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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

My Biggest Mistake: I Stayed in a Job That Was Starving My Soul

Welcome to The Daily Muse’s first-ever essay contest, “My Biggest Mistake at My First Job—And What I Learned From It.” We were blown away by your stories, and we’ve narrowed them down to six amazing finalists. Read all of the entries here, then vote for your favorite!  

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It was a foggy and rainy morning. The Long Island Expressway was bumper to bumper with drivers in a mad rush.

I sat in alone in my car and wondered: “Why was I still working in a job that was starving my soul?”

The answer: fear.

For five years, I had been working as a sales representative for a multi-national pharmaceutical company. Despite my gut telling me countless times that I was in the wrong job, I always sided with the voice in my head and the advice of family and friends which said the status, benefits, and “stability” of my job was something to be grateful for.

Yet every time I saw a patient rushed in and out of the doctor’s office (after waiting sometimes for hours) and every time I had to go to a work dinner and promote the latest prescription of questionable value, I felt an underlying unease and deeper knowing that my work was out of alignment with my core values and beliefs.

I had always wanted to work in healthcare in some way and thought by educating physicians about groundbreaking medications I could help people be healthy and live well. But I soon realized I was on a trail to promoting health in a way that was counter to everything I practiced and intuitively knew to be true about wellness: Eat well and in moderation, get daily physical movement, regular sleep, and reduce stress.

Yet it wasn’t until that dreary day sitting on the LIE that I realized all the “rational” thoughts about what I’d be letting go—stability, enticing benefits, and a generous 401(k)—were really just my fear in disguise. Every time I contemplated leaving and made lists of the pros and cons, or consulted with family and friends about my leaving, I was ignoring my inner-knowing and resisting my true passion to share what I knew about mindfulness and good health with others.

Fear saw everything I’d be letting go and was scared of not knowing what was ahead.

So I finally decided that morning to surrender my fear and let my inner wisdom take the front seat. And there I was, left only with what I knew to be true: This is not what I’m supposed to be doing.

Although fear was still lurking in my mind, I chose to see it, separate from it, and stay with it instead of letting it take control. Easy? Not always, but standing guard to the portal of my mind turned out to be the most empowering thing I’ve ever done.

I figured out a way to go back to school and get certified as holistic health counselor, so I could help people put their health and happiness back in their own hands. I started my own practice doing what I love and discovered the real meaning of benefits: seeing my clients make huge strides at getting well by themselves.

Was it a mistake to spend five years doing work I labeled “secure?” I’d call it the route I needed to take to understand that deep within me, and all of us, is intelligence far greater then any thoughts, ideas, or opinions we hold. Learning to tune in and follow this deeper inner-wisdom ultimately made this mistake a powerful learning experience and has put me on a path to a more fulfilling career and life.

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Photo courtesy of Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier.