I’ve lived in Reno, NV since I was a kid, and while I’ve done a lot of traveling, this place has always been home. But I feel like it’s stifling me at this point in my life.
I’m 25 and just got my first Real Job in January, working for a local non-profit public health coalition. I majored in anthropology in school, so I’m not sure how that’s translated to public health, but I think I’ve discovered over the past four months that public health is not my thing. I am so apathetic towards my work, and that’s a really shitty feeling because I’ve always been highly motivated and a hard worker.
My boyfriend is a freelance graphic designer, who also feels like Reno is slowly killing him, but we just haven’t made a concrete plan to get out of here. Every time we plan on it, something comes up. Do you have any words of advice for making the jump? Right now, we’re looking at either Portland, OR or Denver, CO, but I’m not sure what to do to get there.
Girl. GIRL. I spent my 24th and 25th years in a job I disliked so intensely it gave me Sunday night stomachaches, dating a very nice guy I had no business dating. Two weeks before I turned 25, I moved to Taiwan, where I knew exactly zero people.
All of this is to say: I get it. Like, painfully so.
Here, in the single longest post I’ve ever published, are my suggestions for you.
How do deal if you hate your job + how to find one you like
Be honest about what’s not working at your current job
Do you resent working 9-5 when you’ve finished all your work by 3? Are you buried under paperwork and bureaucracy? Do you feel like the work you’re doing isn’t having much of an effect? If you don’t know what’s not working, you won’t be able to avoid those same issues in the future.
I bet if you’re honest with yourself, you probably know what kind of work you want to do
This is something most of us do, isn’t it? We tell ourselves we don’t know what we want and even if we did, we wouldn’t know where to start.
But you do know what you want. As the very clever Danielle LaPorte points out, your real desires are hiding in the things that make you jealous and the things you’d do if money wasn’t an issue. They’re the things you loved as a kid.
The first step to figuring out what you want is to stop telling yourself that you don’t know what you want. Then commit to noticing the activities and moments that bring you joy.
Translate those moments of joy into job-related skills
After you’ve zeroed in on the things you love, you’ll probably want to send me an email that says “NICE TRY SARAH HOW DO I MAKE A CAREER FROM HOSTING DINNER PARTIES.” Touché, my friend, but I’m not going to suggest that you do the exact things that bring you joy (because then my job would be one-person dance parties.)
I am, however, going to suggest that you search for the kernel of truth and commonality in all your passions. Maybe you like hosting dinner parties because you enjoy planning and executing events or because you’re an extrovert who loves to lead groups. Maybe you like to make physical, tangible things with your hands or take care of people. When you know the ‘why’ behind your passions, you’ll be able to find a job that fills those same needs.
Finding a career you love can take a loooooong time
While you’re navigating a career change, be gentle with yourself. It takes most of us years and years to find the right career path. For many of us, there are degrees we don’t use, rewarding but low-paying jobs (or soul-eating high-paying jobs), lots of wrong turns and a few meltdowns in the staff bathroom. Finding the right career path doesn’t always happen in your early twenties.
This is not to say that it can’t happen or that you shouldn’t try to make it happen – just consider this a virtual hug and permission to cut yourself a tiny bit of slack.
When you do find that career, you probably won’t love it every single day
Through equal parts luck and tenacity, my partner and I both have our dream jobs and on a weekly basis we still feel exhausted, annoying, overwhelmed or uninspired. I mean, nobody’s thrilled about quarterly taxes or invoices, right?
Even when you do land the job you’ve always wanted, there were be boring, unpleasant aspects of that job. There might be months at a time that you question your decision to take this ‘dream job.’ That doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong job or the wrong field, it just means you’re a human who’s alive.
Know that “fulfilling work” and “work that fulfills you” are not the same
Before I wrote full-time, I was an ESL teacher, scribbling on whiteboards in classrooms all over the world. I loved my students and I was proud of the work I did. I was also wildly underpaid, overworked, and emotionally, physically, and psychologically exhausted. It was ‘fulfilling’ work that absolutely drained me.
Meanwhile, a friend of mine worked at an ad agency. She was pretty ambivalent about her clients and the work they do (toilet paper, dog food, etc) but loved the creative atmosphere. Her work friends were her real-life friends, her contributions were valued, and she saw her work in national publications. I’m not sure she’d say her work changed the world, but it certainly fulfilled her creative and social needs.
In a perfect world, we’d all have fulfilling work that fulfilled us. But it’s good to remember that you might have to find that fulfillment elsewhere – and if you do, that’s not a failing on your part or your job’s. It’s just your professional reality at the moment.
Action cures anxiety
When I’m overcome with indecision or anxiety, my favorite response is to binge watch Netflix while eating peanut butter straight out of the jar. Surprisingly, this doesn’t help very much.
You know what actually helps? Doing something. Anything. Googling ‘career coach’ and then reading a few blog posts. Looking through your fifth-grade scrapbooks and remembering how much you loved art class. Taking a career quiz.
Be aware of a job’s day-to-day realities before you make a career switch
So let’s say you’ve talked with a career coach, you’ve taken tons of quizzes and your path is clear: elementary school teacher.
Before you sign up for a single class, talk to a minimum of five people who have the job you’re interested in. Ask them how they got into the field (maybe you don’t even need to go back to school!) and ask them for a breakdown of their day-to-day work lives.
Ask them very bluntly about the benefits and drawbacks of this job and what surprised them when they first started. If possible, talk to people who have been in this field for different lengths of time – a first-year teacher will have very different insights than a 20-year veteran.
For a long time, I thought I wanted to be a journalist. And then I wrote for a newspaper and experienced working weekends and holidays, asking people very awkward questions they really didn’t want to answer, writing under tight deadlines, all while receiving the lowest pay of any professional field. That was the day-to-day reality of the job I’d always wanted. Be ye not so stupid as me! Know what you’re getting into!
Also: it’s totally fine to “just” have a job that you don’t mind and fill the rest of your life with wonderful things
Oprah and Marie Forleo (and maybe even this blog) have all contributed to the idea that if you follow your bliss, you’ll never work another day in your blahblahblahbutwhatabouttherent. You should never work a job you hate. You shouldn’t spend eight hours a day, five days a week, doing something that brings you sadness or guilt or crippling anxiety.
That being said, very few of us fantasize about being logistics coordinators or tax attorneys when we grow up, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a full, exciting life while putting in 40 hours a week in a cubicle. You are not a ‘sell out’ if you find a job you don’t mind and then spend money from said job on things and experiences you truly love.
You are not contractually obligated to the universe to make a career of your oil paintings. It’s totally okay to be an accountant who sells her paintings on Etsy and teaches the occasional Community Ed class.
Also also: you don’t have to pick something and do it forever
So let’s say you decide to go back to school to become an elementary school teacher and six years in, you’re burned out. A: welcome to the club! B: You should be proud of yourself! You tried something new. You pursued a dream and it worked for a while and now it doesn’t and that’s okay.
How to move to a new city + hate your current city less
Be honest about why you don’t like about your city
Just like you did with your uninspiring job, I’m going to suggest that you get really clear on what, exactly, it is that you don’t like about Reno.
Do you hate the weather? Are your cultural and political leanings out of sync with most of the population? Are you sick of being surrounded by people you’ve known forever? Do you have a hobby you can’t really do there? Maybe you’re just ready for something new!
Again, it’s important to know what’s not working so you can avoid it in the future.
Really, actively research cities you’re interested in
I know it’s tempting to move somewhere that seems cool or somewhere you know a few people – and those are good jumping off points! But before you quit any jobs or give notice on your apartment, do some serious research on your towns of choice. What are the average temperatures in the summer and winter? How much sunshine do they get? What’s the cost of living? How tight is the real estate market? What are the unemployment and crime rates?
We all have subconscious biases against cities and regions that are perfectly lovely and biases for cities that are spectacularly expensive and crowded (I’m looking at you, NYC and San Francisco.)
Once you’ve got it narrowed down, go visit those cities
I mean, obviously, right? Do a bit of research about the neighborhoods where you’d want to live and, if possible, rent Airbnbs there. How convenient is it? How’s the parking? Can you easily access public transport?
I’d actually suggest visiting during a non-peak time of year and staying for as long as you can afford. We all want to live in DC when the cherry trees are blooming – but what about November? Or August?
Set a realistic moving date and budget and work backward from there
So you’ve nailed down your destination! Choose a date and stick to it. Write it on the calendar, give notice, and start telling people that you’re moving. (It’s a lot harder to back out of things when everyone’s asking about it.)
Just about everything in life takes twice as long and costs twice as much as we expect, so budget more money and time than you’d expect. If you’re moving in six months, what needs to be ready at the five month point? The three month point? Give yourself (and your boyfriend) teeny, tiny doable steps and start chipping away at them.
Sell your stuff
A few years ago, my friend Winona moved from Portland to Nashville. “We considered packing everything into a Uhaul to make the trip, but ended up scrapping that plan for financial reasons (Uhauls are expensive!!). And I AM SO GLAD WE DID.
Selling much of what we owned was one of the most gratifying, empowering things I’ve ever done. It made me realize how few possessions I actually need, gave us more money to fund the move itself, and it was so much fun to start fresh — truly — when we arrived in our new place, rather than lugging a bunch of old furniture and knick knacks along. I wrote more about it here.”
Be nice to yourself
Moving to a new place where you don’t know anyone is awesome, but it’s also really hard. Give yourself time to adjust and don’t beat yourself up when things go wrong (which they will). Embrace the ridiculous adventure of starting a new life, including the sad, scary, comically messy parts.
Take the chance to reassess everything
More from Winona: “When I moved I felt like I had shed this heavy, outdated definition of myself and could suddenly be whoever I wanted to be. I took the chance to treat all my previous patterns and habits like politicians up for reelection. Were they still serving me? Or was it time for some new representation?
I would ask myself things, “Does my Nashville self use mint floss?” and “My Portland self was late all the time. What if I wasn’t late all the time?” A fresh start is a powerful opportunity. Use it.”
Be aggressive about pursuing new friendships
Don’t be shy or subtle about connecting with people. When you’re the new person in town, you have to swallow your pride and be willing to say, “Hey, I think you’re awesome and I want to hang out” when you feel any kind of friendship spark, and then follow up. Say yes to every invite, at least for awhile.
Changing careers and moving cities is no small undertaking and you’ll have several months (or years!) of transition before you get where you want to go. But that doesn’t mean your life needs to be an endless drudgery till then.
Start a gratitude journal and work to find the positives in your job + city
Yes, this is trite advice. Yes, it works. Some days, your entry might just consist of “I’m grateful for the staff room cupcakes today” or “I’m grateful that I can have dinner with my parents whenever I want.” Make an active decision to see the best in your job and city; pretty soon they’ll be a memory and you might even miss them!
Do all the touristy, interesting stuff that you’ve never done
I don’t know about you, but there are huge swathes of my city and state that I’ve never seen. I just keep going to the same noodle house in Frogtown and ordering the same bun chay with fried tofu over and over and over. Take a look through your city and state tourism websites or Roadtrippers or TripAdvisor, make a Nevada bucket list and check them off while you’re setting your sites elsewhere.
Find ways to make your job more enjoyable
Let’s say you’ve realized that what you hate most about your job is the commute. Could you work from home once a week? Work 7-4 instead of 8-5? If you need more creative challenges, could you offer to do the graphic design for the marketing material? Look for ways to make your job fit your preferences.
Finally, when you do make the leap to a new city and career, know that it might be hard at first
Generally speaking, most new things suck for the first few months – if not longer. You don’t know anyone in your new city, all the liquor stores are closed on Sundays, your boss is clueless.
This doesn’t mean you made a mistake, it just means you were brave enough to leave the harbor and you’re getting your sea legs.Whew! Well, that was a small novel. If you’ve changed careers or cities, what did you do? What advice would you give our friend?
P.S. If you know someone who might need to read this, send them a link!