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How My Career At 30 Looks Totally Different From What I Thought I Wanted In My 20s

In the last few months, pretty much every career expectation and goal I had for myself by the time I turned 30 drastically changed. A novel virus spread across the globe, taking hundreds of thousands of lives and making millions ill. As a result, the global economy tanked overnight, shattering the job market and leaving millions unemployed in the U.S. alone. This number includes me: In late March, I was notified that, because of COVID-19, I was being laid off.  But the thing is, even before the planet came to a screeching, ugly halt, I had already been checking in with myself about my career trajectory and the goals I created for myself long ago. Was this where I wanted to be? Was I happy? 

I’ve worked in media for over seven years. It’s a stressful industry that’s hastily being thinned out due to a growing consensus that the monetization just isn’t there, or just harder to achieve than previously believed. With the decreasing amount of advertising dollars, things are looking even more grim. When I first started writing for publications on the internet at 23, I internally crafted milestones I wanted to reach before turning 30. I wanted to become an editor. I wanted to someday move to New York and work for the digital arm of a legacy magazine. I wanted to run a website. I wanted to run a big brand (or multiple!) and have impressive responsibilities paired with an equally impressive title.

It’s a good thing to revise your dreams if you need to.

It’s a good thing to dream. I’ve always been encouraged by my parents, peers, and mentors to keep wanting more for myself (and I’m incredibly lucky and privileged to have had the opportunities that propelled me forward). It’s also a good thing to revise your dreams if you need to.

I ended up accomplishing a lot on my list of career goals in my 20s. Although I never did move to New York or work at a fancy magazine with print roots, I learned a lot in every position I’ve held. Now that I’m back to full-time freelancing, I’ve made the time to come up for air and ask myself if a traditional job in media is what I want (maybe!). Did having a fancy title make me feel any more or less important (not really!). What did I want to do next? (This is TBD.) While I’m actively looking for a full-time job, I’m doing it more deliberately than I was when I first got laid off and spent a lot of time on LinkedIn panic-clicking.  I have enough work lined up to pay the bills and buy groceries and I have the privilege of being able to be choosy — and for that, I’m grateful. 

I’m not in a place where I thought I’d be on my 30th birthday. Younger me might have been concerned about present-day me. But maybe it’s finally time to start thinking about what success means in a less rigid way.

I know that the next full-time job I take might not be the traditional media job I envisioned in my head when I was 23, and that’s okay. I’ve learned that my editorial skills are pliable and that I can adapt to whatever the industry is morphing into. I know that I want to keep learning, and that includes skills beyond my scope of practice, like Photoshop, or analytics tools I may have been too intimidated by in my previous roles to play with. I love managing a team, and ideally, I’d love to continue doing so. But also? Just getting to work with other smart, innovative humans and having a brilliant person who I report to is cool, too. The point is, I want to be able to surround myself with colleagues who will be constantly teaching me new things and providing the support if I need it. 

I’m not in a place where I thought I’d be on my 30th birthday. Younger me might have been concerned about present-day me, asking her, But do you feel like you have a purpose? Do you feel valuable? Don’t you want to make a shit ton of money and be on panels and get invited to industry events?

Sure, I want purpose, and of course, I want to feel valuable. Money and job perks are obviously awesome. But maybe it’s finally time to start thinking about what success means in a less rigid way. I’m making less money than I did in my last couple of full-time roles, but I’m also getting a lot of fulfillment out of writing more. I’m consulting people and companies and slowly learning how to run a business myself, even if it’s a small one right now. I’m on the cusp of something very different from what I’ve done in the past, and it’s scary and overwhelming sometimes, but I also think it’s a necessary shake-up. 

In the several interviews I’ve had, I’ve let recruiters and hiring managers know that these days, I want to prioritize learning and being challenged in my new role, and I mean it earnestly. As I recalibrate my career goals, I realize that they’re more about the refusal of growing stagnant and the ability to open myself up to unexpected opportunities versus a salary, location, and job title. Here’s to 30, y’all. 

Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Image via Pexels

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