“As long as you feel happy, there’s no right or wrong career choices.”
It was a typical weekend night that I got home early from work.
Winter was just around the corner.
“Hi, Dad!” I greeted the greatest person in my world through the laptop screen. He was sitting on his reading chair and waiting for mom, who was still at the gym, to come home and they would have dinner together.
“Hi, love! How was work?” This question, he asks me every day since I started a new casual job last October. I’m glad Dad asks. Every time after he finishes the question, that little tiny talking machine within myself will start working immediately. Even if it’s a complaint about an aggressive customer or a funny little story with a coworker, I tell him everything.
“Hmm…“, I mumbled. This time, I didn’t know where to start.
“Is there anything wrong? Well, you can keep that to yourself if you’re not comfortable sharing. But if you want to, I’m here.” Dad waited patiently.
“There’s nothing wrong. I just had a little thought about work recently. I feel like… I’m in my comfort zone for too long!“
“…Well, I’m having a steady job with a good salary enough for daily expenses. The workplace is comfortable too.“
“So, what’s the problem with that?” he raised one of his eyebrows. Dad was concerned, and a bit surprised. His facial expressions are always easy to read.
“My friends that study the same course with me at university, they’re having jobs within the industry, Dad!” I stopped, trying to rearrange my words. “… Well, they’re doing media projects and internships. Some got jobs being media practitioners. And I’m just sitting here in my retail store, folding clothes.” I could feel myself flinch slightly.
“I feel the uncertainty. Obviously, I cannot fold clothes for the rest of my life. It doesn’t have anything to do with my study at all. I’m graduating.“
“This is not my desired career. I’m studying media, and marketing just to be more detailed, and now I’m here all weekends handing out shopping bags and rolling lint on sweaters!”
“Are you happy doing that?” Dad asked, unexpectedly.
“Like folding clothes, and serving the customers, and handing out shopping bags. Do you like it? Are you happy with it?“
He got me to stop talking. What? I asked myself.
“Hmm…yeah? Well, I like it when people take my advice and go with the colours I recommend. I helped a lady this morning choosing a birthday gift for her son and she loved it.”
“And?” he gave me an encouraging look.
I mumbled again.
“I have to wake up at 4.30am for morning shifts but I haven’t missed more than 3 shifts during my 1 year working here. I enjoy travelling more than 60km to work although it takes me 3 hours sitting on the train. I get on well with my colleagues even though sometimes we do not really understand each other as my spoken English needs more and more practices. And I love it when I help someone with their makeover.”
I smiled unconsciously.
Shortly after realising this, I forced myself to stop.
I was telling Dad about my career anxiety, I shouldn’t have smiled like that!
“Does that mean you’re just comparing yourself to others around you? The problem is not about work. You’re enjoying it. You’re happy with it. You said you need a career, then how do you define your ideal career?“
“Well, having a job related to what I am doing now? Like, doing the media stuff? You cannot do retail for the rest of your life, right?“
“Are you sure that you’ll be happy doing that media stuff more than you folding clothes and serving customers? Are you sure that your friends are happy with those media projects and internships they’re taking without asking themselves, somehow, I assume, that Nhi’s retail job is such a cool thing to do?“
Now I was silent.
“If you’re defining a career as something that’s related to what you learn at University, or something that you can make lots of money out of it, then you’re missing a huge part of a career’s definition.”
“Career is about your happiness. It’s what you love doing and being happy living in it for, as you said, the rest of your life.”
“As long as you feel happy, darling, there’s no right or wrong career choices!“
I remember when I was young, everytime people asked what I wanted to become when I grew up, I always tried to find a job that sounds “big“, like being a doctor, or a teacher. With that idea in mind, I grew up having on my shoulder the invisible responsibilities that I have to become something “big“. I tried to study as hard as I could to get those perfect marks. I tried to enrol in subjects and courses that I felt like they would make me become the one that I told myself, that “big one“.
Career and jobs were all about being big, not about loving it.
Stressful. And anxiety. All I found was the escalated feeling of disappointment from when the assignment results did not meet my expectations to being rejected by the companies I applied for.
There was no peace inside of me. I never satisfied.
Now, every day, I feel happy and energetic. I stop squeezing expectations and responsibilities in my bags to school and work every day. I realise that I totally have control over what to think about. I can control what I feel about my job. I can control what expectations I can put on myself knowing I can achieve it or not. I stop thinking about the career as something that is ‘perfect‘, but more likely, something happy, something I love and enjoy.
That conversation with Dad has woke me up. I know he’s right. My belief is now even stronger, reading about the anticareerists and watching David Foster Wallace’s inspirational talk about what we can choose to think about in our life that can make it easier, and more beautiful.
I find that balance within myself. And I can feel a positive energy.
I’m now folding clothes, handing out shopping bags and getting my head in some small media projects. All at once.
And I’m happy.
My 5-year-old cousin Ethan wants to be a butterfly catcher when he grows up.
Me, I wanted to be a security guard at the airports’ boarding gates. I love seeing the planes taking off and carrying people up high in the sky.
Maybe they’re coming home to see family and friends.
Maybe they’re travelling with their loved ones.
Maybe they’re leaving to somewhere new and starting a new journey.
And you, what do you want to be?