How life after my dream job revealed my true career goal - Amanda's Career Story.
How life after my dream job revealed my true career goal.
On my first day as an intern at a major publishing house, I knew I’d found my ideal workplace. As a voracious reader, stepping into this wonderland office with its stunning view of the city and endless shelves of books was like a dream come true. “I have to work here,” I remember vowing to myself.
I interned there one day a week during my final semester of uni. When a vacancy came up, I was in the right place at the right time, and scored a job as an admin assistant. It was dry work but I took every chance I could to get involved in other aspects of the business – offering to take the minutes at meetings and reading every new manuscript anyone was willing to throw my way. When a position came up for a publicist focusing on children’s books, I threw my hat in the ring. Children’s and YA books were my passion and I knew how the media operated, thanks to working part time as a magazine journalist throughout my degree. I landed the job.
The next two and a half years were crazy. There’s no denying that life as a book publicist had its glamorous moments. I travelled around the country with bestselling authors, met many important and creative people, stayed in nice hotels, read highly anticipated books before they hit stores, and attended fancy dinners, writers’ festivals and even the occasional movie premiere.
I lived and breathed the publishing industry, and I adored spending time with my colleagues. Sometimes instead of going home on a Friday night to relax and unwind, I would stay back in the office so I wouldn’t miss out on any of the inside jokes. When I was at home, I spent an unhealthy amount of time checking my work email on my phone and scrolling through our social media feeds, interacting with readers and authors. Once I was out at dinner with my partner and received a DM from a stranger looking for advice on breaking into the publishing industry. I replied right then and there, ignoring my poor boyfriend in favour of someone I’d never even met. I didn’t think twice about it.
My partner was actually the reason I ended up leaving publishing. He’d accepted his own dream job in a city three hours away. A city with no real literary scene. After many months of long distance, I knew I was ready to bite the bullet and make the move.
When people talk about heartbreak, it’s usually tied to relationships. I’d never realised leaving a job could break your heart too. I grieved for the life I’d left behind. I missed the people, the creativity, the books and the autonomy. As a publicist, I’d organised huge book tours and national media coverage single-handedly. In my first post-publishing job as a social media coordinator, I wasn’t even allowed to post directly to the organisation’s Facebook page. In publishing, I’d once had an award-winning author thank me in front of the entire company for being the best publicist she’d ever had. In my new job, my manager congratulated me for printing out a document. Even though the people were nice, I couldn’t stop comparing it to what I’d had. I lasted four months before quitting to take a role in a totally different field. The good thing about my years in publicity was that my skills and experience were easily transferable to other jobs in communications.
It wasn’t long before I was unhappy at my new workplace too. I knew I was lucky to be employed, and it was nothing to do with the work or the people. It was me. I hated the feeling, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t just suck it up and get over it.
Publishing had allowed me to constantly challenge myself. I’d been lucky to have bosses that trusted me and believed I could get the job done, and I’d thrived under that pressure. I realise now that not many twentysomethings are given that kind of freedom or responsibility so early in their careers. Most workplaces are hierarchical, with seniority determined first and foremost by age and job title.
Unable to find satisfaction at work, I looked outside my 9-5 for ways to feel stimulated. Of course, there were some missteps (including an improv class and half a semester of a terrible online university course) but other things helped. I started exercising regularly for the first time in my bookish, non-sporty life, and I finally began writing again.
I’d loved writing since I was a kid and had enjoyed working as a journalist throughout my degree. Deep down I’d always harboured dreams about one day becoming an author. Once I started working full time, I lost the energy and brain space for writing anything but emails and press releases. Working with published authors also intimidated me into non-action. Now, in an office with no authors in sight, not only did I start incorporating more writing into my work life, I also made small steps of progress at home too – going after occasional freelance opportunities and beginning a novel of my own.
With time, I understood how unbalanced my old publishing life had been. I’d loved the world of books, but I didn’t miss the constant anxiety and sleepless nights I’d endured while worrying about how to keep authors, journalists, colleagues and bosses happy. It was nice to leave the office and not have to think about work until the next day. By having the mental energy to explore my interests outside the office, I was starting down the road of discovering what I wanted next for my career.
On the first day back after the Christmas holidays, my boyfriend drove me to work. When he pulled up at the entrance, I burst into tears. It was then I knew that I had to do some serious soul-searching.
I didn’t want to go back to my old job. As much as I’d loved it, that part of my life was over. But I was afraid that I would never feel as professionally fulfilled again. It was time to do something about that. My partner had accepted a job overseas and I was going to join him. He often told me that this was my chance to do what I really wanted to do. I knew he was right, but coming to terms with that took time. In fact, it’s still an ongoing process.
After a great deal of journaling, listening to motivational podcasts and reading self-help books, I finally accepted that I wanted to write. This doesn’t sound like a big step, but for me, it was huge. I’d been so afraid of failure up until this point that I hadn’t even tried.
Maybe if I’d stayed in publishing, my repressed desire to write would have bubbled to the surface eventually. But truthfully, I think I would have continued to deny it. Leaving what I thought of as my dream job was hard, but it created space for me to unearth a set of goals that I’m deeply committed to achieving. I’ve got a long way to go and I still have plenty of self-doubt, but for the first time in years, I feel like I’m on the right track.