Ever since I was young, I’ve been passionate about being successful. Not actually passionate about any specific career or achievement, but simply passionate about being a person worth remembering. This misdirected passion has plagued my entire young adult life. With no clear goals or targeted ambition, it has often felt like a bullet without a gun. Powerful, directed, and unstoppable, but incapable of being those things without the support it needs to take off in the first place.
As members of the “You can be anything you want when you grow up” generation, many of my fellow millennials are plagued with this discomfort, too. Despite being told we could have any career we wanted, we were never truly able to figure out what that was or how to get it. While being the generation most blessed with opportunity for exciting, empowered careers, many of us have also been cursed with crippling student loan debt and the pressure to still meet standards of success based on titles and salaries alone. Though my parents always believed I had the ability to be anything I wanted, they also believed I needed to make a certain amount of money, work at a certain type of company, and do traditional, respectable work. Despite having all the faith in me as a person and my abilities, the faith they lacked was in the system, the “man”, and the job market. In so many ways, that systemic fear, the lack mentality so many generations before have grown with, tampered with the potential we all had to be whatever we truly wanted, not just what was needed.
Growing up as a first generation college student meant a lot of pressure to perform, but I always thrived under that. The attention doled out to me over the years for exceptional grades, membership in scholarly clubs, and leadership roles I soon craved to take on became the fire that gave me my edge. My name in the paper, spoken at an assembly, or even simple, obligatory applause in class fueled my competitive nature, and I soon found that vague goal of success was actually a goal to be absolutely anything prestigious, especially as it came to a career. I was accepted to the University of Washington under the premise that I would be pre-med, despite the fact that I spent countless early high school mornings in the biology study hall with a patient teacher and several other flailing students. My first chemistry class at the university level was, undoubtedly, a joke. With 400 students, I had nowhere to shine as I was so used to before in my small hometown. But even if I had found that attention I so craved, it was the first time I didn’t have the knowledge to actually back it up. I received a 1.3 for the course, my first collegiate grade, first anything under an A-, and I panicked. As a prior walking success story and knowing I could be anything I wanted if I just decided, I accepted that “MD” would never follow my name. Why try again and fail, again, if I was great at all things except chemistry? One week later, I was a pre-law student.
College continued in this pattern, as I realized law was boring and not a guaranteed post-college job – declared business, was denied acceptance into the undergraduate business program – declared political science, and graduated, pretending I would go on to DC and lobby or work on “the hill”, as my classmates so fondly referred to it. I failed to receive internships that would actually catapult my career, instead working as a nanny, waitress, or ‘marketing assistant’ (aka mail-person and LinkedIn-request-sender). However, I still saw myself as eventually successful. This was just the beginning of my Oprah story. You have to have the shit jobs first before you become a household name, a person that matters. During all of this, all of these continued failures and roadblocks and adjustments, I still somehow was chasing eventual prestige and paycheck. Even now, I fear I have continued to do the same.
Four years after graduating, and three jobs in, I am still nowhere near close to the powerful, successful career woman I imagined I would be. I’ve gone from editorial intern to marketing specialist, and recently made a serious and unexpected pivot into recruiting, and all the while still feel this very, very big hole. Like something is truly missing about me. Like no matter where I go or what I do, I am always missing my “calling”. Like somehow, though now it seems expected, I failed to do something right and I’ve lost all hope of ever being truly fulfilled in my career. Like it’s too late to be the version of myself I created in my mind. Despite being exceptional at my current job, and loving so many aspects of it (and the fat, fat paycheck that can follow), I still find myself most days questioning what in the hell I am doing with my life. Staring blankly – full of boredom, hope, and the pit of past rejection – at my monitor while I ponder what I would be doing instead if I could. The misdirected “passion” now has landed itself on writing, journalism, working in a magazine under Anna Wintour, and absorbing so much cultural genius I can’t help but be engaged at all times. And then I wonder, will I just be questioning there, too?
For now, as many of my generation are stuck doing, I work for the paycheck. I worry about the student loan debt for the fancy degree I don’t use, the credit card bill I racked up trying to “enjoy my 20’s” and flex on Instagram, the rent for the apartment far, far out of my price range so people think I’m wealthier (i.e. happier) than I am. For now, I settle knowing that I am good at my job, and maybe that can be enough. That maybe the point of it all isn’t to be on the cover of Forbes 30 under 30 issue (26, time is a-wasting!) or to have created my own business or made a real name for myself. Maybe the point of this whole job revolution is to go back to the way things were. To just be good enough at something, pay your bills, and save your passions for after hours.
After all, how would any of us millennials have successful instagrams, blogs, podcasts, and side hustles if we were actually satisfied in our careers?