I moved to New York straight out of college and lived there for fifteen years. I worked my way up through publishing jobs, starting as a copy assistant at a big publishing house and ending up as a marketing manager at that same company (though with other jobs in the same field in between). I liked my work for the most part. Working around books is incredibly interesting and, at times, glamorous, but because I’d fallen into marketing, I wasn’t fulfilling my lifelong dream of being a writer. Instead, I was helping other people promote and sell their writing! Living in New York in my twenties had been incredible, too. But then in my thirties, with a baby, it wasn’t nearly as fun—and it sure wasn’t easy.
When an opportunity to move to Seattle came out of the blue, I was faced with a huge decision. Pick up and move all the way across the country, far from friends and family, to work at a tech job? It seemed like a ludicrous idea. Yet I was feeling stuck, and I also knew that raising a child in the city was only going to get harder. So I did it. My family moved to Seattle and I began working at another marketing job—but this time for a huge tech corporation. That first year was incredibly challenging. Not only had I never spent time in Seattle (or much on the west coast, for that matter), but the corporate culture at my new job was so dramatically different than anything I’d experienced before. There were a lot of tears that year, a lot of questioning my decision, and a whole lot of thinking about packing up and moving back east.
But two years in, something pretty fabulous happened. A job that I wouldn’t hesitate to call my dream job became available. The position was for a food editor at a local paper. Not only was it writing and editing, but it was on a topic that was passionate to me. I’d long been obsessed with food culture; it started in my early years in New York when I dated a chef-in-training and it hadn’t died down since. I wanted it with all my heart, but here’s the thing: the pay was less than what I was making in tech, and the newspaper industry wasn’t exactly on the rise. Almost everyone I talked to thought I’d be crazy to leave the cushy job that I could barely tolerate anymore, and my ego was working double-time to convince me that I’d be a fool to leave. Fortunately, one smart and trustworthy friend wholeheartedly believed in me. When I told him about the opportunity, he said: “It’s a no-brainer. Do what you love and make that food section the best it can be.” I’m so glad I listened to him—and, ultimately, myself—because I got the job and spent three and a half years being the happiest I’d ever been at a workplace. I was writing every week, planning out an entire food section, and editing writers. I had to make some sacrifices, true (I cut back on my spending a lot and picked up extra freelance jobs on the side), but I never once woke up and wished I didn’t have to get out of bed. I didn’t have a fancy job that I could mention anymore to impress people, but that I soon realized had nothing to do with my actual happiness.
Unfortunately, the paper did end up struggling and I was laid-off along with half the staff. But in the end even that turned out to be okay. Now I work from my home as a writer and an editor. I still contribute restaurant reviews to that same paper as a freelancer, and I’ve added other clients, including the tech company that I came out here to work for in the first place! Plus, working from home, I get to pick up my daughter from school and spend more time with her. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and I don’t miss office life. But if I wouldn’t have made that move from New York to Seattle or from the tech company to a paper—both things that felt intellectually wrong but emotionally right—I wouldn’t be where I am now. It took trusting in my gut and then making a leap to turn my life from fine to fantastic.
So many of us end up in careers we didn’t intend to, whether from pressure from our parents and peers, for financial reasons, or because we simply didn’t dare to dream bigger (or, in my case, smaller—going from New York to Seattle and from a big-time publisher to a smaller alternative weekly). And once you are on a path, it becomes increasingly harder to jump off it.
In How to Be You: Stop Trying to Be Someone Else and Start Living Your Life, author Jeffrey Marsh urges us to trust ourselves and never stop exploring, even though from the time we can practically talk, everyone asks us “What do you want to do when you grow up?” What a ridiculous question to ask a child! Instead, Marsh explains: “You get into trouble when you think you know who you’re supposed to be because once you ‘know,’ you stop exploring, you stop examining. You check out . . . from your life.” He continues, “There are a lot of questions in life, and the flip side of the fear of the unknown is the freedom that comes from realizing you don’t need answers. Maybe you will never find your ‘true self,’ at least not in the way you’ve been taught you should. And that could be the best thing that ever happens to you.” Touché. That’s exactly what happened in my case.
Making the “right” or “sensible” choice is often a self-created illusion, and it’s easy to forget what you love and who you are if you don’t take risks every now and then. “The process of discovery called being you is about something else altogether,” Marsh writes. “Being you might be messy, and it usually brings up a lot more questions than it answers. Being you will sometimes complicate things. And I’m glad it will! Because just like you come to terms with not knowing the future, when you have a lot of questions and uncertainty while being yourself, you can have fun. You can enjoy this exciting trip called life. You are a wild, weird, fascinating human who is also, at your core, unpredictable. So it would make sense that you don’t always make sense. K?” K!
Here’s a little exercise from the book to help you decide if you’re doing what you’re truly passionate about. Draw a picture of what you really wanted to be when you grew up. Don’t draw the right answer you were supposed to tell everybody, but what you truly wished for as a kid. After you make the drawing, ask yourself:
• What’s the difference between the person in the drawing and yourself today?
• If the person in the drawing could tell you something about who you are today or maybe give you advice, what would he or she say? Write the words out.
As you move along in your life, use your drawing and the advice from the person in it to help you trust yourself and live the life you deserve!
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