On The Regret That Comes With Always Making The “Safe” Career Choice

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Due to some big changes that I might be facing in my immediate future, I’ve become quite reflective of my past. For me, and for many of us, life was pretty straight forward before we hit university. Then, after graduating from high school, or college, there seems to be an endless amount of choices we need to handle. There’s either every opportunity, or no opportunities, and we feel so much pressure to make a decision, which can be a blessing, or a curse. I’ve come to realize that my blessing, and my curse, is that I’ve been extremely lucky, but also extremely sensible.

After graduating from architecture school, I had to pick a next step, and the pressure often makes it feel like that choice will decide the rest of your life. I was very motivated during undergrad, and had taken side gigs in writing and illustration, which opened some doors for me. It was an ideal time for me to take a risk, move toward one of those doors, and change track from the field in which I got my degree (architecture), to something closer to my hobbies: illustration and game design. There was no guarantee that I would do well in them, but considering I was a freshly out of school, there was plenty of time for me to learn and hone my skills.

Instead I took the sensible route, used the contacts I made in school, and got a job at a tiny, yet avant-garde, architecture firm. And while I enjoyed my time there, I can’t pretend that part of my decision wasn’t made of out of fear: fear that my five years studying would be wasted, fear that I didn’t know enough to consider a different path, and a fear of wading into unknown waters. I kept to the shore, and told myself I could continue just doing my hobbies as a side hustle.

But now and then I see a Facebook post about someone who did have the balls to switch from one career path to another and succeeded. Some had dropped out of university, pursued their passions and have become presidents of their own companies. And reading those posts sometimes make me feel like I’ve failed because I pursued to sensible track set out for me. I wonder if I made the right decision. I question myself: was I sensible or was I afraid?

While I didn’t expect to be fabulously wealthy the minute I left school, I didn’t think it would take so long to become financially independent either. I was lucky to be able to live at my parents’ house while I started working after college. While I tried not to be a financial burden on my parents, I was able to save a lot of money that would have gone to rent and utilities. I was able to save up, and travel, and have a social life that was okay, I guess. And I’d built up an emergency fund, and followed a budget, instead of splurging on unlimited pairs of high heels.

But thanks to social media, I can see that plenty of friends, who also lived at home, are summering in France, spending winter in Sri Lanka, and aren’t budgeting when it comes to expensive clothes. While I know a lot of it is financed by the Bank of Parental Affection, I didn’t know that I felt so frustrated about people not saving money, until I read that Elite Daily article—you know the one I’m talking about.

But on the other hand, reading the Elite Daily article about the girl who refuses to budget, made me spend many hours wondering if I had lived my life in fear, or whether I really did the smart, sensible thing. I doubted more or less all my life choices. I had tried to be sensible and safe because I was afraid of failure. But sometimes I still feel like a failure because I took the safe career route instead of betting on myself, and pursuing my hobbies as a career. The main thought that dominated my mind was that it was too late. I had spent the last four years thinking that I was establishing a career, when I should have taken more risks, and explored more opportunities. I had worked and saved, but the amount seemed negligible when I compared it to the fun “once and a lifetime” experiences social media acquaintances were having, that I could have had instead. It felt like I had squandered my 20s, and that I should just resign the remaining couple of years to my 9-to-5 grind, and be grateful for the annual vacation days I get.

However, it’s hard to throw yourself a pity party when you have money in the bank and a stable income. I came to realize (very, very slowly) that I am in a better position than ever to take a risk. I can, if I choose to, resign from my job and live on my savings until I find something else. But I’m pretty happy at my job, which I take as a sure sign that I didn’t make the wrong decision by following the career path I studied for in school. If I want more money for savings, or exotic vacations, my job leaves me weekends and evenings free when I can concentrate on side hustles. I’m also in a better position to move abroad, or take an extended trip, thanks to my savings. If I do go abroad, I’ll be able to do it in a financially responsible way— I’ve applied for grants and am looking for work opportunities abroad.

I just needed to get out of my FOMO headspace and be grateful for the things I have. While it’s hard to be the person who has always made the “responsible” choice, instead of taking risks, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and with each day of responsibility, I’m better preparing myself for the day I want to take a risk. And it’s better to look forward to the future, and what it may have in store for me, than live as if all your good days are behind you.

Amena is an architect and social media ghost. You will not find her on Instagram or Twitter.

Image via Unsplash

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