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Why You Shouldn't Be Afraid Of Being Stuck At A Job You Hate

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I’ve never been afraid of asking Big Questions. They’re the best, most penetrating way to get to know people - the opposite of Small Talk. On dates, especially, I’m the girl who asks if you’re closer to your mom or dad, what your sex life is like, and who you consider your best friend. Above all, my favorite question to ask is, “What is your biggest fear?” Some people have a standard canned answer like “spiders.” Others genuinely don’t know. A few will have crazy personal and interesting responses that open another window into their humanness. But I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard the following answer and fought the urge to shake first my head and then their shoulders,

“Being stuck at a job that I hate.”

I don’t actually do that, obviously. I smile, cue my internal monologue, and delicately sip my beer. Well, here’s to finally putting down the glass and sharing why you shouldn’t be afraid of being stuck at a job you hate.

I’d like to preface this by saying that this isn’t meant for those who genuinely don’t have a choice in the matter. Those who have been supporting themselves and their families since they were old enough to remember. Those who haven’t been afforded the time or resource to put themselves first. This is for us lucky ones with the privilege of cell phones in middle school, extracurriculars in high school, and college touring with the parents.

The choices are overwhelming, and they start early. Where should I go to school? Which major should I pick? Which classes are the most useful? How should I spend the summer? What clubs should I join? What internships should I apply to? Do I need to do research? Do I need to volunteer? Hell, do I need to found a startup to get noticed?

It feels like every decision we make is weaving the fabric of our future, in real time. Picking your first job out of college is probably the scariest of them all. It’s a culmination of everything you’ve been working towards for sixteen years of schooling. And it certainly seems like the spotlight is on, all eyes on you. The most common question college seniors across the country are being asked? “So, what are your plans after graduating?”

Commence panic.

So I get it, truly. I’ve been there. I was a bio major on the pre-med track at U.C. Berkeley. I loved my classes, loved learning about the human body and life cycles and hormones and cascading chain reactions. Not once did I think about switching to anything else. In the majority of my free time, however, I didn’t volunteer at hospitals or tutor chemistry or conduct research. I was never published, and I did help a graduate student with her dissertation, but it was about democratic education. Not exactly scientific. I filled my non-academic time with brand ambassadorships and PR internships. I was involved in student government and a 12-hour dance-a-thon for charity. I was briefly a founding member of an education startup.

And then senior year rolled around. It could’ve been the year I took the MCAT. The year I got my letters of recommendation. The year I spent applying and interviewing for med school. It was none of those things. It was the year I took a leap of faith. The summer before my final fall semester, I started interning remotely for this little startup based out of New York City. It’s a social innovation company called The Feast, and their appeal to me was simple but profound. They were a group of incredibly passionate, creative, talented people who thought differently and believed that they could change the world. I was hooked. Upon graduation, I packed two suitcases and moved across the country for my first full-time job.

Now, full-time did not mean steady or stable or 9-to-5. I worked all the time, and there was never a guarantee that I could keep working there the next month. I was an at-will consultant, and I lived with my brother for a while to both save on rent and to have time to find people I actually wanted to live with (sorry Craigslist). I applied to other jobs and interviewed regularly since my situation was reliably precarious. Eventually yearning for solid ground and a change in scenery, I left for my current company, a little boutique ad agency called FLY.

All in all, I’ve been so fortunate. I’ve held two jobs out of college that I’ve absolutely loved. But I didn’t get here by following a perfectly ironed and starched plan. I didn’t get here by listening to anyone but myself. I didn’t get here by letting fear dictate any decision. And I certainly didn’t get here by worrying about being stuck at a job that I hate. Why focus your precious energy worrying when you can better spend it dreaming of what’s possible? We mustn’t forget that when we’re 20-something, we aren’t supposed to have it all figured out. But we are supposed to live intentionally. We’re supposed to make good use of the privilege we’ve been given. We’re supposed to be brave enough and smart enough to know that if we truly hate a job we’re at, we can leave. We can change our minds. We have agency.

Yes, we need to support ourselves. Yes, we want to make our parents proud. And yes, we eventually might crave some serious stability. But we’ll get there. And in the meantime, we can’t indulge ourselves in fear or complaint. Instead, we should know how lucky we truly are to be able to chase our dreams. Dreams, plural. We can have as many as we want because life is long, and we’re in the driver’s seat.