I have a career existential crisis at least once a year. It used to be once every three years, but now it returns like clockwork in the spring. Perhaps because the spring invokes new beginnings. The dead awakening to life and sunshine. Every year I want to be reborn into something else, and most every year I end up simply reshaping the same-old. A handful of times I’ve shaken things up. Changed jobs. Started a new routine. Took up a new hobby that I promptly abandon a week or a month later. Dive into a creative project I eventually run out of steam or time for. You know. You’ve been there.
And every year, because I have not addressed the nagging feeling in a way that is permanent or meaningful, it nibbles at the back of my mind until I’m worn down and depressed and clawing at every direction that may offer me a reprieve. An escape. A new path.
I recently reached out to a dear friend for some advice, because he had gone through something similar and moved into a career and lifestyle that makes him truly happy.
He posed a question that has haunted me for the last two weeks. It should be simple, for someone with so many hobbies and interests and passions, to answer.
But… it isn’t.
“What do you honestly want to do? There has to be a day-to-day passion that can maintain your lifestyle and family. It’s a discussion that should be had.”
Y’all… this question scared me so bad I straight up ghosted my friend for a full week! I marked the email “Unread” so I would come back to it, and it glared at me from behind a screen for days afterwards. Nagging. Biting. Chastising me to answer it.
He was right. It is a discussion (with myself and the universe and my family) that needs to be had.
For years I’ve butted heads with this internal crisis to the point it’s no longer a mid-career crisis. It’s an annual career crisis.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my job. I enjoy design and marketing. But every year I feel unfulfilled by what I’m doing. I’m unhappy, bored, and see no room for growth in my current position (which has begun to feel more secretarial/administration work and less like design and marketing). Maybe it’s the type of projects I’m working on? Maybe I’m burned out on working for technical/engineering focused companies with limited space for creativity (I’m not talking about getting funky with booth backdrops, I’m talking truly creative projects). It’s like… if you ate a Ceasar Salad for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner five days a week for 52 weeks a year for ten years, eventually you’d want to throw the bowl against a wall and try something else.
But what is a day-to-day passion I could use as a career, which would bring me fulfillment, and not send our family into financial ruin?
A big part of me wants to be a full-time writer, but that will most definitely not support my family or lifestyle. That’s a long game and a long shot all wrapped in one lovely ribbon of “requires the statistical equivalent of being struck by lightning… twice.”
Lately, I’ve turned to taking freelance design and web projects to feed that fire in me that requires project diversity and creativity. I don’t even need the money. There was a time I pulled in freelance to afford rent. Now, I work twice as hard as I have to because I need the work for emotional fulfillment. It’s working, but because I’m doing it on top of full-time work and family life, it leaves little time for hobbies (writing).
There has to be a middle ground. Right?
So, the question haunts me. Like a really good haunt. Like The Haunting of Hill House type of haunt.
It’s hard—almost impossible—to just say, “I’ll quit or shift to part time and do freelance too.”
There are too many unknown variables. Too many ways it can go south. Most of what worries me is affordable healthcare, and it being tied to full-time employment. I’ve got really good coverage right now for me and my daughter, and I’ve got a host of autoimmune issues that require lots of appointments with different specialists every few months or every year. Then, there’s the lack of a client list and enough work to bring in an amount of money relatively close to what I make now.
It would mean potentially deep, terrifying sacrifice.
Part of me is kicking myself. I was trapped in my home for an entire year. Why couldn’t I have this existential crisis last April (I’m sure I did, but pregnancy brain has fogged it over), when I would have a year to plan and scheme and build my way out of the Now and into the New. A year ago I was pregnant and exhausted and *gestures vaguely at everything 2020*.
I just wish I knew how to focus my thoughts. Corral my panic and desires and dreams into a single focused stream to determine what I could do.
What I want to do.
And what would still keep us floating and healthy and safe.
I welcome any advice from those who have come to this set of crossroads. Who’ve been haunted by the words: What do you honestly want to do? Because fuck if I know.