When it comes to work, I always had the idea that if I could find the “perfect” career, my life would be amazing. Everything would fall into place. I’d be passionate about my work, way less stressed at home, and in way better shape. Basically, it would be smooth sailing into the future. Honestly, when I thought about what my life would be like when I found my “perfect” job, I would envision a tidy, beautiful home, delicious meals, well-mannered children, and lots of tropical vacations. My perfect (read: unrealistic) life beckoned like a siren.
How It All Started
When I first left home at age 17, I entered the College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. To be honest, I had the idea that I was following in my dad’s footsteps, and subconsciously, I was competing with him. Looking back now, I can see that I made that decision from a place of insecurity, because I wanted to prove my worthiness and be seen as a success by my parents.
In my second year of engineering, I found myself hating the classes, and my marks started dropping. I felt completely unmotivated. At Christmastime, after totally bombing my thermodynamics final, I made the decision to transfer over to the College of Commerce to pursue accounting, thinking that a) I was good with numbers, so it made sense, b) accounting and business were practical pursuits, and it was a field in which you could always use your knowledge, and c) it would be easy enough to get an accounting job after I was done university. I knew, even then, that it wasn’t something that I was passionate about, but accounting seemed a good fit for my skills and temperament, and it was something that my parents would approve of (growing up, I had always got the message that I should become a professional), so I made the leap.
Entering the “Real” World
In the years following my first round of university, I held several jobs at a wide variety of companies, and I never felt happy. I had an underlying sense of boredom, and started to think that the solution to my problem was that I needed to own my own business. I daydreamed about small businesses I could start, researched franchises, and even came close to partnering with a couple of women in buying a physiotherapy clinic (that’s a long-ish story).
Most embarrassingly, I wasn’t engaged at work, even though the company I worked for was a really fantastic employer and ranked amongst Canada’s best, and, though I’m ashamed to admit it, I ended up getting a poor performance evaluation at work because I wasn’t doing the work I needed to do.
While being told that I was subpar at my job felt embarrassing and shameful (it was a term position that I had been aspiring to for awhile and that I had initially hoped would become permanent), I also distinctly remember feeling relieved. It was like I was being given permission to recognize that this wasn’t the field for me and that I could start to explore other career options.
How I Became a Dentist
Shortly thereafter, I was having a discussion with a few of my coworkers about what we “should” have done instead of becoming accountants, and I said, “I should have been a dentist. You get to work with your hands, interact with people, and you aren’t stuck in front of spreadsheets all day.” The idea stuck with me, and within a year, I had made a long-term plan to become a dentist.
It probably doesn’t surprise you when I say that dentistry hasn’t been everything I had imagined it to be. After practicing as a dentist for several years and finding myself with a failing dental practice, “happy” was not a word I used to describe myself. I was anxious, overwhelmed, stressed out, cranky, and lethargic, but not happy.
So I found myself daydreaming about other jobs again.
It Wasn’t About My Career
The thing was, though, that now I was pushing forty, and making a major career change was about as appealing as the steamed brussels sprouts that my mom made me eat when I was a kid. And I had enough self-awareness to recognize that, really, it wasn’t about my career. It was about my mindset.
With the help of several coaches over the course of a few years, I started to unpack the ideas I had about success, motherhood, work, and my purpose. What I realized was that I was hanging onto the idea that my “one true career” was out there, waiting for me to discover it, and if I could just figure out what it was, then I would live happily ever after.
I was beating myself up for not being able to figure out what that perfect job was, and the endless searching, researching, and introspection was a form of suffering that I’d chosen. When I was able to recognize that there wasn’t a single “soulmate career” meant just for me, I could start to let go of the idea that I needed to make a major career change. I could start to get really clear on what I wanted by life as a whole to look like, and figure out how my work could support me in living the life that I envisioned.
Changing My Limiting Beliefs
Changing my limiting beliefs around my “one true career” boiled down to:
- uncovering the underlying beliefs I had about my career and success
- starting to recognize where I was trying to live up to expectations that I felt had been placed upon me by my parents, family, and society as a whole and that I had internalized and adopted as my own (hint: when you say “should,” that’s an indicator that it’s something that you think other people want for you)
- getting clearer around what I wanted my life to look and feel like, and treating my life vision as an ever-evolving – not static – picture (I think of clarity as having layers that you peel back. You go deeper and deeper over time, revealing new layers as you discover more about yourself, and adjusting your vision to reflect your new discoveries.)
Freeing Myself From My Limiting Beliefs
Once I let go of the idea that there was a perfect career for me, I felt free. I could explore different types of work, knowing that I didn’t have to find my perfect match. It even made dentistry more enjoyable, because I could start to focus on how being a dentist could support me in the life that I want to build, and I could shift my dental career so that the work I was doing was what I enjoyed, in an environment I enjoyed.
Instead of owning my own dental practice, I decided to become an associate for a couple of dental clinics, working with people I could learn from and had fun with. With the pressure of being an owner relieved, I was able to focus on my continuing education in the areas of dentistry that I was most interested in, and now I’m expanding the ways in which I serve my patients. I also decided to become a life coach on the side, and I don’t feel the need to make it my dream job, which feels really good to me.
I don’t have all the answers, but I sure feel better about going to work every day. Letting go of perfect has meant less pressure, less stress, and more freedom, and that takes me one step closer to my life vision.
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