From Realizing My Dreams to Professional Discontent

When I was 12 years old, I decided that I wanted to go to college and major in “business.”

How did my 12 year old self make that decision?

I selected “business” as my chosen work path because nosecret of my success_thing else seemed to quite feel right. Doctor? I don’t think so. Teacher? Maybe. Lawyer? Nah.

However, the most persuasive influence on my decision came through media images. I was convinced that I wanted to become a business woman, move to New York City, and climb the corporate ladder after seeing movies like The Secret of My Success, Big Business, and 9 to 5. All of these movies portrayed a glamorous life and the allure of potential “success.”

New York City and Big Business became synonymous with being successful in my mind.  I also know that growing up in a smaller Ohio town made New York City seem particularly compelling and extraordinary.

After accomplishing my goal of attending college and majoring in business, I found my self bored and not challenged enough by my classes. I located a university course catalog and thumbed through each page diligently looking for other courses to take.

I discovered a section for “Information and Decision Systems (IDS)” that stood out to me. I visited the program department where this major was administered, spoke with the program directors, was welcomed and encouraged to add a double major, and started my first classes in IDS the next semester.

During my junior year, I attended job fairs on campus, interviewed through the university’s career center, and was offered a summer internship as a business systems analyst in Washington, DC. As a college senior, I followed a similar process of attending job fairs and interviewing on campus.

I was offered and accepted a systems analyst position with a management consulting firm in Washington, DC, by the fall of my senior year. This consulting firm flew me to New York City to interview and lavished me and the other prospective employees with gifts and expensive dinners. I was sold…literally and figuratively! I chose Washington, DC, which was also a bigger city and seemed more relaxed, as my home base. The MallI figured that that I would travel to NYC on business or drive there to visit friends as often as I wanted.

Up until that point, I had realized every one of my education and career dreams and objectives with ease. I always had an idea of what I wanted. I put my mind and effort to the task and received exactly what I planned. Nevertheless, I had an unexpected feeling of doubt and apprehension about work after my undergraduate studies.

I went to share my concerns with the program director of my business major. She told me not to worry about these concerns, because I could always “just get another job.” I trusted her advice and finished out my senior year. Later, I realized that at that age, “you don’t know what you don’t know” and her advice was easily offered and yet not simple to carry out.

On my first day as a new professional, I arrived at the office located in downtown Washington, DC. I rode the elevator to the 2nd floor of the office building, walked into the firm’s polished and posh foyer, and experienced an intuitive knowing that something was “wrong.”  At that time, I could not name what I sensed. Nothing had happened to me. Yet, I know now that I felt trapped and confused. Some type of shadow had been cast on my life and the vision for my future became very murky.

I have spent the past 10 years trying to make sense of my experience of my first official day as a new professional and the subsequent years of discontent and the developing personal and spiritual crisis that followed. Pema Chodron’s words eloquently describe my experience during the early years of my professional career in the following clip:


5 thoughts on “From Realizing My Dreams to Professional Discontent

  1. Mark W Barnett says:

    At this point of the journey, I am coming out of a stage that might look like how the twin towers did after the 9-11 attack. And, although it is of little comfort, I have heard of how many people go through this same process; the stories are comforting to a degree only because they are stories and have little effect upon the reality of the situation I am experiencing. I meet very few people going through this type of process; most people in this state do not broadcast, but withdraw, so it is hard to know who is who.

    Be that as it may what am I becoming? A quote by Pablo Picasso: “I don’t develop; I am.” So, this process has been a breaking-down of the fortification or tower of a self-made individual.

    “We spend much of our lives trying to make ourselves–to create the life we want, to forge some reality from our dreams. We live in a culture wedded to the fantasy of self-determination and self-made men. Yet there is another school of thought that looks at a human life from the other direction. Instead of making ourselves, this more ancient tradition would say we ourselves are there in embryo from the start, and we unfurl as we go along, colored by circumstance and climate. Just as the oak tree is there already in the acorn, the babe carries on its brow and in its eyes the mark and signature of its later life. Not the details, perhaps, but the particular energetic response to life, the quality of engagement that is unique to him. It is as though our joys and sorrows are there in seed form from the beginning.” Ten Poems to Change Your Life, by Roger Housden

  2. Latoya J. says:

    Mark,

    I so appreciate your engagement here! I believe that I understand the type of felt devastation that you are describing. When I arrived at JFKU, I was in that state. A little over a year ago, I had a spontaneous experience of finally feeling healed and that I was “ok” again. I hope this work that is coming through me now will encourage others to come out and share as we are about our journeys.

    In relationship with what Picasso wrote, my quote would be “I am. And, I transform!”

    I believe that you’ve studied Hillman’s work extensively, No? The notion of “Just as the oak tree is there already in the acorn, the babe carries on its brow and in its eyes the mark and signature of its later life. Not the details, perhaps, but the particular energetic response to life, the quality of engagement that is unique to him. It is as though our joys and sorrows are there in seed form from the beginning” appeals to me as well. I think I need Housden’s book in my collection. 🙂 I’m working to find that balance between honoring who I am as an energetic being and how I choose to use that knowledge to create intentionally and mindfully in the world.

  3. Kellie says:

    Latoya,

    Reading your posts has become a morning highlight for me. Today I read as I prepare for a career counseling appointment that I know will not provide me quite the experience I desire. Movies and television also influenced my younger “self” as I moved forward into areas my family had not. My obsession became California, where everyone seemed happier and prettier and it was always sunny! The openness and seeming creativity drew me. Not to mention it was as far as I could go from what I had known!

    I achieved that younger self’s dreams but am in the midst of my “unfixable spot” as my house of illusions came crashing down upon my graduation. What, I need to actually go out and find a way to make money?! Reality has crept in the door when I wasn’t looking and I can no longer live as that younger self; idealizing and fantasizing as if I had someone else’s life circumstances. I am spirit and I am human and I am a part of a society obsessed with consumerism and a less than holistic approach to the workplace. The balance currently eludes me as I search for any solace for my open heart under the title of “professional.”

  4. Mark W Barnett says:

    “I’m working to find that balance between honoring who I am as an energetic being and how I choose to use that knowledge to create intentionally and mindfully in the world.”

    Me too.

  5. Robert says:

    “just get another job.”
    Hilarious and sad simultaneously.

    I remember when I started my internship in undergrad how I excited I was. I had studied for three years in undergrad (plus the thirteen years before) to finally reach this point, a point where my knowledge and passion would be used, expressed, and developed.

    When I arrived at my intership, well, you described my experience best, ‘Yet, I know now that I felt trapped and confused. Some type of shadow had been cast on my life and the vision for my future became very murky.’ My intitial experience was depressing and disorienting. Coworkers seemed suspicious, closed, tired, etc. I wondered why they were here, why did they work here instead of somewhere else more suited for them.

    I figured that my response was ‘normal’ and that the feeling would subside. Afterall, this was the supposed culmination of everything I had worked for, of the aspirations that I carried for myself and for family. Instead, I felt as if I had misnavigated. Yet, at the time, I could not fully admit this to myself or my family.

    After a few weeks at the internship, that I would rather be poor than spend my life in that office. And that is what I did: I joined AmeriCorps in Los Angeles as a response to the internship.

    Americorps offered little pay, still I offered my education to people who needed it, and I could see right in front of me the contribution that I made to others’ lives. I did not wear a suit or work in a nice office (that life still attracted me), and I knew without a doubt that I was happier here in AmeriCorps.

    Ironically, I’m writing this from an office, wearing a dress shirt and slacks in the middle of Manhattan (after living in Berkeley and attending JFKU/TSP and IT program)! Am I happy in this job? Yes. Is it my life work? I do not think so. Why am I happy? The structure the job provides, the money, building skills. The structure strengthens my discipline in accomplishing my personal goals. The money funds my passions. The job helps me build skills applicable to future jobs.

    Further I use my job to build skills important to me: interpersonally, awareness building, perspective-taking, etc.

    What I appreciate about your conceptions, Latoya, is that you are proposing to loosen the boundaries between work and passion, to meld the two. I love it and I want it.

    Honestly, though, my passions and interests change often, so often that I wonder what sort of job would hold my change.

    Until I do, I will keep reading your website.

    Thanks.

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