I am 26. Until recently, I was employed by a software company, working 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. Some days I loved my job, and others I despised it.
I will never truly know what I missed out on by prioritizing my career in my twenties—gap years, festival hopping, retreats in Bali—but I do have a solid handle on what I gained.
Let me save you the better part of a decade and tell you what I’ve taken away from drinking the corporate Kool-Aid and working like a she-devil, only to give it all away.
In university I bought a student painting franchise. Everyone told me not to do it; that I would work long hours and make no money. My gut told me that even if they were right, at least I would get out the other side with some pretty legitimate work experience.
They were right. I ended the summer with minus $3000 and I worked 80 hours a week all summer. I was right too though, I probably learned more about business in that summer than in my entire undergrad. And that summer was a hell of a lot cheaper.
We all have degrees, passion, soft skills and (hopefully) self-esteem! The subtext? “We are wasting our time pushing paper! We should be changing the world!” etc.
I have a few newsflashes:
You need to prove yourself in an entry-level job, by doing the grunt work. Or else, you need to take on a huge challenge that’s frankly out of your league, and risk failing miserably. I did both. One is not better or worse than the other, they both result in the same thing: You learn hard skills, and you hopefully gain some humility and perspective along the way.
I remember the first time I had a complete meltdown. My alarm had just gone off, I had a blistering headache and a 12-hour workday ahead of me. I had already put in 40 hours that week, and I hadn’t done laundry, had no groceries and we had run out of coffee *gasp*
Sometimes the monotony of adult life is shockingly hard. There have been mornings that I deserved a freaking medal for showing up; and days where I gave it 500 percent and still just barely kept my head above water.
But I’ll tell you this: There were days when I felt valued and challenged. There were work trips to Vegas, Dallas and Atlanta. There are moments when things just clicked with a client and I felt on top of the world.
On those days, I fell asleep feeling happy, and like I was a goddamn boss who could do anything. And if we’re going to be honest, I was making a lot of money.
So yes, it will be hard sometimes. But because I pushed through the tough days, I was able to build the trust and respect of my employer. They trusted me to manage my own success. They let me shape my career the way I wanted to.
Although I was thriving in the workplace during these years, I was leveraging overtime at the office in order to ignore problems with my health, and my personal life. While I don’t regret a second of it, I have learned to make sure I am also making time for an identity that isn’t an “employee,” or a “manager.”
I once had a colleague wisely say to me, in regards to a stressful work problem, “Just remember, none of this really matters in the end.” Amen, brother.
A few weeks ago I left my BIG career to find more balance, and realign with my passions. The catalyst was when I started realizing that I was no longer picturing what two or three years down the line in my current industry looked like.
I was losing my ambition and that spark which drove me to want to give my career the best of me. I was starting to pump the breaks instead of digging in, and I didn’t feel like myself anymore. #burnout I believe we redefine success again and again throughout our lives, and at some point, I realized that my definition had shifted.
Whether we’re backpacking in Vietnam, or fighting for the next promotion, we are so lucky to be a generation perched on top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—pivoting our lives around a beacon of success, happiness and meaning.
Who knows, maybe next year I’ll be writing you from Bali.