I failed, but its ok.
I did everything right, so how did it end up so wrong? The path to success was beaten into me by my parents: good grades, college, career, money. They’d spew platitudes like “Do what you love and the money will follow” or “You can be anything you want to be”, as I’m sure every parent did to my generation.
They weren’t purposely misleading me, their intentions were good. After all, it had worked for them. And with technology careers opening up and the internet making entrepreneurship easier, there were opportunities bursting at the seams of our inflated economy. So I chose a path I loved working with animals, went to college, and expected a successful career to blossom at my feet, but disappointment was a bitter drink, for my parents and myself.
How did I end up $150K in school loan debt and without a career to speak of? In hindsight, I had three things working against me (other than the fact that I graduated from college into a recession).
1) My accomplishments thus far had required minimal effort. Don’t get me wrong AP Calculus was no freaking picnic but I didn’t struggle for it. It all came relatively easy for me.
2) I followed my dreams blindly. The problem with “You can be anything you want to be” is that you can’t pay your bills with passion. And my short career as a wildlife rehabilitator, however fulfilling, left me with a mountain of credit card debt. Turns out, you just can’t live off of $250 a week. Caring for a few hundred animals, while bringing more injured animals in daily, required too much of my time for a second job. So, even though I was in line to take over as director of the wildlife sanctuary, my greatest goal within reach, I knew that I couldn’t make it a feasible financial option.
I wish I’d realized earlier on that we all have to make sacrifices for our jobs, our careers. Long hours, low pay, high stress, no benefits, boring as hell. Very few jobs are actually perfect. If you can accept the challenges your career might present, then have no fear and dive right in. But I was naive, I didn’t read the fine print, and I expected “the money to follow” no matter what. It didn’t. So my advice, with a little research, and maybe even a few phone calls, you can decide in advance if you are willing to make the necessary sacrifices for your passion. Poverty was my limit.
3) I give up too easily. By the time I was old enough to pay attention, my parents had already put in the hard work and achieved a measurable amount of success. I only saw their achievements. Sure, the day-to-day looked stressful on them, but stress was a part of life. I hadn’t seen the struggle, the determination, or the tenacity that advanced my mother from enlisted seaman in the US Navy to an officer, Lieutenant Commander, to be exact. Her career had spanned 30 years, a multitude of earned acclamations, and several turns at sea. But I had only seen my mother, the woman who cooked me dinner, checked my homework and had to be up early for work the next morning. She made it look easy. And since everything along my path had gone easily enough, I was on track for success, right?
The real world is a bitch, and I flopped. I faced a series of personal tragedies that derailed me, I sulked in my own failure, and I decided to give up. There were many other, more lucrative, opportunities in the wildlife and conservation field, but when I hit the hurdle, I couldn’t clear the landing. I dropped to the ground with a thud and skidded to a halt.
I have since picked myself up, dusted off my clothes, and realigned my life, but it is nowhere close to what I envisioned. There were so many things I wanted to be: a marine mammalogist, a wildlife crusader or animal photographer. Those alternate versions of myself sounded lovely. I never imagined myself a former-veterinary-technician-turned-stay-at-home mother, or that an ordinary life could be extraordinarily fulfilling.
But it is, in fact, an excellent life.
I can’t measure my success by bank accounts or titles, but I’m enriched by the countless loyal friends Ive assembled through my work with animals, or by the pretty bad-ass fact that I have held a bald eagle on my bare arm. But mostly, by the enormous smile on my daughters face when I open her bedroom door every morning. I’ll find some job to earn my paycheck and chip down my student loans, but I’ve found my passion again and I will not fail her. So Im trading in my old scale for success. I don’t need it anymore.