I’m about to get real with you in this post and share my personal post-grad existential crisis—because if you’re going through your own, I want you to know you’re not alone! Here’s my guide to following your dreams, annotated with examples from my own journey of how I ended up in the world of marketing and communications with a degree in physics.
Let’s start with a little background about me:
When I was looking for jobs in my senior year of college, I knew I didn’t want to do scientific research, which is what most science majors wind up doing unless they’re pre-med or engineers. I thought that maybe I would like data analysis, since I have a decent computer science background, don’t mind math, and it didn’t feel like a far departure from science.
My first job was at a nonprofit serving the most vulnerable adult homeless populations (i.e. physically and mentally disabled, substance abusers, chronically ill) working on their database of client information.
I found that once I got past the initial learning curve, I was doing the same things over and over again—and I wasn’t really motivated to push myself deeper and learn more about databases or data analysis. I found myself increasingly dissatisfied with my actual day-to-day work, although I still cared deeply about the mission of the organization and really liked my coworkers and working environment.
So this leads me to step one:
1. Be honest with yourself. If you could have any job in the world, what would it be? Don’t think about if you’ll be good at it, or if you’re qualified. Just allow yourself to dream.
I ended up with a lot of free time at my job, since I was pretty productive. This free time, coupled with my feelings of unfulfillment, led to a lot of inner reflection and analysis of what I felt was missing from my life.
I realized that I was having major creative itches, and nothing with which to scratch them! I’ve always been a writer, so not being able to write or do anything else creative for most of the day began to take its toll. In college, I always supplemented my science classes with writing for the campus newspaper, the literary magazine I founded, or literature or writing classes.
So, four years too late, I realized that my lifelong passion is writing and all the amazing things you can do with writing: communicating, building community, telling stories with impact. This realization came with its share of agony—I felt as if I had wasted the last 4 years of my life getting a fancy physics degree (that was not easy to achieve!!) that I now didn’t want to use at all. But being honest with myself about my dreams, for the first time in a long, long time, also gave me the clarity to begin pursuing what I am truly passionate about.
2. Research! What does it take to get there? What options do you have?
For me, this meant Googling “writing jobs” every single day and reading job descriptions to a) find out what kinds of jobs were out there, and b) gather info about the skills I needed to land a job. I also expressed interest in writing jobs to my friends, and was able to talk to someone about being a content writer at a tech company, which was an option I didn’t even know about.
From my copious number of Google searches, I realized that I would need to build a writing portfolio. I began Googling things like “How to build a writing portfolio with no experience” (lol), and planned to begin building a portfolio in my spare time.
3. Take the opportunities that come your way, and actively seek out opportunities.
I also began applying for jobs, even if I knew or thought I wasn’t qualified. I’ve gotten to the point where rejection really doesn’t faze me anymore, so I wasn’t afraid to put myself out there (a “no” isn’t the worst thing in the world!).
I eventually found a social media marketing internship that sounded exactly like what I wanted to do. And serendipitously, one of my best friends happened to work at the company, so I had someone who knew my writing skills and obsession with social media well enough to vouch for me. This definitely helped with getting my foot in the door, since I think the hardest part for me was getting interviews given my nontraditional background.
Once I did interview, I think that my newfound confidence that this was what I wanted to do showed that I was a good fit. I think the passion you have will show when you interview for a job that you know you’re meant to do.
4. Do everything you can to keep growing towards your #careergoals!
Although I loved working at my first social media and marketing internship (read about my experience here), the scope of my job was very limited because I was working at an early-stage startup with a super small marketing team. After three months in, I started feeling like I wasn’t growing as much anymore—I wasn’t learning as many new skills and I realized that there was so much more to the world of marketing and communications that I wouldn’t be able to explore at a small startup as opposed to a larger company or an agency.
Meanwhile, I had been looking for other jobs because working part-time wasn’t an ideal scenario for me, financially. I applied to a full-time summer internship for a communications agency and ended up getting the job (without networking, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there without connections!). It was pretty scary to make yet another huge life change, but I knew that working at an agency would be a great step for my career because I’d get exposure to basically all aspects of communications, from PR to digital strategy to media relations. Plus, the agency takes on causes that I deeply care about, like improving public health and education. As an extremely cause-motivated person, this internship felt like a good fit for my values and career.
I’ve just started this new gig, but am really excited about everything I’m learning! I think it’ll prep me for anywhere I want to go in the world of communications (and then I can go get a ~real job~ with ~benefits~).
Growth looks different for everyone, so it might mean a new job, taking more initiative and responsibility at work, or taking classes to learn new skills. Seize opportunities to learn the things that will ultimately get you to where you want to be. And if you don’t know where you want to be, it’s never a bad thing to continually learn and deepen your knowledge.
Some parting thoughts:
I was lucky enough to be in a situation where I could leave my full-time job and take a part-time one that made me happier. But if that’s not possible, you may still be able to gain experience doing what you love, whether that’s through volunteering, taking classes, or starting your own pet project (like…a blog!).
Obviously, I haven’t *made it* yet. But I am so much closer to where I want to be. The key for me was discovering that passion, which had been obscured throughout my life for various possible reasons: fear of unemployment, desire for higher pay and a comfortable life, fear of failure, fear of disappointing my parents.
And it turns out that I’m employed, care more about what I’m doing than how much I make doing it, am actually pretty good at what I’m doing, and that my parents have been, surprisingly, really supportive.
If you’ve taken a weird, windy, roundabout way to get to where you are in your career, I would love to hear about your journey. And if you’re just starting out, good luck! You’re so capable of achieving your dreams and I believe in you.
Sweater: American Apparel (R.I.P.)
Jeans: Weekday (made from recycled cotton!)
photos by Deborah Shepherd