Choosing the wrong career sucks
The other day, I was talking to a design student about how hard it was to decide on what she wanted to do after she graduated. The idea of making a commitment that affects the rest of her life was terrifying.
Oh, how much I relate to this, and yet, I didn't know what to say to her.
Here's my story of how I suffered from choosing wrong paths.
When growing up, I was extremely artistic, to say the least. My medium of choice was performance and I was very into personas. As a contradiction, I was an incredibly shy kid, who was unusually confident on stage. I often forcefully dressed up my friends and grown-up family members in extravagant outfits and made them vogue. (Photos of my dad with his 90s moustache, neon pink lipstick and vintage earrings live to this day.) My favourite toy was my wig, which I would wear absolutely all the time when I wasn’t in public. I was a total diva and born to be on stage.
My dream career as a kid, sure enough, was to become a belly dancer.
Years have passed, and when I had to pick a career as an almost adult, I finally dropped the attitude. Belly dancing wasn’t a well-respected path. There was no money in it. And I had been a weird kid for too long. It was time to join normalcy. So I did something that I thought was smart and combined art with the left-brain mindset of my family of engineers and the rest of the world.
I chose to go to architecture school.
🖕🖕🖕 Stupid idea. 🖕🖕🖕
Starting from the moment I arrived at architecture school all throughout my bachelor degree, I felt like an idiot. The dumbest person ever. And I haven’t worked harder in my life.
Life sucked, and everything I made sucked.
The briefs we had were so unnatural to me, and I second guessed every single design decision I’ve ever made. I doubted myself so hard. And I shamed myself for missing my pre-architecture-school creative bubble and not succeeding in the "real world". Perhaps I was perfectly average, which is much worse than being an idiot. I was no creative genius. 😱😱😱 And maybe I wasn’t an artist at all. Maybe I wasn’t artistic enough if I sucked so hard on an artistic path like architecture.
But here was the deadly paradox.
Even though I was suffering hard on the inside, I was doing OK on the outside.
Because the education system that lead me to architecture school in the first place was also the very same system that trained me to be an overachiever under every circumstance. I was conditioned to achieve no matter how meaningless life seemed or whether my soul was being sucked out of me or not.
I was indeed artistic, and even smart. So, I was doing pretty good if you took my grades as a reference to my so-called success. I never failed a class, which is extremely rare for an architecture student, and while I was average in some classes, I was really really good in other, which made the process barely tolerable. I liked classes that involved abstract thinking, lots of reading and writing. And because I was doing OK, or in other words, because I never hit rock bottom, all my suffering was irrelevant as long as I stayed in the system. Studying architecture was hard for everyone, and not everyone had to have an existential attachment to their profession like I was desperately longing for. So I started questioning my own suffering.
Maybe I was exaggerating this whole career thing.
And in retrospect, now I know that this is exactly what is wrong with compromising. If you compromise and settle for a moderate joy and moderate fulfilment and moderate growth and moderate happiness, so that you wouldn’t end up with little joy and little fulfilment and little growth and little happiness, then you will never be able to find legitimate enough reasons to leave your moderate pain and moderate boredom and moderate alienation and moderate contempt. You’d be too tempted by a moderate comfort that you wouldn’t be bothered to do anything that would jeopardise it. The rest of the world wouldn’t support you either because you’ve willingly made the compromise in the first place. You have already chosen moderate. So the moderate suffering would probably not kick you in the ass enough to make a shift in your career, or in your life.
Some people are born to be architects. I was not.
Of course, not everything has to be huge in life. Moderate is good too. For example, I’m not a professional hand model, and I don't want to be. So keeping my hands perfect all the time is not my passion. I’m not emotionally attached to my manicure and I don’t put SPF 50 sunscreen on my hands every time I go out. I don’t give up cooking so I would avoid maybe cutting myself a little bit with the kitchen knife. I also don’t do hand workouts to keep my fingers fit. Of course, I wouldn’t mind having nice hands, but it’s not a fundamental part of who I am and I’m totally not passionate about. There is only so much I would do to keep my hands beautiful. I’d happily sacrifice the perfection of my hands for something else that I'm passionate about.
But if you are longing for that passion in your life, it's very very hard to let the search go.
If what you make professionally, for the world to see, that goes beyond you, some people might call this a career, is your passion, and if you are dedicated to finding the path that fulfils you, then don’t settle for a compromise that looks like the closest and more reasonable alternative. Pick the real thing. Don’t pick the safe option that will earn you respect in other people’s eyes. Don’t go for a job people might think is cool. And don’t pick financial security. If you crave for security, seek it in other areas of your life but your career. Don’t think about your family or friends either. Think about what you really want and pick that. If you feel like that’s a risk, take it. This is the opportunity to take that risk.
I can’t tell you how much easier it is to be really really really successful in something you’re naturally passionate about.