I had a different topic planned to talk about this week, but a lot has been going on at my day job that got me thinking about how we typically choose our careers.
A lot of creatives may doubt themselves when it comes to choosing a career path. Of course we all want to find a job that will first and foremost support us. If it can be something that fits well into our lifestyle, is fun, and gives us a sense of purpose, even better.
However, I’ve noticed a pattern where we will choose our careers based solely on the desire of being financially secure and stable, especially for those of us that are interested in working in the arts. Financial sufficiency is extremely important, but if it’s the only thing we pay attention to, it can sometimes lead us astray.
This week, I’m going to reflect on the following:
- How does society influence us to pick the career we don’t want?
- Why is the feeling of job stability and security largely an illusion?
- How can we carve out a career path that we love and provides real stability?
My goal for this is to give you some things to think about when you’re deciding on a career path or honing the one you’re currently pursuing. I also want to provide some comfort for those of you who are wanting to go against the grain and follow a path that other people in your life feel isn’t secure.
Society’s (not so) subtle way of nudging us along
I largely did all the right things growing up. Checked all the boxes.
I stayed in school. Got good grades. Got accepted into a top university. Chose a major in the STEM field, even went above and beyond and double majored in Computer Science and Math. Found an internship opportunity every summer. Received a job offer for a software engineering position right out of college and was earning a six-figure salary by the time I was 23.
For a black woman raised in a pretty typical, middle-class family, this was the dream. I couldn’t have executed the plan any better. I had done everything right and landed a stable job at a stable company in a stable industry.
There was only one problem.
I kind of hated what I was doing every day.
I loved the people I worked with, the pay and benefits were great, and my working conditions were always reasonable, but it just wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel like I was learning the things I wanted to learn. There were aspects of my job I liked, but overall I didn’t enjoy the day-to-day work over the long term.
My dream in high school was to major in music education. I loved music. I was a huge band nerd and I wanted to be like the music teachers that had always inspired me.
I was preparing and gearing up to major in music, until things started to get serious and I got cold feet. I had heard so many stories of how hard it was to get a teaching job, especially as a music teacher, and how little teachers were paid. I didn’t want to be struggling and burdening my family financially.
So I chickened out, and majored in something that I was already good at and was more conventionally stable.
That’s how I ended up as a software engineer.
The illusion of job stability
So maybe I don’t love what I do, but who cares, right? I’m making great money and can take care of myself. My schedule is pretty flexible and when I’m not working, I can largely do whatever I want. At least I have the security.
Then, last week happened.
The richest man in the world decided he wanted to purchase my company basically out of pure boredom. Feeling pessimistic about the financial prospects of the company and wanting to cash in on the deal (they can deny this, but we all know the truth), the company’s board obliged and every employee was thrown under the bus as a result.
All of a sudden, the job I was certain would always be stable and secure was suddenly filled with uncertainty.
These types of deals happen all the time in the tech industry. They’re almost always followed by a low period. Existing employees are laid off en masse while the new guy figures out what the hell he’s going to do to earn a return on his investment.
You don’t have to take just my experience with this either. We just went through a multiple-year long pandemic. Tons of people lost their stable jobs.
I know that seems like a rare occurrence. The pandemic was “unprecedented.” But if you take a look at history, it’s common for a recession to occur every few years. People unexpectedly lose their jobs all the time, even people with careers in typically stable fields.
I’m not trying to say that all jobs are created equal and you can get any job as easily as any other. I’m not that naïve.
However, I do think it’s bullshit that our society pressures us to follow a certain path. Those of us that want to go down a more creative path, doing something that isn’t “useful” are pressured into other careers. Careers where we’re extremely unhappy, but at least we’re financially stable?
Until we get laid off anyway.
If I’m going to lose my job regardless of my chosen path, at least let me do something I love.
Creating your own stability and security
Taking everything I’ve learned in my own career and from hearing the experiences of others, I’ve developed a new perspective on what it really means to be financially stable.
My belief is that the only way to be truly financially secure, is to be able to live off of your own wealth. The wealth you generate for yourself, not what an employer provides you.
Getting there takes time, but it’s 100% possible, and it’s possible to do it while doing the things you love.
Here are the steps I’m following.
1. Get a job, any job at all
I’m incredibly privileged and fortunate, and I will not deny that. I’m very aware that there are people all over the world that can’t prioritize their interests and passions before everything else.
I’m not telling you to go out and “follow your dreams.” I’m not doing that. That’s likely going to lead you down a terrible path unless you’re sitting on a trust fund.
But you also don’t have to just give up on them.
First, just get a job. Get any job that will pay you enough to support yourself, provides the necessary benefits, and treats you like a human being with value.
Do not go broke following your dreams. If you walk down that path, you’ll get trapped in struggling artist purgatory. No one wants that.
Once you’re fully supported, you can put food on the table and keep a roof over your head, you’ll have the mental energy to ask yourself, “What’s next?”
2. Start building wealth
Now that you have a job that’s paying you enough to support yourself, look at how you can start building wealth for yourself.
Is there any way you can cut back on expenses? Is there any money left over that you can put away? If you have any left over at all, you should first create a safety net for yourself. Build up an emergency fund in a high-yield savings account, 3-6 months of living expenses.
Having this savings alone will make you feel much more secure. I can guarantee it.
You’ll see how self-sufficient you are. If you’re employer screws you, you’ll be able to support yourself while you look for a new job.
That feeling of self-sufficiency is addictive. You’ll start wanting to create more security for yourself.
From there you can look into investing your money so that it will continue to grow over time without you even having to think about it. The returns of compound interest are wild.
I love talking about finance and money, but I’ll save that for another time. If you’re interested in how you can continue to build your own wealth, I love this flowchart.
3. Carve out your own career path
At this point you’re going to be in a really good place financially. If you’re anything like me, this is the point where you’ll get really bored. This is the stage I’m in now.
You’re self-sufficient, you have everything you need. The only problem is your doing work that doesn’t entirely fulfill you. That’s where things get fun.
At this point you can start figuring out what you actually want to do with your life.
What do you love? What are you good at? How can you provide value to others? Find the intersection between the three and go from there.
Notice that none of those questions have anything to do with a specific career path.
Money is something people give in exchange for value. If you can provide value to others, you can earn a living doing just about anything.
Now that you’re able to support yourself financially, let yourself dream. Dream big, and go after it with all you’ve got.
That’s why I’m drawing and sharing my art with others now. That’s why I’m writing this post. This is what I love to do, and I feel I can provide some value here.
I didn’t know what I was doing 4 years ago, but I set myself some goals and carved out time each week to work towards them. Now my dreams feel less like fantasies and more like a real possibility.
Just don’t burn yourself out in the process. Remember you’re a human being with limits. Building a career you love is a wonderful gift to give yourself, but it’s not worth a life of stress, anxiety and depression.
Dream big, but take care of yourself first and foremost.
The moral of the story
Job security isn’t a real thing. Security is a feeling and feelings are created from our thoughts.
Security and stability are feelings of sufficiency, so we will feel those things when we think we are sufficient, particularly self-sufficient.
My job and employer don’t provide me security. I have a sense of security because I know that if I get screwed over by my job, I can take care of myself for a significant amount of time while I figure out what’s next.
Again, I can’t overstate that the position I’m in now is one of privilege. Many will face obstacles outside of their control that hinder and significantly slow down their journey to self-sufficiency. These obstacles are typically systemic in nature and challenging to overcome for many.
But I do believe that it’s worth getting as close to your ideal career as you possibly can. What are some elements of your ideal life that you can incorporate in your routine today? Even if it’s something small or just a modified version of what you want, it’s worth implementing.
I do that for myself by spending 10-15 hours each week drawing, writing, and connecting with other creatives.
My wish to you this week is that you’ll question the “rules” of society just a bit. What would you do if all the rules you learned about careers were a lie. What if you actually could be an artist, a writer, a musician? What if you could do those things and create your own financial security?
You don’t have to act on the answers to those questions right now or ever, but let yourself ponder.
One day, when you’re ready, it’ll be an itch you can’t help but scratch and you’ll have the feeling of sufficiency you need to go after it.
Have an amazing week, my friends, and best wishes 💙
P.S., if reading this gave you some energy, share it with a friend who might need it as well. We all need a little pick me up sometimes. And if you want to chat, my Instagram and Twitter DM’s are open.