Career Change Fairytales and Speed Bumps — by Tammy Donovan

Until recently, I would have said that fairytales are just for kids. Then I realized I was trying to live one.

Photo by Dev Benjamin on Unsplash

Let me back up a bit.

Some people struggle for years to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. I was one of them and had many grey hairs by the time I finally figured out that I want to be a career counsellor. For people in this position, actually figuring this out can start to feel like a fairytale: once upon a time there were workers who toiled away at miserable jobs for years, a magical force intervened in their lives and helped them figure out what they were meant to do and PRESTO CHANGE-O, with the wave of a magic wand, they landed great jobs and lived happily ever after.

This fairytale fits with our culture’s tendency to focus on the lofty pursuit of dreams and passions, rather than on the effort it takes to pursue them. For example, Joseph Campbell’s famous edict is “follow your bliss”, not to “grind your way to bliss and then keep grinding”.

The problem with the fairytale is that it sets up unrealistic expectations: you expect to struggle when you are figuring out what you are meant to do, but everything that comes after — like landing and learning a job in a chosen field — should just unfold effortlessly as part of the “happily ever after”.

This month, I realized that I was trying to live out this fairytale. It makes me cringe to admit this, but once I decided to pursue career counselling, I really expected everything else to come easily. My “happily ever after” went something like this: I would find a seasoned career counsellor who was not only willing, but dare I say eager, to give up time to supervise me. S/he would provide me with an instant caseload of clients who were seeking only the very narrow range of help that I felt 100% comfortable providing. Oh, and of course, we would be at a clinic within an easy 10 minute commute from my house, case conceptualization would be a breeze and each and every one of my clients would leave incredibly grateful and wondering what took them so long to find me.

As you can probably guess, I was wrong, my fairytale was just that and I have hit a few speed bumps that completely blindsided me. To the point where it’s comical and feels like those times when you barrel over a speed bump, bottom out your car, slam on the breaks, cringe at the damage you might have just caused and look around wildly for someone who will agree that the bloody thing came out of nowhere to ambush you.

Because I’ve been expecting everything to be easy, every time I hit a speed bump, in addition to feeling blindsided, I’ve been catching myself grumbling about how things should be easier, feeling sorry for myself and slipping back into the fairytale, wondering if the speed bumps are some sort of sign from universe that career counselling is not for me.

Luckily (for me and my husband who listens patiently to all of my woes), I recently came across a quote that changed my perspective from Kevin Hart’s book I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons:

Every experience is a potential life lesson. Even if you don’t appreciate it at the time, each struggle in the present is preparing you for something else in the future.

It immediately rang true and reminded me of another quote from a graduation speech that Steve Jobs gave years ago:

[…] you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

I have enough career behind me now to know that both men are right. Much of what I learned as a lawyer is proving useful in counselling and there’s no way I could have understood that back when I was grinding it out in law firms.

The quotes were a much needed reminder to have a little chuckle at myself, to stop trying to wish away the bumps, to get me wondering about how these bumps will come in handy down the road and to renew my determination to help people navigate the bumps and connect the dots in their own careers.

Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash