain people in my life. When I first quit my job, I thought I wanted a salaried position in brand marketing with a well-known company. Since then, I’ve reignited my creative side and have decided to keep writing and building my own projects rather than pursuing a full time corporate career. I can’t sleep at night because I have so many ideas — articles and books to write, projects to launch, businesses to start, and new products to create. Some people think I’m crazy for continuing to pursue low-paying (or no-paying) work rather than taking a full-time job opportunity — but I’m simply uninterested in pursuing short-term rewards.
If I take on a salaried position, I know that my creative projects will be put on the back burner and I’ll have very little time to keep up with them. I’ve figured out my purpose and passions in life, and I’d rather be broke now (and able to continue building my dreams) than unhappy later.
If you have experienced some level of “career shame” or feel like you’re not where you want to be right now — join me (and T Swift) — and shake it off. Make an effort to stay positive by exercising your signature strengths and sparking your inner happiness. This is the best way to be able to work through those sad, dark days and continue towards success.
Whatever path you’re on, whatever crossroads you’ve come to, just focus on your long-term goals and do whatever you have to do to make them happen. You own this life, so grab hold of the wheel, turn up your jams, and drown out those back-seat drivers!
As Edward Morrisey said, “Believe it or not, you are in control of your own life. You are the reason why you’re sad and the reason why you’re happy. So, don’t wait for happiness. Go out and find it right now. And, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.”