Career Freak Out!

It started as a pleasant evening: walking past the Capitol building at sunset, enjoying free wine and food, meeting new people. Then I met Socially Awkward girl who decided to cling to me for the next hour. Honestly, it wasn't that bad, but she was...well, awkward. For instance, in talking about my current position I said, "It seems really hard to find a good boss." And she replies loudly, while spooning hummus onto her little plastic plate, "YOU DON'T LIKE YOUR BOSS?"

For whatever reason, despite this obviously inappropriate outburst, I continued to talk uncomfortably with SA girl on the outside patio. Now in addition to enduring social awkwardness, I was also scratching and swatting pesky mosquitoes that were eating me alive. I told her that no, it's not that I dislike my boss (sort of a lie), but that I'm struggling to get some direction in terms of career. Lucky me, she does some career development and began to ask--no, interrogate--me about my life goals.

SA Girl: "What's your ideal job?"

Me: "Um...I don't know. Maybe (bullshit) or (more bullshit)..."

SA Girl: "Is there anyone in your office whose position you would like to have one day?"

Me: " No one really."

And the panic attack commenced. All of a sudden thoughts were running through my head--I don't want to do this work. I hate being in an office. I thought I wanted to have more interaction with people in my daily work. Etc. Etc. Etc. The poor girl had no idea what her mundane questions had incited. Then she suggested I look at a career in a university, at which point I almost a) punched her b) burst into tears. I excused myself and found other safer colleagues to spend the rest of the evening with.

Later that night after navigating around the police who were everywhere on Capitol Hill (Obama was speaking/being heckled) and suffering through a Metro ride with a fellow passenger who thought she would serenade me with opera arias, I finally made it home around 10. I walked through the door, announced to SCL that I was having a crisis, and promptly plopped down on the couch, cookie dough ice cream and soup spoon in hand. In between bites, I told him what had happened and how I didn't think I wanted to be in a non-profit anymore if I meant I couldn't have genuine interactions with people. This is not really a new realization, but one I am rediscovering. The idea of having influence appeals to me, but the way to get it--and the way people react to you when you have it--do not. I love the issue, but just not the way I'm working on it. How can I be passionate about justice when my day is mostly consumed with inner-office political nonsense?

As I've already realized, your twenties are kind of sucky, especially in trying to figure out what the heck you want to do; I mean, really want to do, not just want to do because someone ought to do it or because someone ought to be good at doing it and why shouldn't that be me when I'm capable of it. Seeing as how bad the market is and how few months I've actually been in my current job, I'm not planning on doing anything drastic just yet. I need to formulate a plan, but first I need to be able to answer the question, "What job do I want?" This will require some soul searching and probably some sitting down with people who've been around and know their stuff.

In the meantime, I am networking like crazy (4-6 events a week; so glad I ordered my own business cards!) and finding leadership roles in volunteer settings. I'm finding that my job really can't do all for me that I wish it would, and it's up to me to find other ways of gaining the skills and the connections I need. I'm learning what it means to be my own advocate and how to initiate my own opportunities. I'm confident these are skills that will benefit me in whatever thing I decide to do next.

Any words of wisdom from former career freak out-ers?


  1. The career freak outs of my early 20s have subsided into the subdued recognition in my later 20s that I do need to find something new. You are doing the right thing! See what is out there. Just be patient, don't go rushing into or out of any job and eventually you will find the right fit.

  2. Kudos for all of your networking. You will get there. Give yourself time. Sometimes it feels like we spend our whole lives "getting there", so enjoy the journey too, not just the destination.

  3. Thanks, Tina! It's hard to be patient and find ways to enjoy a workplace that is oftentimes oppressive. But I'm sure there are lessons to be learned here.