6 career lessons I learned in 2021

Was it just me or did 2021 feel a lot heavier than 2020?

Languish was the term of the year, and as my friend once put it: “It is hard to exist right now”.

That pretty much sums up the first quarter of 2021. It was rough.

In fact, it was so rough, that I left my job.

That’s right, I was part of The Great Resignation statistic.

But first, gratitude.

To start, I consider myself lucky to have found work at the end of 2020, especially during a time when I wasn’t really job hunting. We had just gotten married, I was still in newlywed bliss, and I was just beginning to dive deep into self-discovery mode when a job opportunity landed in my LinkedIn InMail.

The company sounded great, they had an impressive portfolio, I vibed well with the team I interviewed with, and although it wasn’t the exact career path I wanted to pursue, I felt like I couldn’t be picky about work when I was unemployed. I felt like I’d be silly to turn down a secure job opportunity during a time when job scarcity was a global concern.

Not all that shines is gold.

But it did not take long for me to realize that this was not the right job or work environment for me. The projects didn’t really interest me, the workflow was chaotic, the culture wasn’t inspiring and the amount of long, thankless hours I put in was just not worth it during a time when the world felt like it was burning down.

So if I knew something was off, why did I stay for six months?

I felt guilty. I felt selfish for wanting to leave a job that I was lucky enough to find when millions of people were struggling to find work.

I was confused. Work seemed to have been universally rough to everyone I spoke to and all the reputable articles I read. My mental health was suffering just like everyone else’s. So how do I know if this was a hard time I just needed to endure, or if this was a job I needed to leave?

I was scared. How can I quit a job during the most uncertain of times? How can I even think of letting go of job security when I previously lost it?

But most tragic of all, I doubted myself. I had trouble accepting that I deserved, and that I earned, something better. I was feeling resentful for “doing everything right” all these years, yet still ending up in a place that make me feel stuck, unhappy and hopeless.

In mid-April 2021, I got a grip of myself. I just knew in my bones that I can do better and that I deserved better, especially when the world felt like it was burning down.

When hitting “Send” gives you a jolt of relief

At the end of April 2021, I finally reached that definitive “it’s time to go” moment. I gave in my two weeks notice and I never looked back.

I quit my job, and I had no idea what was next.

It was the most empowering and self-loving decision I have ever made in my life.

Last year during this time, I shared the big lessons I learned in 2020. Most of those lessons came from embracing the simplicity of life, reconnecting with what matters, and being flexible about things we can’t control.

This time around, I highlight the things I can control. And it took the doom and gloom of a pandemic to make me hyper-aware of how I wanted to be spending my time and energy.

And that’s what I’m here to share: the things I learned and unlearned when I made the decision to take back control of my life.

Below are my six career lessons I learned in 2021.

1. Trust your intuition

Take notice of things that just don’t feel right. Whether it be the job itself, the people you work with, or how you feel on a day-to-day basis. On the flip side, pay attention if there’s something else out there that is sparking your interest, and follow that curiosity. If you know deep down you’re meant to be doing something else, even if you don’t know what that “something else” is yet, explore it. You’ll know when the time comes to make your move.

2. You’re allowed to change your mind

We’ve been conditioned to believe that career decisions need to be final or determined in our Twenties and that it can only go upwards from there. I find that to be an outdated philosophy, and somewhat tone-deaf to how fast and sudden the world and job market keeps changing, especially during these last two years. It’s not the end of the world if your resume shows a gap. It’s okay to learn something new about yourself and to change your mind.

3. Your job doesn’t define your self-worth

As a child of immigrant parents, this statement is so contrary to everything I’ve been training for and conditioned to believe my whole life that it feels blasphemous to even say it out loud. But 2021 is the year I finally broke out of that belief, so I will shout it a little louder. What you do as a job isn’t who you are as a person. Your job title does not define you. Your job is simply one part of your multifaceted self. Your values, kindness and openness to learn and grow define you much more than a job title does.

This is not at all to diminish one’s ambition, hard work, or goals. As long as those goals are your own, and not attained to prove or compare yourself to external people. Otherwise, every promotion will feel like a moving goal post and your hard work won’t ever feel good enough. Believe me, I’ve been there.

4. Your job doesn’t have to be your passion

This was one of the hardest pills to swallow for me this year because I have spent the last six years chasing after that “dream job”. Don’t get me wrong: you absolutely have to enjoy your job if you’re privileged enough to have this option, but your job doesn’t need to be your sole passion. Your job can truly be “good enough“.

5. You don’t have to monetize your hobbies

Branching off from the previous point, this year I finally accepted that my hobbies can truly just remain hobbies. The fun thing I enjoy doing in my spare time doesn’t have to become a business or a side hustle, because often times that takes the joy and leisure out of the hobby in the first place.

I’ve actually spent a lot of time considering ways to monetize my blog because I felt like, or rather I kept hearing, that having a passion meant I needed to make a career out of it. And sure, there are a lot of inspiring people that turned their hobbies into successful businesses that I personally really admire. But that doesn’t need to be the formula for everyone. If you’re curious, you can explore the possibility and learn what is required to achieve it, but you could also make a decision to not pursue that path and just let your hobby be a happy space for yourself.

6. It’s okay not knowing what’s next

When I left my job this spring, I wasn’t in a rush to jump to another job. Mainly because I needed a mental and physical break, but also because I finally had some time to sit and think about what I wanted to do without any distractions or pressures.

I took some time to just be. I may have not known what my next career move was, but I knew I had returned to myself. That was enough for me to know that things will be alright.

I’m happy and grateful to say that I’m now working with a team that inspires me, work that I enjoy and believe in, a job I keep learning from, and a more laid back environment that doesn’t consume every aspect of my life. Best of all, I work with a team of leaders who support me and believe in me.

But it took me having to remove myself from a space that didn’t feel right, and taking the time to re-orient what I enjoy, what I’m good at and how I can grow and improve from there.

Pre-pandemic, I feel like we were all caught up in wanting more, getting more and becoming more. My personal experiences during the pandemic shifted my viewpoint to the opposite end. Be present, be grateful and be realistic. I’m 36, which means I did my fair share of grinding and hustling since I was 21. This year was not the year to grind. This was the year to take it easy on myself.

I feel like everyone has a pre and post pandemic career story. What is yours?

I’m curious to know if anyone else went through the Great Resignation or made a brave move in their life.

Above all though, I hope you were also kind to yourself, and I hope the new year takes it easy on us. Regardless of what the future holds, I wish you good mental and physical health, happiness and new beginnings.

Happy new year, dear readers. ✨ 

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