Yes, you can create a career/work life you love just by focusing on the things that bring you joy. You don’t have to go the traditional college, career, and retirement route to live your best life. If you believe there are other options out there, you can choose one that works for you.
The traditional script
There’s a script out there that says if you graduate high school with good grades, go to college for the right career, move right into a good job, invest wisely, save for a house, find the right partner, and generally follow all the rules that you will be healthy, happy, and content with your life.
Unfortunately, for many of us, this script simply didn’t play out the way we had hoped. Maybe we did all these things and still ended up unhappy with work. Maybe we jumped from job to job until we finally realized that it was the career itself that was a problem. Maybe we regretted all the other things we didn’t try. Maybe we did the “right” thing and then woke up in our 40s realizing there was no joy left in life.
That’s the saddest scenario of all. We did all the “right” things and somehow they sucked the life out of life.
The other script(s)
Well, if you haven’t heard yet, there are actually a lot of other scripts out there. We live in a time and culture that lets people create and re-create their lives over and over again. Being 40 isn’t the end of the world. It’s never too late to start a new career. You can even create your own career out of nothing these days. Previously unknown jobs pop up all the time.
I started my first teaching job (as a school librarian) at 23 and within the first 6 months I knew it was not going to be a forever career for me. I don’t know why I had such a strong sense of that, but I did. There were things I loved about my job and things I hated. I just somehow knew that there were more jobs out there that I wanted to experience. At the time, people jumping careers/jobs seemed not only rare but irresponsible. Over time, though, I learned that there are many other ways to find a successful work life.
One thing I have noticed over and over again is that some of the happiest people I know are people who have created a worklife they love from the various things they enjoy most. Sometimes they work in a traditional career and sometimes they put together a mishmash of different things they are interested in. Sometimes their work is the center of their lives while other times their work pays the bills so they can spend their free time on what they love. The happiest people know what work brings them joy and build those things into their lives first. The key is that they are doing things they are passionate about.
I’m fascinated by people with quirky stories of how their career (or careers) evolved over the years. I love listening to people who have jumped from job to job, always refining what they liked and wanted to do. Or sometimes I talk to people who snatched up a wild opportunity and drastically changed their lives. These people are fun to talk to because they didn't necessarily have clear paths to follow, they just started chasing their dreams to see what would happen.
I’m not saying that I don’t admire people who know what they want to do early on in life and pursue that with a focused passion. I’m actually a little jealous of them. It seems like life would be easier if you knew what you wanted to do and could just focus on making that happen. They followed the standard script and it worked for them. Good!
Although, it is the stories of people who have made and re-made themselves that always draw me in. I see people who could have taken the standard road in life but chose not to. Maybe, like me, they had a lot of interests. Maybe they just didn’t like doing the conventional thing. Maybe they had an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.
Some people I know are “creatives” who find work for themselves based on their talents, interests, and experiences. They always have a bunch of things going and are constantly thinking of their next exciting project.
Some people I know had a life with a standard career and then threw it all away to try something completely new. Maybe they moved to Mexico or started a small business or went back to school for something completely different. For whatever reason, that career they thought they wanted just wasn’t working so they tossed it out and started over.
I also know some people who have started businesses as side hustles while still doing their day job. Or maybe they worked all day but then spent their free time volunteering at programs they were passionate about and finding ways to quietly change the world. They do the traditional job thing to make money but spend their own time doing what they love.
Some of my favorite people are ones who have jumped around doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Trying on jobs and hobbies and lifestyles to find out what works for them. In the end, they piece together the most authentic parts of themselves and create a life of joy.
The script I wrote
I think I love this because it is what I finally decided to do myself. In 2019 I decided it was time to quit my job as a school librarian and go off in search of something better. There were definitely things about teaching that I loved, but there were too many things about it that I didn’t. I knew I could do better (you can read more about that here). Well, 4 years and one pandemic later, I’m here working part-time at the public library, running my own gardening business, and doing energy work in between. I’ve found a great place to live and I have time to enjoy my many hobbies (my mom says I have WAY too many). It was a hard 4 years to get from there to here, but it was totally worth it. I’ve pieced together a life that works for me.
It started with believing that I COULD leave my job (that took a lot of energy sessions to work through!). Then I had to imagine what I wanted to do instead (without worrying about how I could possibly make money doing that). After that, I really just had to look for opportunities to make what I dreamed a reality. I know some people do these steps very quickly. My path was slower. That’s partly because the pandemic changed the world we live in. It’s also partly because I was lucky enough to have family to support me in the transition.
How to write your own script
Not that I’m saying you have to get up and quit your job today (although, sometimes that really is the best option). You can transition into a better life without being quite as dramatic as I was. The key is to recognize what in your life may not be working for you and be willing to look for alternatives. You also need to be able to use your imagination to create a picture of what you’d rather have. If you are willing to dream it, you can join millions of people creating lives they love.
Before you start dreaming up a new life, here are some things to know:
Life is never perfect- even those people I know who love their life say that there are things they want to change or would prefer to be different. The goal here is not perfection, but creating a life so full of joy that the things you don’t like are easy to ignore.
Life is never complete- There is no point at which you will have “arrived” at success or your perfect life. That’s partly because life is never perfect (#1) and partly because one of the immutable laws of living is that things always change. You’ll discover new things you want to do, new opportunities will arise, family circumstances will shift, and much more.
It isn’t always easy- bucking the system to do things differently won’t necessarily be simple. It might be and I hope it is. But don’t expect that following your joy will always be a breeze. I can’t believe that it took 4 years to get from leaving my job to where I am now (the pandemic definitely didn’t help). It was worth every challenging step (and a few easy ones), although it was much harder than I thought it would be.
No one can tell you how to do it- Others may have done something similar to what you are trying to do, but no one will be able to do it exactly the same way. That means that you are the only one who can create what you want from your life. You have to be willing to take advice, talk to others, gather ideas, and then be brave enough to make the decision about how to move forward with all that information. This is your life and you are the only one who can figure out how to create it.
With that in mind, the first and most important thing you need to know is what brings you joy. Surprisingly, not everyone knows this, particularly in a job/work setting. Maybe you’ve spent your whole life doing the “right” thing or trying to fit in. Maybe you’ve chased a dream for a long time and, when you get there, suddenly realize that it wasn’t what you thought it would be. Maybe you are just burned out and ready for something new. If any of this sounds familiar, then your first step is to start reconnecting with what brings you joy. If you want to download a free guide to help you get started, check out this blog post We Need You.
You can know exactly what brings you joy but have no idea how to make that into a life. That's OK because you can figure it out. This is the boat I was in for a long time. I knew I wasn’t going to spend my whole career as a school librarian, but I couldn’t figure out how to weave together all the things I loved to create a financially independent life. (It didn’t help that I was dealing with some health issues as well.) At the time, I just didn’t know many people who were living “unconventional lives” and creatively piecing together a life based on their joy. Fortunately, I started meeting people and reading about people doing what I wanted to do. It opened my imagination up to other possibilities I had never considered before.
Here are some suggestions for how to take the step from knowing what your joy is to actually creating a job/career around it:
Follow your joy- The things that get you excited are the things that are worth pursuing. If you see a job opportunity or class and it doesn’t make you excited, you know that is not the direction to head. If you come across something that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning and rush to work, then that’s what you should be pursing.
Try stuff- Think outside the box, take suggestions, do things that seem like a waste of time, find people to talk to who are doing things they love, be willing to take the winding road toward what you think you want. You will learn about yourself and discover new things along the way. You aren’t going to write a new script for yourself if you do the same things you have always done.
Get rid of limiting beliefs- We all carry around core beliefs that hold us back from what is possible. I never would have quit my job if I first didn’t believe it was possible and second didn’t believe it was OK (yes, I had a lot of social expectations to deal with!). Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a great way to reprogram your brain with beliefs that will allow you to do things you never knew were possible.
Find others who are doing what you want to do- Get to know them, ask questions, learn about the mistakes they made, find out what obstacles they had to overcome to get to where they are. Your path will not be exactly like theirs, but with every person you talk to, you will have more ideas of how to make your new life a reality.
I talk a lot on this blog about creating your “authentic life” or your “best life.” These are slightly fluffy terms that get thrown about a lot in today’s culture. They are, however, descriptive enough to work. Each of our best lives look different. We each have to create a life based on what we authentically love. There is no cookie cutter version of this. Especially when it comes to jobs and careers, there are so many options for how to create a life of joy and each script for making that happen is completely unique.
Are you ready to start writing your own script and creating a life and career that you love? Follow up on the resources I have linked above and check out my blog for others. You can also contact me for energy work. Energy sessions can help move out blocked energy and limiting beliefs keeping you from moving forward with your life. We’ll talk about your goals and figure out how to clear the path for you to make them happen.