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I have a good job.
I have arguably the best job that I could have within my specific field of study. I work at a prestigious university hospital alongside some of the best cardiologists in the nation—yet I don’t feel “successful.”
Call me ungrateful, or perhaps just a millennial—they’re essentially synonymous—but I know that my career no longer feels like how I want to spend the rest of my life.
Dissatisfaction crept up on me for months while I was busy telling everyone I had an “absolute dream job,” convincing anyone who asked, “How’s work?” that it was more than just “fine,” that everything was perfect.
I noticed this misalignment in my life just after graduating yoga teacher training. Even though I never intended to teach yoga, I knew the training would lead to a better understanding of myself. I took the process seriously and uncovered a vast disconnect between my soul’s identity and my job title. I quieted the questioning, because I knew I didn’t want to quit my day job to become a yoga teacher.
But all the while, I was avoiding the real issues at hand:
Why did I want something else?
What was the “something else” I wanted, if not teaching yoga?
And the most troubling yet: what was stopping me?
The first clarifying moment came alongside a book gifted to me by a friend: The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna, an extended version of the author’s original essay. I gobbled up Luna’s words in under an hour.
The “Should” Luna describes is a decision we make because we feel we “ought to.” Sound familiar? We all have them on a grand scale as well as day-to-day sized.
The “good job” I felt called to question was one I’d been told countless times I “should appreciate.”
On the other hand, a “Must” is something we feel called to do. If that sounds too hippie-dippy for you, think of a “Must” as a decision you make regardless of whether you will be paid or even recognized. A “Must” can be found lurking humbly alongside your passion, your side hobby, or even a recurring idea. We all have these, but what we must do isn’t always so clear behind the strong influence of should.
The reason I was feeling so weird in my desirable and secure career is because it was a big, fat “Should” I chased and made part of my identity.
Most days at my nine-to-five are easy, though some strenuous shifts leave me with little to no energy at the end of the day to dedicate to my side passions. But one day, I thought about quitting my job and had an anxiety attack in the bathroom in the middle of the day. I knew it was time to be honest with myself about my feelings toward my career. My plan was to take a break, go home, and get my sh*t together.
After patting my face with cold water and slipping back into my smile, I strode into my boss’s office hoping for the go-ahead to leave early. Somehow, my conscience led me to vomit a quarter-life crisis confession between sobs, “I just—*sniff*—don’t feel like I’m—*sniff, sniff*—following my passion.”
I listed in detail all the reasons why I felt disconnected from my job. Instead of firing me on the spot, my boss offered the most important words I’ve ever heard:
“It’s okay to change your mind. You’re 25. In fact, it would be crazy if you got to this point in your life and never did.”
She not only gave me permission, but offered sincere encouragement to chase my dream, even if that meant leaving the career for which I endured four gruesome, expensive collegiate years. While this was a sigh of relief, I walked out of work feeling a lingering whisper of guilt for wanting to stray from this point I worked so hard to arrive at in the first place.
Fear rushed to the forefront—how on earth would I pay for another degree when my husband and I already battle a wrath of student loans with our comfortable income? How many times would I have to explain to parents, relatives, past teachers, and friends that I “gave up” my secure job to chase a vague dream? Do I deserve to look for purpose elsewhere when I’m not even sure what I want yet?
I couldn’t ignore this feeling, but I was terrified to act on it, and I don’t think I’m alone. This is not just my own struggle—this is a collective burden.
My purpose is slightly out of alignment with my practice, and here’s the reason why: with my 17-year-old naive wisdom, I chose the wrong career on my first try. And I understand that it’s now time to do some soul searching.
So why am I still terrified to change my mind? What fears are keeping me from quitting my job?
I’ve been told I should stay at my “good job,” because “you can’t find retirement contribution matching like that anywhere else!”
And I shouldn’t abandon my college degree, because how selfish—I paid a lot of money for that.
We’ve all heard statistics comparing college costs 30 years ago to today. It comes as no surprise that Americans are neck-deep in student loan debt right now, to be exact, 1.48 trillion dollars deep, according to the Federal Reserve System. With tuition prices and the demand for a college-level education increasing simultaneously, the expense of changing your mind in your mid-20s these days could double as a horror film title.
We care a lot about money, most likely because we are tied to the great lot of money it took to become qualified for the job we no longer feel passionate about. What happens when we tack on another expensive training program or degree?
2. Perceived Status
“But you have a good job. Do you know what someone would do to be in your position?”
There’s obvious risk in abandoning a secure income for a dream that isn’t guaranteed. What’s more obscure is the risk of abandoning how others view us. When I explain what I do for work, most people are satisfied and don’t really ask questions. Because I have a fancy job title, am part of an impressive institution, and do not display financial insecurity, I check off all the boxes for a “successful millennial.”
Our ego faces potential damage when we step into a place of unknown. On an individual level, this is difficult to overcome but manageable. As a generation, millennials face a lot of pressure: first, to become qualified for work environments typically created under old-time values, then to uphold a reliable rapport according to the standards of our parents’ generation. To some, it may seem we’re set up for failure, but to other more optimistic folks my age, this is just the “path to success.”
3. Indecision Shaming
I’m constantly reminded that my age group is not known as the most dependable generation, largely because of the prevalence of those of us who change career paths before putting 30 years in at one place. We’re already hesitant to change our minds because it will likely cost a lot of money. We may be called “flighty” if our alternative plan doesn’t fit into a predetermined college major.
What’s more, when we leave one job for an entirely new path, we threaten to reinforce the popular opinion that millennials are unreliable.
For every person who told me years ago to start thinking about “what I want to be,” there was someone in the other ear warning me not to get attached to any dream because I’d likely change my major at least once in college. It became a challenge to stick with one path, not only out of convenience and cost, but to prove myself as anything but indecisive.
Instead of allowing myself to explore new interests, I picked a path, scoffed at any indecision, and stifled complaints. Guess what happened? Older generations, employers, friends’ parents patted me on the back, impressed by my “self-awareness.”
Our limitations are not imaginary—they’re large, in charge, and likely telling us that we should appreciate the “good job” we have, and not go searching elsewhere for happiness. Well, I call BS.
If something tells you that the path you’re on is not quite right, even if the voice is small, there is nothing to lose by listening to it. When we consult our intuition, we create the opportunity to improve our situation, or else succumb to another “Should.”
Whether it’s time to leave the job that doesn’t feel quite right, or just to wake up an hour earlier each day and dedicate more time to a creative side endeavor, fear is the only thing separating us from the change we might need.
But what happens when the fear is really, really loud?
I’m still trying to find the best answer. When I feel stuck in a swarm of my fears, I try to remind myself of three things I’ve learned in my quarter-life crisis:
1. I’m not alone.
Elle Luna’s book, The Crossroads of Should and Must, featured some of my favorite words by Joseph Campbell:
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path.”
While it’s daunting to imagine following no example but that set by my own heart, it’s hella empowering to know that I have not only the potential but the yearning to write my own story from scratch. Albeit individual, this journey does not separate me from community, but rather draws me closer to my resources of support, knowledge, and purpose for being of benefit to others.
On a particularly tough day of feeling misunderstood and directionless, I conducted an S.O.S. poll throughout my social media community wondering if anyone else could relate. To my surprise, the responses kept my inbox busting at the seams for hours. Despite the variety of individual stories, each person explained that he or she also feels stuck in a less-than-meaningful job but suffers from one or more of the fears I exposed.
I felt an immediate shift from helpless to hopeful, from isolated to connected, from stranded to supported. If this sensation is communal, then so might be our tools to find a solution.
2. It will take time, and it will not be easy.
Sometimes, I get impatient and want to shut up, settle for my comfortable position, smile, and nod. If the pity party I occasionally throw myself stays alive too late into the night, I return to gratitude, which usually puts my woes to sleep. I remember how fortunate I am to have the choice to stay or go.
The Crossroads of Should and Must reminds me that if possible, it’s really important to pay the bills while giving ourselves time to search for the right path. In other words, don’t quit your job the moment you have doubt.
Discomfort is a great sign that an area of our life needs more attention, and it’s always there just before something amazing happens. If we stay tuned, we’ll be there for the whole show. So when I have hard days, I recall the ups and downs I had leading up to every grand life transition I’ve had prior to the one I’m in. This is just the waiting period before the sky breaks on the big screen of my life.
3. It’s okay to change your mind.
I’ll always remember the simple gift of recognition my boss gave me. She saw me as more than just an employee in my most vulnerable moment, risking my own job security, and treated me like a real person. It’s not often a 25-year-old can say that about someone twice her age and multiple times her status in the workplace.
I try to say this to myself every time I muffle my instinct. As it turns out, I usually need these words at least five times per day. It’s simple, but sometimes we forget: you do not need anyone’s permission but your own if the choice feels right.
“It is here, standing at the crossroads of Should and Must, that we feel the enormous reality of our fears, and this is the moment when many of us decide against following our intuition, turning away from that place where nothing is guaranteed, nothing is known, and everything is possible.” ~ Elle Luna.