A shot of encouragement, a kick in the ass, and a loving push for young people who have no idea what they want or how to get it
Career Rookie is a book for every grad, student, and 20-something who feels lost, overwhelmed, and anxious. It tackles the emotional and logistical WTF-ness of starting your career, answering questions like, What if I don’t have any experience? What if I went to school for something I hated? What if I have NO IDEA what I actually want? Should I just suck it up and settle? Because, honestly, this career thing is starting to give me an ulcer.
This fresh, fun guide gives even the most lost and overwhelmed a way forward. It explores passion, curiosity, uncertainty, self-sabotage, and more on the quest to shake off post-graduation paralysis. Finding the right career can seem impossible, but Sarah Vermunt is the fun-loving, straight-talking coach we all need to make feel-good work a reality.
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About the Author
Sarah Vermunt is the founder of Careergasm and the author of Careergasm: Find Your Way to Feel-Good Work. Sarah is a regular career columnist on TV’s CityLine, and her work has been featured in Forbes, Fortune, Inc., Entrepreneur, and Fast Company. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, and online at Careergasm.com.
Read an Excerpt
I Don't Know What I Want
When you graduate from school and start your career, you're kind of like an animal that's wandered out of the forest onto a busy highway. You see your future rushing toward you, but you feel paralyzed — frozen in the headlights. You know you have to pick a direction and get your ass moving, but you can't feel your legs, so you just stand there, stupefied, thinking, FUCK FUCK FUCKITY FUCK HOLY FUCK I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING TO ME WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW?!
You're supposed to know which direction to move in, right?
The answer is no. You're not supposed to know which direction to move in. You're not supposed to know what you want or how to get there.
Most of the career rookies I work with feel like epic failures because they don't know what they want. They say things like:
Why can't I just get my shit together and pick something already?
What kind of loser doesn't even know what they like?
WTF is wrong with me? Shouldn't I have this figured out by now?
Not only do they feel lost, but they feel stupid for not having it figured out — ashamed of their uncertainty.
Maybe this is how you feel, too.
But you shouldn't feel ashamed of your uncertainty.
Don't get me wrong, it totally makes sense that you would feel ashamed of your uncertainty. For the past 20-odd years, you've had a team of people cheering you on, saying, Work hard and you can be anything! We live in a hyped-up, fulfillment-obsessed society that constantly screams FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!!!
But how can you follow your dreams if you don't know what they are?
That's where the shame comes in. You think, Jesus, after all of this support and encouragement, how do I still not know what I want? So you assume the problem is you, and the self-flagellation begins.
Here's why the problem isn't you: At the same time as society has been cheerleading you to follow your dreams, it has also sternly been pointing its bony finger at you, saying, Follow the rules. Those two messages together amount to a weird kind of doublethink that essentially says, Follow your dreams! As long as they fit into this rigid set of broadly accepted rules! It's a mindfuck.
When kids are very young, they're encouraged to dream. I want to be a ballerina when I grow up! I'm going to be a baseball player! I want to make cakes! I want to be president! I'm going to be a singer!
Aw, isn't that sweet, people think, saying, Good for you! Dream big, kiddo!
But at some point, the societal doublethink kicks in, and words like rules and should and practical become more important. Suddenly we're forced to choose between should and want. And since the loving adults in our lives want us to be safe, they gently guide us to fall in line. This happens earlier than you might think.
The other day I was waiting to pick up a friend at the bus station. A little boy and his mother were siting in the bank of chairs behind me. As he played with his crayons, he said to his mom, "I'm going to be an artist when I grow up!"
"No, honey. That's not a real job," his mom said.
"Oh," said the kid.
"You can work at a bank like Daddy! Or you can be an architect! Wouldn't that be fun?"
"What's an architect?"
"Architects get to draw pictures of big buildings."
"Oh, okay," said the kid, and he went on with his coloring. He didn't seem discouraged or upset or even like he had been paying much attention to the conversation, but the seed was planted. He was six.
Fifteen years from now, that kid could be graduating from art school or design school, but instead he'll probably be graduating from business school or engineering school with a weird feeling in the pit of his stomach, thinking, Something doesn't feel right. I'm not really sure if I want this. On the other hand, I don't know what I DO want.
And that feeling will be 100% legit. He doesn't know what he wants because he wasn't allowed to want it. Years of even the most gentle and loving conditioning will do that to you. In fact, most of us at one time or another have been told that we're not allowed to want what we want — whether it was by a parent or teacher or society at large, and whether it was said sternly or gently.
That's how you lose touch with your desire. You push it down because it's not allowed. You start following the rules and doing everything "right." You adjust your expectations and dream appropriately. And then you slog it out in school for at least 15 years, and then graduate and wonder, How do I not know what I want? What is WRONG with me?
It's not you, honey. It's them.
So you don't know what you want. (We'll get there, I promise.) But you know what you don't want: a job that makes you want to walk off the edge of a tall building. You don't want to settle, but you don't want to chase some impossible pipe dream either. You don't want to go to some shit job every day that makes you feel bored or frustrated or burned out or like you're selling a little piece of your soul with each passing Monday. You know those people. It's your mom/dad/Uncle Jim/every other sorry schmuck who hates their job.
Figuring out what you want for your career is a lot of pressure off the bat, especially when you're feeling clueless. But you know what's easier? Getting clear on what you don't want. That's a good place to start because some of that stuff is probably on your radar already. I can almost guarantee that there are some people in your life that you look at and think, Yikes, that is SO not for me. Not in a million years. Gawd no. Their career seems dull or too stressful or like a full-blown dumpster fire, and, frankly, you don't wanna go out like that.
Maybe you're thinking you don't want a career like your dad's. Because the dude works all the time, and you hardly remember what he looks like. Or maybe it's your best friend. He always said he wanted to do something creative, and he ended up working in payroll. WTF?! Or maybe it's your older sister. She never took the time to figure out what she wanted and just did what your mom told her to do. Technically, she's doing everything "right," but you get the sense that she's not happy.
A client I'll call Maya — none of the names I'm using here are real, but the stories are — was encouraged to apply for a master's degree by one of her professors. And to help pay for it, she could even work in his lab. A master's degree and a guaranteed job to help pay it off didn't sound too shabby. But Maya noticed that her professor was fairly isolated in that lab. Maya was a social butterfly and wasn't especially psyched about the solitary nature of lab work or, for that matter, the area of study. So even though she didn't know what she did want, that particular option was a no for Maya.
Another client, Jerome, was groomed for the family business. In fact, he already knew his father's business inside out because he'd grown up in it. He now had a business degree and would be even more prepared to take over the business. But he had major reservations. He had no interest in living the lifestyle that his father had. He couldn't remember a single family holiday that wasn't interrupted by his father having to tend to some urgent business need, and he'd be damned if that was going to be his life, too. So instead of falling in line and doing what was expected of him, he said no.
Sometimes having a clear picture of what you don't want keeps you from accidentally straying down the wrong path. The people you think of and think, Yuck, I SO do not want that life may be lovely people, but for now let them serve as cautionary career tales.
Your Aunt Marg spots you at the family barbeque. You know exactly what's coming, so you try to make a run for it, but she's too quick, and she pins you between the lemonade and the dessert table. You haven't seen her since graduation, and she wastes no time getting straight to the point. Less than 30 seconds into the awkward conversation, she utters the four words most dreaded by twentysomethings everywhere: So what's your plan?
You mutter, "Oh, you know, I'm just exploring some options." But what you really want to do is karate chop her in the neck and drown her in her own bean dip while screaming, I DON'T HAVE A PLAN! I CAN'T EVEN THINK FAR ENOUGH AHEAD TO MAKE A GODDAMN GROCERY LIST! STOP PRESSURING ME ALREADY!!! *runs screaming through a brick wall, Wile E. Coyote style, never to be seen again*
So what's your plan?
How's the job hunt going?
Got anything lined up yet?
Questions like this probably make you want to go on a weeklong bender. SO. MUCH. PRESSURE. Why the hell does everyone have to get all up in your grill like that?! When you're feeling lost and stuck about your career, suddenly it seems like the whole damn world is keeping tabs on you. People like:
Clueless small talkers. These people aren't intentionally trying to stress you out. In fact, they probably aren't even aware that you're stressed. It's just that they don't know what else to say to you. It's people like your Aunt Marg or Uncle Jerry, who you only see once a year during the holidays. When people don't know you that well or don't know what to talk about, they'll often reach for the ol' how's work going? question, which, while fairly boring, is usually harmless. They're not trying to fuck with you or apply pressure, so just let it slide, give a short vague answer, and change the subject.
Button pushers. Now, these people are trying to fuck with you. And it's because they're insecure. I'm talking about your friend Melissa, who spends two hours over brunch every weekend sharing gossip and digging for more. Or your former classmate Jackie, who texts occasionally but always with an opening line like, OMG you won't belieeeeeve what I just heard about so-and-so. I'd put good money on Melissa and Jackie being button pushers — people who love drama and get off on the struggle and misfortune of others so they can feel better about themselves. Pay attention, and the next time you're at brunch, you'll swear you notice a smile curling at Melissa's lips as she asks, Sooooo, how's the job hunt going? Hopefully, you aren't friends with many people like this. If you are, you have got to find a better brunch crew. Or even better, say you have to go to the bathroom mid-meal and stiff her on the bill.
Loving allies. These people live at the other end of the spectrum. They actually and genuinely give a shit. These are probably people like your mom and dad and boyfriend or girlfriend and most of your close friends. Maybe they can see that you're struggling, and they just want to check in and see if you're okay. And they want to help if they can. GOD. BLESS. THESE. PEOPLE. Try not to get too triggered when they ask how you're doing and how the job search is going. They care, and they're on your side.
Loving allies disguised as assholes. Maybe your mom calls you about your job search every day. Or maybe your sister passive aggressively emails you 30 job posts for things you clearly have no interest in even though you've asked her to stop. Or maybe every time you see your dad, you're subjected to a preachy speech about "taking responsibility for yourself," and by the way, did you hear that so-and-so's son Neil just got into med school, and why can't you be more like Neil? My guess is that your loved ones and family members and especially your parents just want you to be okay. They love you. But they (mistakenly) believe that the best way to make you okay is to apply more pressure. (After all, it works for diamonds?) Try to remember that these people are probably loving allies behaving badly because they don't know any better. Tell them how you feel. Or at least stop taking all of those calls.
It's not like you're not putting enough pressure on yourself already. You'd happily get your shit together career-wise if only you knew what you wanted. But instead of having a vision and a plan for your career, you've got food court daze ...
Food Court Daze
Food court daze is that unfocused, slack-jawed daze you fall into in food courts. Should you get a burrito or a burger? Sushi? A sandwich? Pizza? There are too many options, and suddenly you're incapable of making good life choices. You find yourself in line at Taco Bell and wonder where it all went wrong.
Starting your career can feel like that, too. There are just too many options and things can get blurry and overwhelming very quickly. If you're feeling a bit of food court daze when it comes to your career, it helps to talk out your options with someone. Or even just write 'em down — all the stuff you're even mildly considering, even if you're not sure which option (if any) you should go for. Sales gig? Marketing internship? Learn a trade? Work for a start-up? Screw it and go back to school? Who the hell knows?
The point isn't to know with striking clarity right away. The point is to get the jumbled mess of ideas out of your head and onto paper, or into the ear of someone you trust. (Ideally, someone who will just listen, not tell you what to do.)
You don't have to choose any of the options currently on your mind if you don't want to. BTW, we're not even close to having to pick something yet. We just started, bro. We're just trying to bring some order to things, so you feel a little less dazed.
Now, sometimes the problem isn't just feeling overwhelmed about which option to pick; sometimes the problem is anxiety about picking anything at all — fear of picking option X instead of Y or Z, which boils down to:
But what if I pick X and regret it because I really should have picked Y?!
Choosing one door means closing others, and that's stressful. Because if you get a burrito, you can't also get a burger or sushi or a sandwich or pizza. Picking something means excluding other things, and maybe you'd rather keep your options open.
Here's the trouble with that line of thinking: You're going to get hungry eventually. Which means that you will have to pick something eventually. Better to thoughtfully consider your options now instead of hungrily grasping after something in a panicked last-minute fit of desperation.
But before we really start exploring your options, let's get honest about why you're feeling lost and what exactly it is you're struggling with ...
The Struggle Is Real
There are a handful of reasons why people feel stuck at the beginning of their careers. These are the biggies:
I have no idea what I even like.
This was my own experience after graduation. I studied journalism, but over the course of my studies I discovered I did not want to be a journalist. So there I was: lost AF, with no idea what I liked, only the knowledge of what I didn't like. Maybe that's where you are right now, too.
I want too many different things.
This might be you if you want to be an interior designer and a web designer and a massage therapist and a yoga instructor, and you just can't bear the thought of not doing all of the things. (This goes back to the fear of closing doors.) Or maybe you have "shiny object syndrome." You feel insanely passionate about one career idea for exactly one hot second before you're swept away, enraptured with something even more desirable. Your passion is hot but flaky and wildly inconsistent.
I know what I want, but it doesn't exactly pay the bills (at least not right away).
Maybe you want to write a book. Or make an app. Or design your own line of stationery. Or write and produce your own musical. That stuff will take a LONG-ASS WHILE before it starts making you any money. And in the meantime, you gotta find a way to pay for your Lucky Charms.
I know what I want, just not how to get it.
This is probably you if you went to school for accounting but actually want to be a screenwriter. Or if you want to open your own flower shop. Or start a furniture business using reclaimed wood. Some career paths are fairly prescribed, and the steps to get there are formalized and obvious (like for accountants and lawyers and engineers), and some aren't (like for screenwriters and florists and furniture designers).
I kind of know what I want, but I'm scared shitless to admit it.
This might be you if what you want is wildly different than the path you're on right now. Or if what you want is a huge long shot. Or if it's something your family or friends might disapprove of. It's less about being lost and more about being in denial. Letting yourself want what you want and considering the possibility of actually going after it scares the pants off you. And you're not sure what's worse — the possibility of failure or being chickenshit and never going after what you want.
No matter which category feels like you, we're going to cover that in the rest of this book.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Career Rookie"
Copyright © 2019 Sarah Vermunt.
Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
What the Actual Fuck Introduction
1. I Don’t Know What I Want
2. Swipe Right
3. Career Inspo
4. The Burden of Truth
5. Uh, Never Mind
6. But I Don’t Know What I’m Doing
7. Student Debt: A Sad Trombone
8. Career Legit
9. Interviewing like a Baller: How to Slay on the Big Day
10. Mo’ Money
11. Werk It
12. Are We There Yet?
It’s Go Time A Final Send Off