November 18, 2013

On Growing Within Your Career


*photograph by Heather Zweig for Oh Happy Day

As I’ve written about, these first few months out on my own have been tough. I feel like I’ve grown in leaps and bounds as a designer, as a business owner, as a person. But it’s been a really difficult transition and not one without bumps in the road. I was telling a friend recently that the hardest part of this process for me has been the personal transition. Going from someone who wants to please everyone, say yes to everything, avoid confrontation and make everyone else happy (often at a cost to her own personal well-being) to a person who knows when and how to stand up for herself, charges a rate that she knows she’s worth, reads an angry client email and doesn’t burst into tears, has been really hard. I’d love to talk more about personal growth within our careers (and not just the freelance ones) this morning with you and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Since I was young, I’ve been able to imagine pretty vividly the woman I wanted to be once I was a grown-up, down to what I would be wearing. But I also always saw such a giant leap in getting there; how do you go from a wide-eyed girl to a confident woman in charge? I’ve always been able to imagine the end product, but not the actual journey. I feel like over this last year I’ve become about 100% more confident personally and professionally, and so much of that has come from my experiences at work and some really really tough situations. I’ve learned to trust my gut, believe in myself even at times when it would’ve been much more comfortable to just quit, accept responsibility and hold others accountable for their end of the bargain (often way easier for me to take all the blame when we hit a roadbump, but that’s really so much worse in the long run).

I never sought out to run my own business. In fact when I realized I would need to find a new position somewhere, I wanted a creative office job with benefits, PTO, 9-5 schedule. But then a flurry of great opportunities landed in my lap and here I am. And to be honest, even though there are days that are tough, I really love it. And I think that’s how you know that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Every job is still a job, and no matter how wonderful it is, real life will always be way more fun (or at least I hope this is the case!). But if there’s a job where, even after a totally crappy week where you just feel awful and the confidence is running low and you sort of want to just crawl in a hole, even after a week like that if you can wake up on Monday and think “Yea, I’m still in” or even just “Yea, I mean I can keep doing this I guess; that wasn’t too terrible”  then I think you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

I was talking to a friend recently and she is facing similar challenges at an office job: how to be assertive, how to find your niche and excel, how to be diplomatic with co-workers. It made me realize that, although I often talk about a lot of these things from a freelancer’s point of view, we’re all dealing with them, no matter what our field. Of course we have different specific challenges, but I would argue that one of the toughest parts of your late 20’s/early 30’s is not just figuring out what you want to do, but then how to do it really well, and how to create a sustainable career.

When you first get into the workforce, you hop around a bit from job to job, maybe go to grad school or move cities. But then you get it at some point: this is long-term. This is the real deal. And I think finding a job that makes you feel successful is the key to being as happy as you can be in your job. And I don’t just mean in terms of the passion. I was talking to another friend recently who is kind of stumped right now because she’s not sure what to do; she feels no pull towards anything particularly, no real passion. And she asked me if there was something wrong with that. Like, if she should only do something that she really loves. And I said: HECK NO.

Granted, there are some people, I’m one of them, who does feel intensely passionate about what they do and it really drives them everyday. But there are also people who work to live; who’s ego isn’t tied up in their work, their creations, their business. Those people who work a job that pays them well, that’s semi-enjoyable and mostly, that allows them to live the life they want to lead outside of work. They’re content. And I think that’s really cool. I often wonder if those people have some sort of internal sense of peace that I look for in my work; some sense of contentment that the passionate people are trying to find through success.

I guess what I’m saying is that success looks like a lot of different things to everyone. And I think this part of our careers, this middle stage when we’re really buckling down, is about finding out what success through work means to us personally, and going and getting it. It’s so easy to frame success the way our friends do or our parents have or colleagues and society tells us to, but I think it’s important to take time and decide what professional success means to you. Maybe it just means a great paycheck that lets you travel and cook and have the home you want. Maybe it means landing a crazy great client or simply being able to sustain yourself doing what you really love.

I’d love to know: what are your experiences with work right now? Do you find yourself in a similar situation to any of these? What does professional success mean to you? Feel free to comment anonymously!

And thanks for taking the time to read this:-)


  • Brittany K  / 

    This is so timely! A girl friend ( and I were out together this weekend and had the same conversation. We realized we have grown so much in the last year – both in skills and in confidence. It really takes being pushed out of your comfort zone to realize what all you can do!

    We also feel as if we’ve come to the realization that that “perfect” job doesn’t exactly exist. There’s always going to be something that you could wish for or desire from your job and sometimes it’s about choosing to be content. We were raised in an era of “do what you want, you can be anything” and that’s not always 100% accurate.

    But you can definitely find satisfaction doing what you love… just nail down what that is and truly go for it! So excited for you and this new adventure of yours. Each season brings it’s own ups (great ups!) and downs, but hold on for the ride and enjoy it :)


    Ana Perkins / November 18th, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Hi Brittany! Totally agree about the “perfect” job. I find that thought super comforting on bad days. It’s a great reminder that every job has it’s bad days, no matter what you do, how great at it you are and how much you love it. So so happy that you and your friend had a year that challenged and pushed you in your career—those are so valuable! Keep up the great work!


    Ravanne Leigh / November 18th, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Brittany! I could not agree more. Lately I’ve felt this constant pull at my heart when it comes to my work; am I settling because I want more out of my job? Is it wrong to be “content”, but not “thrilled” at work? It’s sometimes frustrating for our generation to cope with the fact that your “dream job” is not always a luxury you can have just yet. I realize that those “dream jobs” don’t exist, but instead they must be created. At this point in my life, I have tuition and bills to pay. I can’t just jump ship from my job without some kind of security arranged. So I’ve taken on the mentality to do what I can, with what I have, right NOW. I’ll do the best job I can and make the most of the opportunities I’ve already been given, while I pursue other things that will eventually bring me closer to my dream. The truth is that I’m YOUNG! I have plenty of time to achieve my dreams and that certainly won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, I’ll get all sorts of experience under my belt and prepare myself as best I can for the future.


  • Ann  / 

    I love this post. I’m feeling very much where you (and your friends) are right now – finding what I love to do, and now figuring out what that means and looks like in the long term. And also, learning how to navigate the work terrain with dignity and grace.


    Ana Perkins / November 18th, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Dignity and grace; yes! Love that you’re mapping out some long term visions—I’ve found those so helpful in my own daily grind; feels great to have a big picture and something bigger to work towards. Thanks for reading Ann!


  • Glenna  / 

    This post is one of those that makes you stop what you are doing and focus all of your attention. I have been REALLY struggling with this lately.

    I like that you pointed out that it is okay to have a job that you are not passionate about as long as you are content and it provides the life you desire. That has been my life up until … lately.

    I was talking with my husband last night and we decided on a game plan to try and figure out what it is I want to be doing that will make me happy, but also get us through law school. I wish I had the freedom to just drop everything and do exactly what I want, but that isn’t life.

    I really enjoyed reading this!



    Ana Perkins / November 18th, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Hi Glenna! Totally feel your struggle—it can feel so tough to find your passion as an adult with real life bills, jobs, schedules…adult life. But it’s so awesome that you and your husband are prioritizing this right now and that you’re giving it that kind of thought and attention. I know great things will come if it!


  • Miro - Dose of Dash  / 

    Loved this post, Ana, and I agree with Brittany, very timely.

    “There are also people who work to live; who’s ego isn’t tied up in their work, their creations, their business” — this has always fascinated me because I’ve spent so much time agonizing about being able to do something that completes me as a person and feeling resentful about having to do things that don’t. I’ve always envied those that can do this.

    I feel like a lot of Europeans (or at least European friends of mine) are so much better at this than Americans. We put SO much pressure on job as identity.

    We’ve talked about my lack of passion for my 9-5 before, and I have to say that over the past 5 or so months I’ve gotten a lot better at adopting this ‘work-to-live’ attitude (although I had to have a quarter life crisis, first).

    The Ruby and TXSC conference helped spur me to work on passion projects on the side and this has been life-changing. I’m busier than I’ve ever been, which stresses me out at times, but I’m able to be OK at work, leave work thoughts at the office, and then pursue things I’m excited about.


  • Jess  / 

    I totally relate exactly to what you are saying. I know where I want to be and what I want to be doing, and I am moving in that direction fairly quickly to be able to freelance full time, but it is still pretty scary thinking about making that jump. I know once I do it I will love it (I hope!) but it is those initial steps into unknown water, and the learning curve I will experience that freaks me out!


  • Sarah Brennan  / 

    I loved the post very much! And I can’t help but be so delighted that someone is in the same boat as me. My passions are moving forward as well, but whenever bumps get in the way it is very daunting. Good luck with your career and journey. Much love. Sarah


  • Clare  / 

    Wow! Couldn’t agree more Ana. I love how honest this entry is and how relevant it is in my life right now. I’m constantly looking for that “dream” job and well my job now makes me very happy. In my heart I know I secretly want to be a travel show host or a famous potter but these are the things that keep me happy in my private life: imagining and trying new things. A job is a job is a job. Yes it can be fun! But at the end of the day I’m not going to go home and do admissions, I’m going to go home and craft or cook a nice meal (with wine of course!).


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