Photo: Emily Long (featuring jewelry by etc…modern vintage jewelry)
To our Qlette readers:
Last week, we received the below question from one of our readers. After reading the email, we knew we had to post it on the site because so many women our age will be able to relate. We then asked our wonderful contributor Janah (who provides guidance for a living as a college admissions counselor) to help answer this email because we were sure that Janah would provide the most honest, empathetic and thoughtful feedback. Thank you so much to our reader for writing into us and if you have something on your mind, we encourage you to do the same so we can all try to navigate these quarter-life years together.
I am 25, still live at home and just finished college this past December. In high school, I was an over-achiever, very driven and had no doubt I would be successful. Once I got into college, I lost that drive. Freedom, booze and having fun all took rank over planning and working for my future. I always kept a job and took care of bills I needed to, but never really took control of my life and career path. I was let go of a couple of professional, office-type jobs a few years back, unexpectedly, which is the worst feeling ever! I was always able to find something, waitressing or whatever to take care of my financial obligations until the next opportunity came along. The last 2 years I have been able to hold the same job, which is just that, a job! It’s been low stress, EXTREMELY laid back, paid the bills and flexible hours allowing me to finally finish school with a Business degree. However, it’s very monotonous, hasn’t challenged or added to my skill set and I have become complacent here. I am ready to be making better money and take the next step in my career and accept a position that is more challenging and gives me something to look forward to everyday. However, I have so many insecurities about failing and being let go because I may not be competent enough to do what is expected (like in my younger 20s). How do I get over this and become the confident, driven, successful human being I foresaw myself being back in my younger years?
I think for many of us growing up, 25 sounded like the perfect age. The age where you’d be working in your dream career, enjoying your fabulous relationship with your perfect man and traveling the world on your extended holidays. We all probably thought we’d be more like SATC’s Carrie with our fantasy career and a cosmo on the side versus a Rachel from Friends still working at the local coffee shop figuring things out. Crazy how real life starts to happen somewhere in between our planning and dreaming, right? Here’s the thing – being 25 is NOT the deadline in having your life figured out. In fact, it’s usually the point where you’re just starting to grab a few more pieces to your own puzzle and slowly working toward the big picture. So don’t be so tough on yourself.
I see key phrases in your letter like “still live at home” and “finally finished college” that indicate you think you are not part of the status quo and need to be fast-forwarding to anywhere-else-but-here. If we took a poll of women at age 25 and asked if their life was exactly where they wanted it to be at that age, I promise you, the results would show you that you are not alone.
The first step to getting over your fear of failure and possibility of more disappointment is really to stop looking back and stop looking next to you. Dwelling on your past will do you no good. Reflecting on the event in order to find the lessons you were meant to learn is your only reason to look back. Once you’ve taken your notes, keep it movin’! As you turn your energy forward, please also refrain from looking at who’s right next to you and what they are doing. I’ve said it before, but it’s true, comparison is a nasty bug! It’s hard to focus on what you do have going for you, when all you can think about is what you don’t. If you want to move ahead, look ahead. Start reviewing those notes from lessons learned in the past and creating a plan of action to put them into play for your successful future.
Unfortunately, there is no playbook on how to get things right and avoid mistakes. Take it from the woman who’s become a pro at job interviews, HR manuals and 1040 tax forms from having two careers and seven jobs since college graduation. The first time I got let go from a job, I walked in thinking I was getting a promotion and walked out sobbing into a five-dollar foot long. Did I occasionally want to drown my sorrows in a martini when I felt like I had no idea where my life was going? Yes – only I couldn’t afford the martini at the time so I had to settle for microwave mac and cheese. Trust me, you aren’t the only one still trying to figure things out. You’ve got to start by building up the confidence you had before by not letting a couple setbacks become the excuse for staying where you are. That motivated woman with all her mojo is hiding somewhere under there – she hasn’t left the building!
Now that you know you aren’t in this alone, here are a few specific tips I’d start with:
- Surround yourself with nothing but positive people. This is a time of rebuilding your confidence and motivation. The best way to get inspired is to be around people who can inspire you. Expand your circle of friends and mentors. Make sure it includes people you can look up to and people who you can count on to encourage you.
- Start taking notes about what you do and don’t like about your current job. Pay attention to the moments that actually excite or challenge you. Take stock of the duties that make you want to bash your head on your desk repeatedly. Not quite sure what direction you want to take your career in? I personally enjoyed reading Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder 2.0 because it helped me feel more confident about what I felt I was good at and also not feel so crummy about the things I wasn’t so great at.
- Refrain from comparing your journey to anyone else’s. This is so important, I had to say it again!
- When things get frustrating, take a moment to appreciate the baby steps you are making (I’d say graduating from college is a pretty big baby toddler step!).
At the end of the day, just know you don’t have to have it all figured out right now and rest assured that most of us don’t. You took a courageous step already by writing this letter and asking for advice, so kudos to you! Stay positive, focus on your passions and keep moving forward. You have work experience, a college degree and so much opportunity to look forward to. You’ve got this!
Your Fellow Quarterlette,
Quarterlette sisters – did I miss anything? Please add a comment with any advice you’d like to share on how you’ve conquered your own battles!