My career history goes something like this: retail, military academy administrator, trainee veterinary nurse, college student support advisor, self-employed clock painter, freelance digital designer, personalised gift technician, college disability advisor.
It’s not as wild as some people’s CVs, but I have explored a good few jobs in my time. I carry some insecurity about the variety of careers I have started and changed my mind about, insecurity that has been exacerbated by embarking upon my next chapter – the one where I go back to school to study Psychology.
When I started my creative business, a term which I use rather loftily for the expensive hobby it actually was, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no plan and little idea of what I wanted to achieve. All I knew is that I needed change and I liked making things. So why not try and make something of it? Perhaps, I pondered, this is my calling, the thing I was meant to be doing all along.
Three years later, and my creative venture was not what I was meant to be doing. I knew it, deep down in a locked away place in my guts. None of my skillset was being utilised, and I was floundering. The podcasts, the e-courses, the creative meet-ups – none of them helped. I wasn’t experiencing imposter syndrome, as so many sources of advice would propose to me; I simply was not meant to run my own small business. I’m terrible at delegating. I don’t ask for help even when I’m in crisis. I am addicted to comparison.
But I had said I was going to do this thing, this freelance, live-by-my-own rules way of life. I couldn’t go back on it now, I’d look like a failure. People would judge. I would judge.
Unable to ignore the screaming from my gut, I left the business behind, near enough giving away the last of my products just to be rid of them. I went back to work, the job that I had left to pursue my grand creative plans. I went back to makings things just for fun, just for me, writing and occasionally running collage workshops. Strangely I found myself happier than I had been in a long time. Now I’m six weeks into a course which will hopefully give me the credentials to study Psychology at university next year, with plans in the pipeline for further study after this.
On paper, I look at my journey so far and think how, from an outsiders point of view, I’m just stabbing around in the dark, blindly guessing at what to try next. I keep changing my mind, flaking out on the things I have said I was going to do, flightily hopping from life plan to life plan. Why don’t I just stick with something for more than five minutes?
While it is absolutely necessary to stick with the things that you want when times get tough, it’s also important to recognise whether you want to stop because it’s hard and you’re scared, or whether you have reached the realisation that you’re no longer on the right path. It is a distinction that can occupy the finest of lines, but one that you feel in your bones. We all know when something just isn’t right, and taking action on this realisation can be the scariest part, from leaving a relationship to changing careers. It leaves you vulnerable, open to counter-arguments and critical language from others suggesting you’re giving up or that you didn’t try hard enough, which can often be absorbed into your own internal dialogue.
To have tried something and then changed your mind is neither a failure nor indicator of your strength of character. Consider it immersive research, a means of exploring the possibilities that life can hold for you. It is also a marker of the privilege of choice that some of us are afforded. I feel so fortunate that I have had the means to allow me to sample such a variety of workplaces and forms of education, and hope that societally we can cultivate a mindset that allows us to recognise changing your mind as a positive rather than a negative.
I now look back on the period of my life where I sat painting clocks whilst pretending I was a business owner and smile fondly to myself. In five years I may also look back on my time studying psychology with such grandiose plans for an academic future and a similar smile may cross my lips. The saddest thing would be to not change your mind at all, and to forever wonder “what if?”.