How do you make up for lost time?
I studied performing arts and acting but can’t seem to find work; I think I’ve lost interest in it. I tried working as a yoga instructor and lasted three months. I tried teaching music to kids, but when my boyfriend broke up with me, I left the job to travel. Now that I’m back from my meltdown, I find myself depressed at not having an established career, an established relationship, or a place of my own. I feel unaccomplished and well behind my peers. How do I know what career is right for me, and how can I get motivated to head toward standing on my own two feet?
Hara Estroff Marano is the Editor at Large of Psychology Today and writes the magazine's advice column, Unconventional Wisdom. Her newest book, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, grew out the groundbreaking Psychology Today article A Nation of Wimps.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
We now live in a culture that favors swift success. There was a time—the 1960s and ’70s, for example—when the economy was expanding and people could, and often did, take a more leisurely path to finding a productive calling. It’s long gone. There will always be late bloomers, those who discover their talents well into their life course, often by being exposed to a novel situation. And you did make a deliberate choice to travel; taking an alternative path has a value, but putting you on a career track is usually not it. Still, it seems to be a particularly contemporary problem that, in one way or another, so many young people feel they are behind their peers—or that they are in a race against them.
It is a fact that today, with each passing year that a job seeker has not launched a career, employers are increasingly skeptical about hiring that person, says Marty Nemko, a career coach based in San Francisco. “That may be especially the case where activities can be viewed as ‘flaky.’ It may signal someone unable to produce consistently.”
Long-term dabbling is no handicap if you have the wherewithal to be self-employed or have some expertise that can be lucratively deployed on a project basis. But that’s not the situation you’re in.
Although it’s best to be cautious about using your peers as a benchmark for all aspects of development, you voice a desire to be self-supporting. It’s time to capitalize on that desire, and to fortify it, by developing a clear plan for yourself, especially since feelings of depressioncan eat away at whatever motivation you have. The clearer the plan, the better.
How do you know what is right for you? Do not wait for lightning to strike. “It’s a canard perpetrated by motivational gurus that there usually is a career path perfect for you if only you parse out your interests, skills, and values,” says Nemko. “Too many people wait on the sidelines for the perfect career to materialize.” He advises picking almost any career within one of several broad aptitudes—word person, people person, investigative person, entrepreneurial type, office detail /programmer, or build-it/fix-it person.
You may have lost interest in pursuing a career on stage or screen, but that doesn’t mean you have to jettison what you learned in your studies. You can apply it in other arenas, where it may have targeted value. Have you considered putting your acting expertise to work training employees of major companies how to communicate effectively or make presentations at meetings? At a minimum you need to draft a résumé that itemizes and highlights those skills. In the search for experience to list on your résumé, don’t overlook the value of the expertise you can gain from volunteer efforts to teach others your skills, perhaps in local adult-education programs.
Motivation comes from many sources, but the most important is actually doing the work. Feeling productive is one of the pillars of the human psyche. Striving to develop competence at what you do—whatever it is—will go a long way to creating the sense of accomplishment you seek, and it could accelerate career progress on your own path, helping make up for the time you feel you’ve lost.