The year was ending and I STILL didn’t have a job. Well, that’s not exactly accurate -I didn’t have a “career” job. I was doing time at a research lab to mine for recommendation letters out of the professor – whom I remember as a ghost-like figure that would haunt the halls sporadically when some paper or grant proposal needed writing. In short, I was doing grunt work, and you can believe that it was stuff that ate at the core of my being. To give you some perspective, being at the bottom of the rung at a research organization usually means that you're so far down the ladder that you’re a microscopic plankton.
Why was I doing this? Why was I doing outdated, dusty, archaic and passionless work? My family exerted extreme pressure on me. They wanted me to be a doctor in literally anything. Their desire for me to become a ‘venerable person’ in society was well-intentioned but misguided. First it was my two years in undergrad spent on pre-med, then it was my next two years drowned in cognitive psychology research for the sole purpose of prepping for an Ivy League grad school. The message was loud and clear: If I couldn’t become a medical doctor, a doctorate would be just barely acceptable. It took me years to truly learn that you can’t strive solely to reach others’ expectations and be happy. You have to be happy for yourself.
The only kind of Doctor I aspire to be.
Here’s how I made that personal journey, and how I got to know myself a little bit better in the process.
About a year after college (as I was sitting there more or less collecting dust at that research position), I decided that enough was enough. It was time for me to get out there and figure out what I wanted to do for myself. Despite the fact that I had mostly paid my own way through school by doing work-study and taking out loans, I had let others dictate my path, and I was deeply unhappy. The status quo had dragged on for too long. It was time for me to get out there and discover what it was that I wanted to do for myself. And you know what? After buckling to parental pressure for so long, I was faced with a terrifying fact: I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do.
The only thing I could think of to galvanize some sort of internal change was to quit my current position. If there was anything that I felt for certain, it was that the doom and gloom that followed me into the research lab daily was a teacher with a resoundingly clear message. It taught me that whatever it was that I wanted from life at that point in time, slaving away on the lowest rung of the ladder in academic research was not it. So I did it. I quit my job, renounced my worldly possessions, and trekked through Arctic wild with nothing but my trusty Sonicare toothbrush and a bag of chocolate trail mix…
Just kidding. I didn’t have the money for something like that, but I did take a shot in the dark and apply to a few startups. I had no idea what I wanted, except a vague but pressing feeling that I wanted to do something that would directly impact people. I was willing to start wherever I had to and learn a new set of skills. Most of all, I wanted to get myself out there and try something new. I figured that if you don’t know what you like, figuring out what you don’t like is a pretty good place to start. Looking back, I realized that it was probably one of the most sharpest ideas that I'd had for myself in awhile :)
I’ve been at my current job for almost a year now, I've never regretted the leap of faith I made. I no longer felt depressed or lost. I admitted to myself that I actually didn’t want to only be a follower, but an adventurer who would find pleasure in the journey of discovering what I was passionate about. It finally giving me a feeling of agency over my own life. I also was lucky enough to end up working at a company that’s trying to make a real difference and help my generation connect with jobs (read about my FirstJob story here). But if I hadn’t found a good fit there, I definitely would have quit all over again and hopped on to the next exciting field or job opportunity. Give it a try and invest in the journey if you're unhappy with where you're at. I think you'll find that it's worth a try.
Amy Liu is a Digital Marketing Associate at FirstJob and graduated with a B.A. in Psychology from UC Berkeley. In her free time, she loves exploring San Francisco and trying out tasty new restaurants.