My Favorite Mistakes, PART ONE – First Crush

“If only my professional life were going as smoothly as my personal life,” I said to my husband over dinner. “If only I could find a job I like as much as I like you.”
It was just an offhand comment, or was it?
My career path has been on my mind a lot lately. Its stops and starts, the surprising turns in the road, and of course, the disappointments. Oh, the disappointments.
Most of all, I have been thinking about where I am headed. With perspective, it is easy to pinpoint what about a past job experience was good or bad, but sometimes it is more challenging to see how each job fits into the Big Picture. What lessons do I need to learn to help me on my career path moving forward?
I have been happily partnered with a man I love very much for several years, but I haven’t been able to say the same for my career partnerships in quite some time.
I find the Big Picture is much easier to see when reflecting on my dating life. I see how past relationships helped guide me to the place and person I am now. Could I look at my professional life in a similar way? Aren’t old jobs a lot like old boyfriends? And would comparisons reveal anything that could help me find a better career match in the future?
Consider the first crush.My first crush lasted through most of my adolescence. Because it was an unfulfilled infatuation, it lurked persistently in the background of my early relationships with other less “perfect” dating partners.
My crush flamed on even after learning in a very brutal way that my fantasy in no way matched reality. When I finally managed to get a date to the dance with my Romeo, he spent the whole night pursuing his crush (obviously not me) in front of all of my friends.
It is not easy for me to admit my fervor for my crush remained mostly unshaken for another three years despite the humiliation of that night. I was not able to drop my infatuation until college, long after Mr. Romeo and I parted ways. I happened to run into him unexpectedly after class one afternoon, and he asked me out. When we finally had the date I had waited all my life for, it was tedious enough to break the spell forever (Romeo who?).
I couldn’t help but see a parallel to an early job I also crushed over for quite some time (though not for several years, thank goodness). It was my first professional magazine job, and I wanted this job so much. The employer played hard to get but I refused to give up. Although it was obvious that I wanted the job more than the job wanted me, it didn’t matter. As soon as they got me, they would see why we were meant to be together.
After almosthiring me three separate times, eventually my dreams came true, and they actually did. Sort of.
I was so thrilled I said yes even though it meant a hefty pay cut to work contract, and they could only commit to me one month at a time. They promised to hire me as soon as the hiring freeze lifted, which surely would happen any day now.
Months later, they were still stringing me along. I offered to work after hours and on vacation for no extra pay to show my commitment, but the promise of long-term employment never materialized.
To make matters worse, I was working in an office about as exciting as a morgue and about as friendly as you would expect any corpse to be. None of my colleagues went to lunch together, so I ate alone most days. The office was quiet as a library during business hours. No one laughed at anyone’s jokes (even mine). Instead of seeing this environment as the unfriendly, unimaginative place it was, I found myself questioning my own talents instead.
Still, I maintained this was the Job of My Dreams…I just needed to hang on a little longer. And then the news dropped: the whole magazine was moving to another state—and almost everyone wasn’t invited. Only then did I realize the job I was in love with existed only in my mind. The reality was crap. Instead of desperately hanging onto the job for the last few months before they dumped me, I decided my contract wasn’t renewable at the end of the month.
Both crushes gave me the exhilaration of hope but were devastating when the spell broke. They taught me a hard lesson in the difference between an ideal and reality. I had imagined the relationship being one way for so long, that even when confronted with a reality that was entirely different, I still saw my fantasy as real.
And while they both gave me a glimmer of the kind of relationship I wanted and hoped to find one day, they also showed me what I didn’t want…once I woke up. I learned to distrust the rush of infatuation, but I also learned self-respect. Compromising that wasn’t an option, so I had to pick myself up and move on, a little broken but a little wiser.
Have you ever had a job crush where the reality didn’t match fantasy? How did you handle it? What did you learn?
Tune in for the next installment when I compare more ghosts of boyfriends past with equally disappointing vocational choices.

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