You graduated from Bucknell?
I stare at the woman sitting across from me and smile at her even as I detect the hint of disbelief in her voice.
Yep, I reply simply, challenging her to ask exactly what I know she’s thinking. The woman is with her husband and they look my parents’ age. When they walk out of the store twenty minutes later, shoes in hand, I hear the woman say quite blatantly to her husband: graduated from Bucknell…I wonder why she’s here? Her husband replies, maybe it’s just part-time.
I’m still smiling at the door even though they’re gone and before I can let their little conversation sink in and affect me, I brush it off. Part of me wants to chase after them down the street yelling and justifying myself: wait! I’m a freelance writer too! And I’m working on a novel!
But this is not the first time I’ve had this conversation and it won’t be the last.
It is no secret to me older generations view my last year’s career move as a step backward as opposed to one forward. When I worked at the nonprofit doing communications, people told me I was so lucky to have found the job and I would have it made for the rest of my career. People told me to stick with the job even if I didn’t like it because of the security: health benefits, salary, and resume-building experience.
People spoke to me with respect.
When I chatted with colleagues at meetings and conventions, we had the same conversation as above but it always went a little differently. Oh, you went to Bucknell? There was a hint of excitement in their voice and they’re smiling. I’d tell them I graduated in 2012, grinning from ear to ear. They’d exclaim: well now it all makes sense – that’s why you’re so smart! I’d laugh, trying to shake off the compliment.
But what they didn’t see was the sadness. The depression I struggled with every day and the fatigue I felt in every inch of my body. They didn’t see me push everything other than work out of my life – running, writing, friends, travel – desperately trying to prove myself to the older generations I worked with I could be successful. Other than my partner, I had no friends and I was stuck in a miserable cycle of work, eat, sleep. I had no balance in my life and no one but myself saw my health deteriorating. But I didn’t make any changes because everyone put such high value into the security of a corporate job.
Don’t get me wrong – my time working at the nonprofit was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I learned from my bosses how to be a more efficient writer, how to manage stress and deadlines, and most importantly, how to be a leader. They coached me and put me in positions of decision-making and importance, showing me my voice and opinion mattered. Leaving the position was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. But ultimately I knew I needed to be a leader in my own life and find happiness before I let everything mattering to me crumple at my feet.
It has been almost a year since I stood up to all the doubts swirling in my head and gave my two-week notice. Since then I feel like I’ve grown immensely. Stress and sadness don’t rule my life anymore and this year I’ve made more time for friends, family and myself than I have in years. I traveled to Colorado and hiked the beautiful Rockies with my twin. I flew to Oregon with some of my best friends and stood at the ocean’s edge watching the waves crash turbulently against the rocky cliffs. These are vacations I would have never taken in the past because of my fear of missing work and failing. I’ve written and ran more in this year than I probably have in the previous three years combined. I feel like myself.
And I get it. There will be many more people who stare at me in disbelief, like the couple at the beginning of this post, for my career change decision. But I like my job at the running store and being in an atmosphere I’ve been saturated in all my life. I love freelance writing and the amazing company I’m working with right now. I was never cut out to sit behind a desk for eight hours a day, no matter the pay or if that’s what people think I should be doing because I graduated from a prestigious school like Bucknell.
For awhile, I lived my life for everyone except myself. No more. I’m going to experience life and chase my dreams no matter how far they get ahead of me because I believe I can catch them if I work hard enough. For too long I believed my diploma defined what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life, whether I was happy or not.
I’m not going to say I used to feel proud of my undergraduate degree because I am still immensely proud of my diploma from Bucknell. No, I’m not working a corporate job anymore but I also am not going to feel the need to justify this any longer. Because at least I’m happy, and I’m sure as hell not going to let anyone take it away from me.
© Allison Donaghy 2016 All Rights Reserved