I get my work ethic from my Dad. Long hours, being emotionally invested and getting a buzz from seeing others do well is either part of my genetic makeup, or grew from seeing how much enjoyment Dad got from a job well done. But work and career hasn’t been a smooth or logical journey for me. I arrived in London 6 years ago off the back of an aborted career. I was a tax accountant for a year* before running away in the hope of finding a life that I actually wanted to live. I hated looking at job adverts, because I had no idea what my strengths were let alone what I wanted to do.
The only parts I knew for sure was what I didn’t want. After the last year accounting was off the table (yeah, my accounting degree was callously tossed aside), and with a fear of highs, being trapped, the dark and low grades in science being an astronaut was also a no. Faced with the Reeds, the Guardian Jobs and every other soulless job listing site, the only thing I could filter by was ‘Not: Space Accountant’**.
I won’t go into my entire career history here, but suffice to say that a path that in hindsight looks deliberate (and I’m sure from the outside looked deliberate), was more me taking roles out of desperation, happenstance or ego – which just happened to build my skillset into a cohesive picture that was ideal for my dream job. Life is funny like that some times.
Its been my belief for a while, and one that has got me through many an existential crisis, that my only responsibility is to give myself more options tomorrow than I have today. I don’t actually need to know what my end goal is (I envy those with such a clear vision), I just need to make sure that tomorrow I have more choices than I do now. Which is how my career ended up. All of those little threads, those skills built along the way, ended up in a career as a Business Analyst.
And more than that, I ended up as a business analyst in a role and company that was the dream. On paper, it was every single thing that I wanted out of a job. I had exciting travel, a passionate and dedicated team that gave a damn about me, a company with solid morals, fun projects, intellectually challenging, and a place where I could truly be myself. All good right?
Turns out, a hard lesson that took me far too long to learn, is that what is good on paper is not always good for you.
Really annoyingly it took a very millennial thing to make me realise how out of control, and out of happiness, my life had gotten. That god damn Instagram top nine was my turning point. At the end of last year I, like many of my fellow avocado munchers, hopped onto the Instagram Top Nine app to look at my most engaged photos of the year. Every other time I had done this it was a beautiful highlight reel of the last 12 months. This time? I had no emotional connection with any of it. It was like I was looking at someone else’s grid.
I had put so much of my energy into work. So much time. So many emotions. That I had forgotten to live my life. I was out of the country 2-3 weeks of every month. My friends got totally used to me flaking out on plans, because even when I was home I just wanted to hide in my flat. I was stressed constantly, I couldn’t go more than ten minutes without checking my phone for emails (the side effect of a global business where due to time zones someone is always online and working). I was on such a knife edge that I was irrational about everything, I overreacted to the smallest inconvenience and to be honest I lost the ability to find joy in anything that previously brought delight to my life.
It was bad, but I didn’t realise how bad it was until saw those stupid nine photos of a year of my life I had lost to work.
I think it got this bad for a few reasons. One would be that my work ethic means I get a kick out of working this hard. I got twisted good reinforcement for taking that conference call at 11pm, or working the weekend. I felt like I was fighting the good fight. Felling positive from working hard is a brilliant thing, but I didn’t have any balance in my life to stop it becoming all-consuming. It also didn’t help that I am single and live on the other side of the world from my family, I had no one to shine a mirror on my behaviour earlier, no one to gently suggest how unhealthy my obsession with work was.
So what actually happened? Well, that Instagram top nine let me reflect on a year wasted. I then did a course of CBT that helped me examine it all in depth. And finally, I quit my job.
No matter how good it was on paper, and how amazing that job would have been if I was in a good place, it was not right for me if I was feeling that unhappy.
I had somewhere along the line forgotten that I could quit a job. It is a totally normal part of a long and healthy career to work in a variety of businesses. You learn different skills from each, meet new people and can help you to consolidate on what you have learned and how you have grown. Quitting helped me to really check some of my behaviours around work, and start my new job as I meant to continue***. Yes, since I have started my new job I have taken a lunchbreak every single day – revolutionary.
I am only 8 years out of university. A short moment in the scope of a working life that at this rate will stretch to 75 before retirement (thanks austerity measures). For the amount I have learned about work and myself so far, I can only goggle at the thought of where I will go in the next 45 years. I guess the point of this post is to say that you are totally in control of your career. I would not treat it flippantly, after all you need to give yourself more options tomorrow than you have today (and lets be honest, especially at the start of your career sometimes you just have to shovel shit – its boring, no one listens to you and anything else sounds better), but also you need to check in with yourself and ask the question – is this still right for me?
*my god a year is nothing, I wouldn’t even have had time to get my feet wet. I maintain that it might not have been the actual job itself that I hated so much, but more working in a big aggressive corporate at that stage in my life that was so bad. I could probably cope with it now, but back then could not have come up with a situation more likely to set me up for failure.
** for any other graduate or career hopeless in a similar situation, I really recommend searching for companies that you like. If you genuinely don’t know what you want to do, then putting yourself in an environment that you are inspired by can be a great way to find out. For me this meant searching for start up type companies, which had two main benefits. 1) most of these look like cool places to work 2) because start ups are a little more chaotic than a normal company, you can experience a lot of bits of a job which will help you get the flavour for a future career.
*** There is a fantastic podcast called ‘Eat Sleep Work Repeat’ that I listened to during the transition from one job to another. There is so much research out there about workplace happiness and I highly recommend anyone who is worried about their career to take a listen.