Discomfort During Change: A Guest Post About Exploring The Search For Passion In A Career

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve shared a guest post here on curiouser & curiouser, and I’m so excited to pass the baton over to my friend Kristen McBee for today’s post. (Kristen: I thought it was especially good timing to publish this today because it’s your first day of school! Yay!)

Kristen is one of my very favorite people, and it’s kind of amazing that we’ve become as close as we have, because we know each other in a very roundabout kind of way. Kristen went to high school in the Atlanta area with Kevin, and she and I first got connected through a rather chance meeting. (A few weeks before Christmas in 2012, Kevin and I found an adorable pit bull puppy and, long story short, Kristen’s in-laws ended up adopting Lincoln.) Kristen and I just kind of hit it off, and since then we’ve been on a couples ski trip together and have a weekend in Asheville planned for October. (Kristen and her family live in Knoxville.) We also had overlapping pregnancies and are now navigating new motherhood simultaneously (her son, Theo, turned 1 last week), which has definitely strengthened our bond. We G-chat often, and talk about topics ranging from the everyday to the big deal.

I’m so glad Kristen is in my life, and I’m also proud of her for being right at the beginning of a big career shift. As you’ll read in her post below, she’s made the not-so-easy decision to leave a well-paying career to go back to school and pursue something she knows will bring her much more joy. Of course, this comes with apprehension, but also excitement and conviction, and I am honored she was willing to share a bit about this journey.

I’ll let her take it from here. Over to you, Kristen!:

I’m sitting here on my own back porch, and I’m uncomfortable.

It’s the middle of the weekday, and I’m at home. No job, no deadline, no work to-do list, and, thus, no income. For the past decade, I have had the usual 8 to 5 to go to, but I recently quit my well-paying engineering job to go to graduate school with the intention of becoming a public librarian. Read: I’m going to pay for a degree that will help me get a job where I will earn probably half as much as I was just earning. I’m a practical, pragmatic, optimize-everything kind of person, AND I have a baby, so this just doesn’t make sense.

Except that it does.

I’ve spent the last 10 years since graduating college on a happiness roller coaster. I’d get a new job or a new role and be jazzed for a while, then it would wear off, and I’d get apathetic. Apathy would usually morph into depression because I seem to have wrapped up my sense of self-worth into my career success and the size of my paycheck. Sound familiar? Americans are great at that. We find it so difficult to forgo income to find purpose. Purpose. That elusive unicorn. I have all sorts of purpose in my personal life – a family I love, friends for any occasion, social justice activism, a strive to be a better human and to better understand other humans. But purpose at work? I haven’t had that since those first few months out of college when I still naively believed I could make the world a better place while working at an international conglomerate.

Perhaps purpose at work isn’t the most important thing. Maybe work’s purpose can just be to pay for our lives at home. And that’s how I treated it for the majority of the last few years. But then I had a baby. He’ll be one soon, and my priorities shifted completely when he was born. It’s no longer palatable to leave him at day care all day while I sit at a dead-end desk doing not much of anything of value. So this idea of mine that I’ve been talking to my husband about for four years is now in action.

I am lucky that I am afforded the opportunity to quit working and go to school for a couple years. I am lucky that I can afford to plan on earning half as much income when I graduate. I’m lucky there is a highly-ranked school in my town for the degree I seek. None of that is lost on me. Not everybody can do this the way I am, as easily as I am, or even at all. My sister did her librarian graduate school online while maintaining a full-time job. (No kids yet, so that helped!) What’s also not lost on me? The excitement, the passion, and the interest I have already – and I’m only in the school orientation portion of school! I am so excited that I registered for a double courseload (oops!), and my advisor had to explain what a full courseload is in grad school. I am so excited that I have planned each of my semesters’ classes, my practicum, and a couple conferences I plan to attend. (I’ve never been to a conference. Who gets excited about conferences? Probably only people who haven’t gone to any.)

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When I tell people who know me that I’m going to school to become a librarian, most say, “Ohhh, yeah, that makes sense.” Yes! It does make sense! I’ve been an avid reader since, well, since as long as I’ve been reading. So since Kindergarten then? I regularly give books as gifts. My small talk chit-chat is usually about a book I’m reading or what my conversational partner is reading or a book in the news or a book that helped me during a specific time in my life or…you get the point.

At one point, I was in four book clubs at once. My neighborhood librarian staff knows me by name. (Maybe I’ll be a colleague of theirs one day!) So, yeah, this does make sense. Even if I feel weird right now for eschewing cash flow with its fancy vacations and new clothes and restaurants and other things we buy that we don’t actually need. I’ll be providing my husband a happier wife and my son a happier mom, and that’s worth it. That doesn’t mean I’m not nervous and scared and anxious about the future. Of course I am all of those things – I’m Type A!

But as my husband so aptly and lovingly said during a moment of major buyer’s remorse on this whole endeavor, “What’s scarier: 30 more years of well-paid crying or having a slightly less luxurious life that you’re proud of?”

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