There’s a lot of pressure to know what you want to be when you grow up.
When you’re five, you might stick to the usual answers like astronaut, doctor, or ballerina. But when you hit high school, the playing field gets a little more vague, and you learn about all the different paths you can take when it comes to your career. And then come the dreaded college years. When “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is the only question people seem to ask anymore, and you feel like you have to pluck an answer out of your heart and make it happen.
I probably should have looked up the statistics on what percentage of the population actually sticks to those childhood occupational dreams. (I mean, how many ballerinas do you know? Unless you’re in a ballet school, in which case I would ask you about the astronauts.) But I don’t need to know the math to know that dreams don’t always come true.
And for those who took on a high-profile career, how many made their plan at five years old and pursued it relentlessly? Even writing it now, that seems a little freakish. And yet we still think of them as the lucky ones—the ones who chose a path, walked it, and are living the dream.
I wasn’t so lucky. I was part of a small section of people who grew out of their dream but tried to make it fit anyway, and it really hurt. Am I alone?
A bad career fit is like a bad pair of expensive shoes–painful, frustrating, and it fills you with self-doubt about your decision-making skills.
I didn’t decide to be a teacher at five, but it sure feels like it. I read about teaching, taught about teaching, and dreamed about teaching for years before getting my Master’s and entering the field. Only to find out three years later that it wasn’t for me.
At first, I was crushed. I felt like a failure. I focused only on the wasted time, the wasted money, and my sense of purposelessness. I mean, it’s really easy to hate yourself for spending five years at college and $30,000 on a dream of being a teacher, only to realize it’s not what you really wanted after all.
It didn’t seem to matter that teaching gave me hives and (to this day) stress dreams. Or that I cried more when I was teaching than I did in any relationship. Or that I only really miss about five students out of the hundreds who came through my classroom. Long after leaving the field, I have suffered the phantom guilt of the dead-end dream job.
But I have decided to quit holding myself to promises I made as a 20-year-old. It doesn’t matter that I took a hundred credits for a career I don’t want any more; every lesson, portfolio, and grade I gave turned me into the person I am today with the skill set and drive that I have today. I wasn’t investing time and money into a career, I was investing time and money into myself.
Like the experts say, every failure really is a disguised opportunity.
Because of my failed teaching career, I can plan and present data like a professional consultant.
Because of my failed teaching career, I have an obscenely strong work ethic and production capability.
And most importantly, because of my failed teaching career, I am now hot on the trail of my true calling and happier than I’ve ever been.
Have you outgrown your childhood dreams, or are you one of the lucky ones who made it happen with no regrets?
Sarah Greesonbach writes and curates the lifestyle and personal finance blog Life [Comma] Etc. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter for commentary and hot links, as well as pictures of her husband and cat (both are super-cute). She releases her first ebook this month, Life After Teaching: The Hands-On Guide for Transitioning Out of Teaching and Into a New Career.
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