On being unimpressive… and maybe “finding my passion.”

I had a conversation with my mother a few weeks ago that basically started with her telling me that she was surprised I had turned out so unimpressive.

To be fair, it was not phrased nearly so harshly. But that was certainly the crux of it.

She explained that throughout my whole life, I had always set impressive goals and had always met them. I skipped a grade in elementary school. I was president of everything in middle school. I was lead in the spring play my freshman year of high school. I got great grades, got a scholarship, went to college, graduated in 3 years, went to law school, got great grades, was president of a few clubs, got a job right away and was a lawyer by 23… blech sorry for the self-promoting but it shows her point. Objectively, impressive.

So she just always assumed I would be equally impressive in my career. I would seek out new challenges, set goals, and meet them. Fair assumption, honestly.

But I haven’t.

I have just kind of hung out in my under-the-radar litigation job for the past 4 years. It’s not that I’m a bad lawyer. I’m just a run-of-the-mill lawyer. Take a client, fight it out, get it done, move on. I haven’t joined any professional organizations (other than simply being a “member” of the local bar associations). I haven’t joined a committee, taken on a leadership role, won a big case that landed me in the news… you get the point. Passable. But unimpressive.

I totally agreed with her. I am pretty unimpressive in my career. And that is somewhat surprising, considering everything that led up to my career.

After about 30 seconds of thought I explained to her that I simply no longer needed to be impressive, and that my priorities had changed. In school I had a much tighter peer group, and I was still somewhat living and dying by parental approval. I had that hunger to impress people, to be known, and basically to rock whatever I was doing.

Once I achieved my ultimate goal of becoming a lawyer, I felt like I was done impressing people. At that point I felt like I’d worked my ass off through school and it was so nice to have my nights and weekends off (with B) that I really just didn’t have any desire to be impressive anymore. I wanted to just hang out, under the radar, and enjoy life with my husband. My priority was now my other-than-work life. Work was just what financed it. And really, I told her (rationalized), if I had kids this would be completely understandable– laudable even. I am sacrificing potential career GREATNESS to be present in my home life and to really enjoy every day there. It is only because my “family” right now consists only of B and I that she thinks I try harder to be impressive in my career. And that thinking is antiquated, really, because we are family even if we don’t have kids.

She said she thought I’d be passionate about law, and she thinks that if I was passionate about it, I’d feel differently.

I told her that passion for your career was something reserved for graduation speeches and the Dr. Phil show and that honestly, I thought those people were VERY rare and most people were just trying to get through the day to get home to their family.

We let it drop.

Then this morning I was doing my morning scan through my Facebook feed and saw a girl I went to high school with commented on the status of a different girl we went to high school with. The second girl, who I am not “Facebook friends” with had posted a link to her new website. She’s a photographer.

I immediately got… jealous?

I am not proud to say the first thing I did was click on the link and start finding things wrong. I can’t believe she uses that camera. I can’t believe she doesn’t shoot RAW. I can’t believe she posted that photo. I started justifying to myself why I was a better photographer than her even though she has hung her shingle out as a real photographer and I’m still working photography as a side business trying to get clients.

It was really unattractive.

But also, kind of a wake-up call? There are three other lawyers, that I know of, in my graduating class from high school. I could not possibly care less. I feel no sense of competition. One of them could win the best-lawyer-ever-in-the-world award (not a real thing, lol) and I don’t think it would phase me at all. Because I don’t really care.. I don’t really want it.

What I do want is to be the best photographer. Which I don’t think I’ve ever really said or thought about before. Mostly because I have always been to scared to consider it as a valid full time career. There are lots of reasons for that.

The first 80,000 reasons are my student loans, which are both oppressive and also would be completely useless if I was a photographer. I mean seriously, who spends well over 100k getting educated, financing most of that, and then says… nope! I think I’ll go do something I could’ve done right out of high school.

The second reason is that it is unstable money. Even if I could get enough clients to have a good year, would next year be good? Owning your own business is risky, and I’ve never been a risk-taker, particularly not when it comes to what we need to pay our mortgage.

The third reason is that, assuming I could get enough clients, it is mostly nights/weekends work. Do I really want to give up that much time with B?

The fourth reason is that getting to where I would want to be. Taking the necessary workshops, getting the equipment I need, really making a full, 100% go of this thing would be expensive. Like many thousands of dollars expensive. And I have a perfectly good, somewhat lucrative, career. Why would I quit a good paying 9-5 type job to spend well over $10,000 to get me started in a new job that honestly might leave me making half of what I was making before? It doesn’t make any financial sense, particularly not considering my loans, and particularly not because I am married with a mortgage and other obligations. I don’t want to put our house at risk by not having a steady job, and I don’t want to clear out half our savings to prepare for a new career.

The fifth (and let’s face it, probably biggest) reason is my lack of confidence. What if I had all the right equipment, and I took all the right seminars, and made all those sacrifices, and I worked my ass off and really tried… and I was *gulp* unimpressive?

I don’t think that “good enough” would be good enough for me, if I was all in on this thing.

Which, as cheesy as I find the phrase… probably means that this is in fact what I’m passionate about.

Sigh. Why couldn’t I be passionate about something that made a load of money?

Where does that leave me?

Unimpressive in one career. Afraid to try hard and be unimpressive in another I might really love.

Pretty much where I started, honestly. The bottom line is that I am just not a risk-taker. The lure of a stable job and a good paycheck is too strong for me to throw it all away and dive head-first into a career in photography. But, maybe this whole thought process has primed me for the REAL possibility of pursuing it in the future.

I already have a side business set up that I’ve been doing portrait sessions and second-shooting weddings for. I think maybe this just means that I need to try harder to gain clients and work towards a time when maybe switching careers wouldn’t be AS big a risk. And maybe I do risk spending money to invest into this new career (like my new camera, which came yesterday by the way and is aweeesommmme), but I’ll just do it more slowly than I would otherwise so as not to drain our savings.

Life is weird. I never thought I’d be 27 and contemplating a second career, but that’s where I am. Anyone else who made a huge switch (or wants to!), I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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5 thoughts on “On being unimpressive… and maybe “finding my passion.”

  1. My husband is in the process of a pretty major career switch, but his was slightly different because he wasn’t established in his original career. He’s struggled, like you, with the idea that he spent 4 years of his life and thousands of dollars on a degree (in business) only to give that up to become a realtor and then decide that wasn’t for him – now he’s pursuing his teaching certificate and he’s so excited about it. It’s been a crazy ride, and we’ve definitely struggled financially because of it, but for me it’s all worth it to make sure that he’s happy with what he chose. I’d rather be poor and have a happy husband than rich and have one who doesn’t love his job and dreads going every day!

  2. Thanks so much for chiming in πŸ™‚ It’s so great that you are supportive of his switch because I’m sure it has been a hard road for him. I’m sure that B would be great about it if I did go ahead and tell him: this is what i want to do and need to do to be happy. I think I just haven’t been willing to tell him yet (he doesn’t read my blog!). I think its a little bit harder maybe when you’re already “set” in a career so you really know what you’re giving up financially… the whole moving backwards thing, rather than just staying broke longer like if I had done this right out of school. I just don’t want to do that to him/us if I can stick it out and maybe do both for a few more years while I build my photo business. Or, maybe I’m just a big wuss. haha

  3. I nodded my head through this entire post…I am an engineer and a pretty unimpressive one, I’ve spent money on a bachelors and I’m almost halfway to my masters and yet I’d love to be a math teacher. I almost took the leap 2 years ago, my first job out of college sucked and I was ready to give up then I got the job I have now in March 2010 and I love the people I work with and like what I do but I just do not seem to understand as well as everyone else what I am doing. I work with no one my age and so maybe this is the issue and I’m just not confident enough but I don’t know.

    I was in the process of getting enrolled in a teaching program in March 2010 and then I got this job and I wish I could say its the greatest thing ever but its not. I’m underpaid (bottom 5% of CE’s in the state) and I’m just not passionate about it. There was an engineering academic advisor position open at the local university and I thought about applying for it but it was a cut in pay from what I make and do I really want to take that step back…My husband was completely supportive with me applying for it but I did not have the guts what if I got it….then I’d have to make a decision.

    I’m 4 years out of college and a licensed professional engineer and I feel like I should enjoy what I do more throughly.

    In other words, I understand where you are at and I sympathize but I do not have any great advice. πŸ™‚

  4. I don’t know if I’m the person to be asking. Or to be giving advice. My whole life is one big risk experience.

    I, too, was on overachiever. Never really a “concert violin and cure cancer” kind of achiever, but I played the piano, I danced, I drew, I was smart — especially in English and creative writing and I’m quick to learn new things. I’ve always been good at “everything”. One of THOSE. But despite qualifying for scholarships, I never graduated from college and all that.

    There are circumstances in my life which prevented that, though there are people who have gone through uber major hardships and still have big important jobs and 8 degrees, so some might say that’s an excuse, but they can bite me. It doesn’t make me less accomplished.

    What I DID do was have jobs. Lots of them. Low paying jobs. Receptionist, office assistant, perfume ninja, etc. Then one day I started a blog and that web stuff I’d been tinkering with started making sense and then I made it a tiny business with my friend and then suddenly, I was able to quit my job and make it my life. 4 years later, I co-wrote a book that was published. And now I’d consider myself successful. Maybe not lawyer successful, but solid. Success if how you define it.

    I never TRULY knew what I wanted to do with my life. But I always knew I wanted to be creative. So did I luck out with the internet, in the right place at the right time? Maybe. I was about your age when that happened. But I get to do something I’m passionate about… even if only for now. Until I change my mind.

    Every day is a risk, a day without a safety net. Being a freelancer is hard work and long hours, taxes out the wazoo and paying for your own healthcare, but would I give it up to The Man tomorrow? Maybe if I was making lawyer money (ha!) but otherwise, I don’t think so.

    There’s nothing wrong with doing your job just to pay the bills and enjoy our life. Pursue your passion on the side and invest the time and energy that you can into it. If you want it to become more than a hobby, it will. You never know where it might take you or what can happen. You’re 27, you’re smart and you clearly have a good head on your shoulders. The world is your oyster, dude.

  5. @sunny- thanks so much for your commiseration… much appreciated just to know i’m not so odd πŸ™‚

    @joelle- people like you are so inspirational, seriously. i think it is just the pessimist in me who always thinks that for every YOU who took risks and made it, there are probably two “you”s who worked hard and just… failed. I guess it is that whole “getting some faith” thing. But, on the plus side, technically my law job is freelance (long story) so I’m already well versed in 1099s, accountants, SE taxes, and finding my own healthcare (three cheers for getting married to a guy who works for a massive corp, i can finally get sick again! lol)

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