Several months before my thirtieth birthday, I lost my job.
I wish I could say that I didn’t see it coming, but the truth is, the signs were there for all to see. The company I was working for at the time was going through several rounds of widespread redundancies, and neither position nor performance mattered as team after team were let go.
Whatever the cause, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
After spending several years building a new skill set, I had only just moved fields from one to another, and I didn’t have enough experience in my new one to get a job there, nor enough opportunities in my old, either. What I did have, however, was a dwindling bank account and an ongoing stream of bills to pay that set a strict timeline until I arrived at complete and utter bankruptcy.
It was terrifying.
For all the direness of the situation, however, one odd detail about my job searching at that time stuck out to me. The majority of positions I applied for were in the new field I had moved into, but each and every one of them terrified me. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work or even found them unappealing. On the contrary, the majority were well-paid, and far more stable and well respected than those in my previous career.
What was going on, then?
As I searched for the right path forward, the answer to this question eluded me until one day, when a specific event brought it all into focus. On a whim, I decided to look at the careers page of a company I had been interested in for some time when I found an advertisement for an interesting role. One that combined the skills from my old career with the new, but one in which I had little direct experience. It was, however, the first time in months that I had seen an advertisement and felt calm.
The very next day, a contact at my old company rang and offered me a position in a related department to my old one, and suddenly, I was in a bind.
On the one hand, I had an immediate opportunity in my new field that could give me the stability I wanted, kick start my career, and protect my bank account all at the same time. I would be employed at the time the clock ticked over on that big milestone age – an important psychological factor to me at the time – but I would also carry around that same, unplaceable feeling of dread. On the other, I could take a chance at an opportunity I had no guarantee of getting, but one that made me feel calm and relieved merely thinking about it.
The situation in this example is dramatic, but each and every one of us faces ones just like it every day. Big and small, our interests and possibilities are constantly cast up against raw need and the ebb and flow of the world, forcing us to choose.
When you were younger, it was often easier to align your interests with the things that spoke to you. Whether you liked a movie, a type of food, a place, or an activity, your mind and heart were connected as one. As you grew older, however, it became harder to connect certain activities to the outcomes you wanted, and your parents, friends, and families often urged you – from the best of intents – to take paths more guaranteed to provide a greater chance of success, whatever they might be.
And so you lost your connection.
You lost your voice.
But it’s not gone forever.
Deep down inside your heart, it remains. Your true self, the one that remembers all those things that captured your attention when you were young. Though it might grow wiser over the years, develop and evolve as your tastes and understanding do, the piece that is uniquely you can never be given away.
Most importantly, it knows the way.
Each time you make a decision that goes against that voice, a sense of wrongness grows inside your heart. You become more tired, stressed out, and frazzled, and if you keep on going, you’ll eventually reach the point where you’ve tricked yourself into believing this is all there is in life, that this is how it’s supposed to be for you.
But it’s not.
You don’t have to choose things that terrify you because that’s what everyone expects.
You don’t have to shy away from things and places because they don’t fit some golden path, and you don’t have to give up on something you love because you should have ‘grown out of it’ long ago.
What you do need to do is rediscover that voice, and remember who you are.
It will be quiet in the beginning, but that’s only because you haven’t spoken to it in some time.
Its ideas will sound strange, too, but that’s only because you haven’t listened to them for so long.
But it’s still there, I promise you.
And the more you nurture it, the more you turn your attention to its needs, the more that sense of wrongness will begin to disappear. You’ll start to wonder why you ever carried it around on your back to begin with and, more importantly, you’ll discover there are other people in the world who are just like you, who accept you as you are.
In the end, I chose my heart, turning down the opportunity for the one less certain. I got it, and in the end, it turned out to be the perfect combination of new and old I was hoping for from the very beginning, one that’s opened me to other possibilities and avenues I hadn’t even considered because I had blocked them out from my wanting for so long.