I thought I’d landed my dream job. It turned out to be a nightmare
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When I decided to leave my job in book publishing, I’d spent six months deliberating over it. Stressing about it. Worrying where my life might lead if I actually went through with it.
I was working in an industry that I had chased for so long, and yet I was unhappy after only five years. I’d moved to Sydney and left a relationship for this career and, somehow, it was only a few years before I wanted a change.
Is there one perfect role out there for everyone, or are there many perfect roles depending on your life at that particular moment?Credit: ISTOCK
From the moment I started working in publishing, people would tell me how lucky I was. How hard it was to get a job in books. How glamorous the industry seemed.
Yes, the money was atrocious and the workload enormous and the department was understaffed. But you got free books and you got to travel, and if you attended industry events, then you didn’t need to buy your own dinner and you’d somehow end up with more tote bags than you could count (I’m still finding them around my house, 4½ years after leaving).
I’d constantly hear from people who wanted to work in the industry – who had been trying desperately for years to secure a way in – so I felt like I should be grateful.
Grateful for the burnout and the pressure and the long hours. Grateful to work on 15 or even 20 books at a time. Grateful for the extra work because another of my colleagues had quit and the company couldn’t afford to raise wages. Grateful that the only way to get a pay rise was to be approached by another publisher and use it as leverage.
In reality, I was wondering how I was going to pay for my teeth fillings, my medical appointments and my rent, and I was embarrassed that I wanted to be a writer, but I had no energy left at the end of my day to open the laptop.
When the microwave broke in my share house, it was my turn to replace an appliance. My roommate specifically requested I not buy something cheap from Kmart, and I wondered if I could even afford it. Above all else, I kept asking myself if working my dream job was supposed to give me this much anxiety.
I contemplated a long list of options. Maybe I should move back home or to a new city altogether. Maybe I could switch to a different industry, or side-step into an alternative role at another publishing house.
When one of my colleagues left publishing to pursue medicine, and then another departed to study law, for a fleeting moment I also considered returning to university. I thought about teaching or criminology, perhaps even psychology. Maybe I’d simply chosen the wrong career and needed to re-route.
But accepting this meant that I had to accept what I’d been afraid to admit for six months – that I was going to be quitting my dream job in an industry I thought I would work in for my entire career. I’d have to think of a new dream job and the potential for mistakes, or taking a wrong turn, was high.
I applied for jobs in another industry and was rejected, and reached the final round of interviews for a role in the performing arts only to be unsuccessful. Their feedback was that I seemed unsure of my career path and they didn’t believe I actually wanted the job.
This both embarrassed and floored me. I didn’t realise my hesitancy was so obvious, and it reminded me why I was so terrified to leave publishing in the first place. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted. And it seems I wasn’t the only person who knew it.
After I resigned, I told colleagues I needed a break from books. I told my friends it was because I wanted a job with better pay. I told my partner it was because being a book publicist felt like turning up to work, hitting your head against a wall for hours on end, and then going home.
Frankly, I was exhausted. And I didn’t realise how much guilt I harboured about leaving a coveted industry until I actually quit. But then a publisher told me that she thought book publishing was a vampire and staff were being bled dry, and I was reassured in my decision to leave.
In the years since, I’ve realised how easily the idea of a dream job can change. At 10, I wanted to be an actor. At 20, I wanted to be an editor. And now, at 30, I’m writing novels. It’s ironic that leaving the publishing industry allowed me the time and energy to write my own books. Maybe I was never working a dream job at all; maybe it was merely a stepping stone.
I’ve started to question if chasing a dream job is realistic. Is there one perfect role out there for everyone, or are there many perfect roles depending on your life at that particular moment?
Perhaps we need to give ourselves permission to imagine different careers, and to forgive ourselves when one of them, or even all of them, don’t work out. When a job no longer suits, move on to one that does. And when you do, get rid of all those tote bags. You won’t need them, I promise.
Perfect-ish (Penguin Random House) by Jessica Seaborn is out now.
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