The art of career compromise

Because it’s ok to admit what you thought was your dream isn’t actually right for you.  

 Compromise feels a bit like a dirty word doesn’t it? In this age where TV shows promise you that anyone can be a celebrity, self-help gurus tell you you can achieve anything you set your mind to, and social media allows us to curate perfect looking lifestyles to stir up envy in others, it feels a bit defeatist and like you’re a loser to take a look at what you’ve been longing for and saying ‘actually it’s not for me’.

Now I’m not talking here about giving up on your dream to be an astronaut because you feel that the odds are just stacked too much against you. God damn it, you go defeat those odds if being an astronaut is what you are massively passionate about being and you know you’d be freaking awesome at it.

I’m talking about giving up your dream to be an astronaut because actually you’ve realised all the insane studying (I’m presuming) you have to do before NASA will hire you and the thought of spending months away from friends and family in space doesn’t actually tally with what makes you tick as a person. You’ve only really had that dream as ‘your dream’ because you’ve always been a bit adventurous and love science and people have high expectations of you, so the obvious goal seemed to be ‘become an astronaut’.

I work as a journalist, and I’d like to think I’m a pretty good journalist and editor, but I don’t want be the next Kate Adie or the next editor-in-chief of a national newspaper. But I have only recently realised I don’t need to beat myself up for not being on the clear path to doing so/feeling half-hearted about what is surely every journalist’s dream, and instead sneakily thinking I’d like to go over to what journalist’s dub the ‘dark side’ and set up my own strategic comms and contract publishing company.

Nor do I think I’m alone in this. I have a friend who became a food/hospitality journalist because that’s what she thought she always wanted to be, but realised she wasn’t happy with certain aspects of the journalism role and that really what she really wanted to do was become a relationship coach. And she has jacked in the journalism career to do just that, with much opposition from her parents. Another friend is taking a break from the world of academia to be a lab technician because she hates the instability of an academic’s life where job contracts are short and take you all over the place but she’s defensive of being labelled as unambitious for doing so.

The fact is, it’s very easy to get caught up pursuing a dream that turns out to not be everything you want in life. It mostly comes down to a lack of knowledge. (I am of course discounting extreme situations where people have to do jobs to just feed their families because they live in dire circumstances.)

Having knowledge of what is the right career path for you requires having a) knowledge of yourself – and who really figures themselves out; that’s why everyone has a mid life crisis – and b) knowledge of the job options out there, and the job market is ever evolving. With technology and scientific progress and demographics and economics as headwinds buffeting the job market, some jobs become obsolete (goodbye switch board operators and people who had to set the pins back up in bowling alleys…), new ones are created (hello web designer/app developer/being a Kardashian etc.) and people can juggle lots of jobs and have portfolio careers.

So it’s understandable to find it hard to see any other future for yourself than one which is a path expected of you and/or well trodden by others – the thoughts and careers of others influence you and fill that career gap you don’t understand how to fill yet. But obviously it’s important to be aware of what job would make you happy and stand up for it. Or you end up going through the motions and finding yourself inexplicably not happy about your life choices. Or beating yourself up that you’re not good enough because you haven’t achieved something that you’ll actually never do because you’re not passionate about it and passion normally equals success.

Self-awareness is not an easy beast to handle at the best of times, but if you are feeling down about your day-to-day grind and unfulfilled in your career, it may be the point to start questioning what aspects of your job actually overlap with your personality and your likes. I am a big fan of lists and Venn diagrams. And also maybe just asking the people who know you best what they think – because they may have noted you seem happier when talking about certain topics/dreams etc.

For me, my career epiphany came about when helping Historic Royal Palaces to think about their own membership magazine in a voluntary advisory role. It occurred to me that I love thinking about ways communication can be manipulated to present ideas, I love immersing myself in different industries so creating membership magazines/digital comms strategies would play to that, and I also love the idea that I could set up my own gorgeous office outside of London so I can have that dog and horse I’ve always wanted. Time, experience and musing on what actually made me happy enabled that epiphany to happen. As did accepting that some journalists may look down on me for wanting to go down that route when I eventually start on it, but you know what, their view is very narrow-minded in a rapidly evolving media world, so they can go stuff themselves.

So here’s to ‘compromising’ on your ‘career dreams’ and in fact finding you that doing so means you have not compromised on your happiness.

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