Out of college, I was a bit of a mess. That’s what I would have told you, anyway. On the surface, I was put together. I graduated magna cum laude with a 3.8 in Molecular Biology, had professor recommendations under my belt, and a clear goal to apply for a PhD program in Clinical Psychology.
But as I sat in the dry Colorado sunshine on graduation day, this thought popped into my head: “I never have to go to school EVER again…” As soon as I crossed the finish line, it nauseated me to think about going back to school right away.
But I felt lost. If I wasn’t going to graduate school, I didn’t have a plan anymore. What the hell was I supposed to do? Being naive and idealistic, I considered applying to the Peace Corps. My brother-in-law (bless his heart) sat me down and explained that the beginning of my career was critical. He also mentioned that it takes about a year to save up for a year of not working; otherwise, I’d have to keep depending on my parents who had already supported me through college.
Being bratty and unaware of how the world works, I rolled my eyes at his perfectly logical explanations, convinced he was obsessed with making money. I sat on my high horse, lauding myself for being willing to make a sacrifice when I literally had nothing to my name.
In reality, I felt lost. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but going to the Peace Corps was an excuse to run away from uncertainty. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, and I also had these lofty dreams of maybe starting my own business one day or being a part of a movement that mattered. Sensing these hopes in me, my brother-in-law mentioned he had seen billboards around town for a coding bootcamp named Codeup. If I didn’t know what I wanted to “do”, then maybe I could build my skillset instead.
My interest was piqued. Coding seemed cool. I pictured savvy devs in cute plaid shirts and man buns, and being able to live the #vanlife and become a digital nomad. (are you noticing my habit of being idealistic yet?). Buoyed by this vision, I jumped all-in. I told myself I’d go to every happy hour, mixer, network like crazy, and bond with every single one of my classmates.
It worked. I landed a job in software development at a cloud security company in Dallas. After spending a year in the Engineering department of my company, I had finally come to face the reality that I wasn’t very good at coding. More importantly, I was pretty apathetic about mastering it. If I continued down my career path as a developer, I’d have to keep learning and keeping up with the latest trends in development, and nothing in me felt excited about that.
I was given an opportunity to join the Marketing department as a Digital Marketing Manager. At first, I felt guilty for even considering it. Did my parents spend their hard-earned money putting me through Codeup, only for me to give it all up because I was bored? It seemed like a sin straight out of the immigrant rulebook. My dream to love what I do was “selfish” and having a sense of purpose was a “luxury”. Eventually though, I braced myself and took the leap.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I finally felt like I was “with my people”, a collection of brainy empaths with crazy ideas. I learned so much about marketing in general, which allowed me to start up my side business as a coach. I launched my first group coaching course in 2020, and I’m writing a book to release at the start of 2022. I’m living my dream every day, learning and growing with exciting things at every turn. I’ve connected with other coaches, and built a supportive web of connections across the globe. I can’t believe how far I’ve come.
But I couldn’t have done it without first building my skills. In a world that penalizes people for not fitting into a neat career category, it can sometimes get confusing for people who have lots of interests. But I realized I didn’t get here by trying to become a business owner or learn about marketing. I was just, A, open to the opportunity, and B, perfectly positioned to do so.
Going through Codeup was a huge incentive for the Marketing manager to hire me, despite the fact I had ZERO marketing experience. They figured, hey, if she can learn full-stack in four months, she can definitely learn the lay of the land in marketing. My exposure to marketing gave me the necessary courage and skills to start getting my content out there. I was writing blogs, publishing podcasts, and releasing YouTube videos.
With a clear mission and vision in mind, everything fell into place. It’s not that I suddenly have everything figured out; instead, I’ve gotten used to the uncertainty.
I no longer worry about what my career is going to be. I know it’s not going to be “one thing”. I won’t be a coder, a writer, or a coach. I’ll be a coder-writer-coach-podcaster-marketer-salesperson-youtuber-novelist. Why choose, when I know I can make money from my unique mix of skills? Society often suggests we have to choose. But I refuse to believe that anymore.
If you’re reading this and you’re uncertain about where you’re headed, it’s okay not to have all the answers. Take things day by day. Build your skillset. Follow what you love. Aim for mastery.
And don’t rule out the 9-to-5 doing something you may not love. Your job doesn’t have to be your passion. A steady paycheck does wonders for anxiety and allows you to be creative and innovate in your side-hustles.
Practice gratitude. Realize that, yes, things could be worse, but they can also be better. Be patient with learning to wobble on the thin line stretched between “This is enough” and “I wonder what would happen if…”
Go down the rabbit holes. Be curious. And realize that life is about embracing the possibilities. Who knows where it can lead?
Joyce Ling is a content creator and coach that helps dreamers fulfill their purpose by doing the work that matters most. She’s also the host of The Abundance Podcast, a writer in top publications on Medium.com, and an aspiring 9-to-5 escapee. Get her best productivity + self-discovery content by signing up for her cozy weekly newsletter, STOKED.