Do What Makes You Happy

Do what makes you happy. Follow your dreams.

Get into debt.

My 22-year-old self believed in the follow your heart method of job searching. I wanted to believe with every fiber of my being that I could have a perfect job reading books every day and not have to worry about anything else. An idyllic job was waiting for me. My nearly 29-year-old self can say that it is a myth. Following your dreams will not mean that you never work a day in your life. Or that following your dreams means that there is no debt to follow, especially since I’ve always known that I was responsible for all of my finances. I bought into the myth so much, and didn’t care about what it would mean to have the burden of student loans hanging over me for the rest of my life.

It’s a story we’ve heard before, a generation encouraged to follow our dreams and not worry about finances, it was touched on in Anne Helen Peterson’s article on Buzzfeed about burnout. We were so encouraged to do what we wanted, we (including ourselves, parents, and others) didn’t consider the consequence of such decisions. So when I chose to be an English major because I liked reading, I didn’t really know myself well enough to choose something I liked but would have provided a stable job. Or when I made a decision to go to grad school because my job prospects were not great as said English major, I just signed on the line and waiting for my grad school student loans to hit my bank account.

It isn’t practical to think this way. And every time I get in a thought spiral about what I should have done, like save money from my part-time job in high school, choose the right major, wait a year or research more about my options before going to grad school, I want to cry. I take responsibility for making choices that were based on following my heart, rather than a more pragmatic approach like considering my future debt to income ratio. I acknowledge that there were better choices I could have made. But what does that mean for me now?

I’m seeing the effects these decisions had work their way into my every day life. I didn’t save any money before coming to New York, I didn’t research what the average publishing salary was, I just knew that I needed a change from my life. How could I have made a decision so flippantly?? Because I knew my future self would figure it out.

Here are some thoughts about my previous decisions: I have a lot of debt, I’ll probably never own a home, and I can’t even imagine having kids because they cost too much, and the industry I chose doesn’t pay a high earning salary. I do have a job that is not my dream exactly so I can be financially independent, but still bound by my debts. My job still allows me to work in publishing, so I’m at minimum working in an industry I care about, but it’s not THE DREAM JOB.

I don’t have a moral to this story. Hindsight makes everything clearer. I can move forward with my life in a more thoughtful way than I did when I was 22, but I can’t help but see that I’m still caught up by this feeling of do what makes you happy: every time someone asks me if I am going to look for a new job or every time I think that I’m not where I want to be in life because it’s not the dream.

I don’t have to be bound by this expectation if it means I can make better decisions for myself.


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