I used to think my livelihood and path towards fulfillment had to come from my career. Success and fulfillment were only things that could be achieved through some job you would hear people marvel at.
A job at a top public relations agency? That was considered impressive. Working long hours juggling different client accounts? It was admirable.
Growing up in a small town with 8,000 people and three traffic lights, I had always wanted more. Like most angsty teens, I dreamed of escaping the place and going on to live in a bigger city. One that had a diverse group of people, frequent events, and strong career prospects.
To set myself up for success, I filled up my schedule with things to do. I joined the drama group and started acting in plays, did swimming, participated in several clubs, and had a class roster of advanced placement classes.
I tried my hardest to do good, making sure my grades were staying up and vigorously preparing for standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. Independence and escape were important.
Figuring out a career path
There was a vague idea of potential career paths in my mind as a teen. I really liked making videos. I worked on web series and skits and had a YouTube channel. Audio Video Production was one of my favorite classes in high school.
Once in university, I chose the mass communication and media program. Wanting to get better at my speaking and writing skills, I specialized in public relations.
From there, I quickly decided I wanted an illustrious career in the journalism or public relations/media relations industry. It was fascinating to watch journalists be the unsung heroes on TV and in movies. My downtime involved reading The New York Times for hard news and picking up copies of Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone for long-form profiles. I was hooked.
I worked on my college newspaper as a news reporter and at my college radio station as an anchor. The positions got me closer to that vision of fulfillment I wanted, which was to get a media job.
Eventually, there was the realization of how the depiction of writers and journalists in Hollywood was a tad glamorized. Anyone who has ever read an article deconstructing Carrie Bradshaw’s spending habits from Sex and the City probably knows this.
But, it wasn’t just Hollywood that clouded the reality. The industry also did it. It didn’t matter if you worked 60 hour weeks in a low-paying journalism job, at least it was at a well-known news organization that would yield satisfactory expressions.
Are the jobs all they’re cracked up to be?
Towards the end of my college career, I had finally gotten the position I had been pinning for: an internship at a public relations agency. The role involved assisting with client accounts, compiling information on competitors, and finding ways to get a client media coverage.
I hated it.
Something weird about the PR industry is how being overworked and stressed is seen as normal and even cool. A job as an account coordinator usually involves 50-70 hour work weeks, juggling five to seven client accounts, and having to bring your laptop home to do work on the weekends, all while earning $32,000-36,000 a year.
My idea of fulfillment up until that point had always been to get a PR job and rise through the ranks. As I worked through that internship, that idea slowly faded away.
Figuring that it was just the particular job, I brushed it off. Once I graduated, I started applying for jobs in public relations and content marketing.
A lot of the jobs were paying $30,000-35,000 a year for roles that required tons of hours, lots of tasks, and no real growth opportunity. For a while, I accepted the idea of it.
I liked working in the field and wanted that coveted job title of account coordinator. It was a ticket to the life I wanted. A sense of fulfillment.
I never did get that job title. Numerous rejections came through, citing that while I was a good candidate, I didn’t have the two to three years of experience they wanted for the entry-level role.
Eventually, I took a blue collar job installing internet and phone systems. The job involved climbing telephone poles in the super humid 100+ degree Fahrenheit Texas weather.
All of the hard work I had done up to that point didn’t seem like it mattered. I just didn’t see how it could work given that all the jobs I came across paid $35,000 or under and required two to three years experience.
A Change of Direction
I’ve always been a big homebody. Give me a book and good indie movie and I can stay in the house all the time. I used to never like going out or traveling in faraway places.
It probably had to be due in part to the people in college who would come back from a five-week study abroad trip and act like they had gone through a ~~spiritual awakening~~.
Inadvertently, I ended up sort of being one of those people. No, I’m not going to mention living abroad every five minutes like some vegan crossfitter. (which one do they mention first?!?)
But after living abroad for 19 months in Thailand and Australia, my perspective has shifted. Living in those countries and traveling to other ones, exposed me to different groups of people.
I learned the value of experimentation and being put in a place of moderate discomfort. Travel opened up a part of curiosity I never thought I had before.
I do still desire to move to a bigger city like Chicago or New York. Although, the blind veil of willingly accepting a ‘cool’ position is lost on me now. What fun is it to have those jobs if you’re living paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford to do anything?
The reality is always different
A few weeks ago, I went to New York City and visited a friend while there. She had moved to New York right after graduating college and started working the dream position she had been working towards.
She revealed how she wanted to move somewhere else for a change of pace. Living in New York and making a shockingly low salary of $30,000 was tiring after a while.
A few people I know ended up moving on from their PR jobs. Into more fulfilling work that better aligned with where they wanted to go.
It made me wonder about how travel has ruined my sense of fulfillment. I got a taste of working in PR and I didn’t like it. The reality ended up being different from the expectation. Putting in the work and paying your dues is still necessary, but I now know that it doesn’t have to involve being miserable and broke all the time.
Putting in the work and paying your dues is still necessary, but I now know that it doesn't have to involve being miserable and broke all the time. Click To Tweet
The world is diverse and rich with experiences. Travel has brought me into contact with some wonderful lessons.
The lessons are not always some blissful “Eat Pray Love” kind of lesson. Being lost in the hectic streets of Myanmar is anything but relaxing. Running out of gas on a desolate road in Koh Chang, Thailand is scary. Both of those things happened to me. While they weren’t a zen and enlighting thing to experience, they did push my perspective to different limits.
I don’t desire to be one of those constant traveling digital nomads. My days of long and constant travel are behind me, but the effect of the experiences have stayed with me.
For the longest time, I tried to make sense of what I’ve been doing these past 3+ years I’ve been out of college. It has looked a lot different than I anticipated. For the longest time, that caused me anxiety.
I need to have a plan! Why am I not working in my field? Ahhhh.
I thought having a set plan was the key to success. Travel showed me it didn’t have to be that way. It wasn’t the end of the world if I didn’t get my dream job I’d been hoping for.
Priorities change, but the journey can teach you lessons you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
Did travel ruin my sense of fulfillment? I don’t think so. It just shifted it.
How did you find your sense of fulfillment in life?