The Piece of Career Advice That Changed My Life

With one career move, for the first time in my life, I felt like I had a permission slip to stop, take a breath, and consider what I really wanted.

Hirun Laowisit / EyeEm/ Getty Images
Hirun Laowisit / EyeEm/ Getty Images

When people ask what I do for a living, I usually explain that I worked in corporate health care for about 20 years and then I started my own business as a freelance writer. It sounds so simple, when in reality it was anything but simple.

We’ve all been told that we need to have an elevator speech: that short statement about who we are and what we are looking for in a job, or in life. We’ve been told that we need to condense ourselves down to a sound byte in order to get the other person’s attention or make a positive first impression.

As a writer, I am interested in the opposite of the elevator speech. I want to hear the long, messy version of the story. I want to know the what, why, and how of it. I believe the beauty and uniqueness of each person’s story lies in the details.

When I walked into my career counselor’s office in the summer of 2015, my elevator speech would have sounded something like this: “I’ve spent nearly 20 years working way too many hours in a variety of jobs that I didn’t enjoy. I want to make some changes in my life, but I am not sure where to begin.”

In fact, I am pretty sure that is exactly what I said to her. Luckily, my career counselor was also interested in the details. She wanted to hear the whole story of how I got there. I told her how I was driven as a student and earned a full-ride scholarship to college. And how I went on to get my master’s in healthcare administration by the ripe old age of 22. I was the youngest person in my class.

I told her about all of the jobs I’d had in the healthcare world and how I never felt fulfilled in my work, mostly because I was always assigned to these huge, stressful system implementation projects that required me to work long hours. I also confided in her about a health scare that stopped me in my tracks and made me realize that I didn’t want to work like that anymore.

Then we talked about things I enjoyed, like writing, practicing yoga, and spending time with my family — all of the things I was missing out on while I was working. I told her that it felt like my life had gotten off track somewhere along the way. I talked a lot that day. And she politely listened and took a few notes.

At the end of our first session, she made an observation: “It seems like you’ve been running at full speed since you were in college. And maybe you missed out on the chance to be young and have fun along the way.”

She was definitely onto something with that comment.

Then she made a suggestion. “What if you took the summer off? Assuming that you are financially able to do so, of course.”

Which, luckily, I was.

“Spend time playing with your nieces and nephews. Take a walk on the beach and feel the sand between your toes,” she continued. “Have ice cream before dinner — and make it a triple scoop!”

Listening to her talk that day, the world seemed full of possibilities. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a permission slip to stop, take a breath, and consider what I really wanted. Of course, I’d made choices in my life, but those choices had come from a carefully selected menu of options. Responsible options. Taking the summer off and living off of my savings was not a responsible option.

And yet, it was exactly what I needed. I took her advice and spent the summer doing all of the things I wanted to do— all of the things I felt deprived of while I was working. Summer turned into fall, and I still had no desire to start my job search. I casually looked at job postings, but nothing sounded interesting. The only jobs I was qualified for were in health care, and I knew I wasn’t going back to that life.

I had always wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t sure if I could make a living at it. I decided to take a chance and find out. It took a few months for me to find my first client, and then another, and a few months later, another. It wasn’t until the second year that I really started to feel like my writing business was taking off.

Walking into my career counselor’s office that day changed my life. She could have just helped me refresh my resume and encouraged me to start looking for another job. Instead, she took the time to listen to my story. If I had been assigned to a different counselor, who knows how my story might have turned out.

Everything happens for a reason. And somehow, I was connected to the exact right person at the exact right time to help me along on my path. She already knew what it would take me several months to discover. Before I could find the right career, I needed to find myself.

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