When I picked up Amy Poehler's Yes Please, I felt deeply insecure about my career. I had recently graduated from college and moved to New York City to pursue my Big City Dream of working in the publishing industry. Instead, I split my time between an internship, two part-time jobs, and endless applications. I naively thought I would land a job as an editorial assistant soon after graduation, but instead, I spent most of my time moving boxes of books. I was excited to be in NYC, but I was also a little frustrated, and very, very tired.
Poehler's book — with its neon pink lettering and bold photograph of the author — called out to me from the shelves of the Barnes & Noble where I worked. Even though I couldn't really afford it, I used my employee discount to get my own copy of her memoir.
Yes Please is a beautiful, generous, heartfelt book, but there was one piece of advice that struck me more than any other: "Treat your career like a bad boyfriend."
OK, let me allow her to explain:
"You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look. [...] Ambivalence can help tame the beast. Remember, your career is a bad boyfriend. It likes it when you don’t depend on it. It will reward you every time you don’t act needy. It will chase you if you act like other things (passion, friendship, family, longevity) are more important to you. If your career is a bad boyfriend, it is healthy to remember you can always leave and go sleep with somebody else."
I jotted "Treat your career like a bad boyfriend." on the whiteboard next to my desk. When I felt overwhelmed by my lack of editorial job prospects, I would think about that quote. It was the perfect reminder to me that I didn't have to be everything all at once.
At the time, I was taking my own career (or lack thereof) way too seriously. I felt frustrated that my early 20s hadn't panned out exactly as I'd envisioned, and I was desperate to achieve the goals that I had set. I put too much pressure on myself to be perfect all the time. I proofread emails so many times, I barely got anything done. Once, after my register tallied $11 short during a shift at Barnes and Noble, I cried myself to sleep. Every mistake felt like an explanation for why I hadn't achieved my goal of being an editor. I beat myself up for not being better, whatever that meant.
I had to learn that mistakes happen. I had to learn that things won't always turn out the way you imagined or hoped. But I took Poehler's advice, and I stepped back. Once I did, I made discoveries about myself and encountered unexpected opportunities. I tried on some jobs that weren't quite right, and I found some jobs that I really loved. I figured out what I wanted from life outside a career in publishing. At some point, I also realized that I didn't want a career in publishing at all. My life stopped being about becoming "successful," and as it changed, I started to feel more confident in who I was and who I was capable of becoming.
This is not to say that I don't care about my career any longer. I definitely do. But on those days when it seems like my career doesn't care about me, I just remind myself that my career is just a bad boyfriend. It doesn't have to define who I am.