Reader Question from Reader E.

Q. I have been working in publishing since I graduated from college 7 years ago. I am definitely burnt out, and the fact that I have a long commute doesn’t help. I love where we live (we have a great house with a yard where I have my garden, I can ride my bike to the beach, and Target is 10 minutes away), but it takes me an hour and twenty minutes on a bus to get into the city, plus another twenty minutes to walk across town to Grand Central Station.

I think I am bored. My brain feels mushy, my creativity stifled, and I am just tired–and 28 is too young to feel this way. I try not to let it affect me too much, but sometimes it is hard. The sad thing is, I don’t know what else I want to do, and the longer I stay, the more afraid I am to try something else. I know I shouldn’t be complaining because there are so many people out there without jobs, and I have a job with great benefits. My life is wonderful–I live in a beautiful house with an amazing husband and love my friends and family. I just feel like I am missing something. In an ideal world I would be able to take all of the things I love: books, knitting, baking, food, photography..and create the perfect job. Sorry for the long, whiny email. I appreciate you listening to me.

A. Dear E:

This email sounds exactly like one I might have written less than a year ago; trust me, I hear you. When I first moved to NY, I was working as the manager of a law firm while I auditioned for roles, but then slowly stopped acting…and had NO IDEA what I wanted to do. None. I knew I didn’t want to do what I was doing (oh my god, did I hate it), but when I rifled through MediaBistro (or wherever) I still couldn’t find any career path that felt quite…right. Like you, I also had all these weird, disparate interests – entertaining, writing, food, restaurants – and didn’t know how to pick just one to focus on for a career.

I remember my aunt once said to me, “Jordan, really: grow up. You have to pick. You can’t just keep doing a million different things.” But she was wrong: I didn’t have to pick, as it turns out, and I have faith that I’ll be able to build a career that allows me to explore everything that I love. I have faith that you will, too.

I really do believe – or at least I’ve learned over the course of the past year – that your career can be shaped to fit your interests…so long as you’re willing to make certain sacrifices, or at least take certain risks. If making a lot of money is a priority, that changes things. For me, it’s not a priority quite yet, because we live very inexpensively and have no kids, but I’m sure things would be different if we had a family. Would I have quit a relatively high-paying job to join NonSociety? Maybe not. But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have found my way to where I am right now in some other fashion – and let me tell you, it’s a place that makes me incredibly, incredibly happy each and every day.

I know what you mean about feeling ungrateful – you’ve got the house, the husband, the good job – but sometimes it just doesn’t feel like enough. And that’s because, for whatever reason, it’s not enough for you…and that’s not something that you have to apologize for. To anyone. It’s great that you’ve figured out that something needs to change; now all you have to do is figure out what, exactly, that is.

That said, I know it’s hard to make a career switch. Here’s an idea: in the fields that you’re interested in (which sound kinda like the fields that I’m interested in), there’s a lot of opportunity for people who are willing to work for free. Have you thought about dabbling a bit in these arenas in your spare time to see if anything really hits home for you (for example, writing guest posts for blogs that focus on baking or knitting)? That way you can try a whole bunch of different things out in a relatively low-committment way…and if something really hits home for you and fulfills you in that way that you’ve been searching for…well, you’ll know what to do.

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