A table and chairs near a window in a dimly lit room

Our newest series, A Roundtable With Darling, offers real talk from a few of our writers. This Q&A series will take an issue and share the writers’ personal experience and lessons learned. The hope is to create a space of connection and transparency.

What to do when your career path is not linear? Because whose career path is? On today’s post, a few Darling writers will share their career journeys, with all their pivots, transitions and “failures.” They are going to delve into the ups and downs of career and what they wish they would’ve known back in college.

Adulting ain’t easy! Oftentimes, in the midst of our hustle and grind, we need to remember to show ourselves grace. We need to embrace seasons of uncertainty as puzzles to figure out and not signs of failure.

Here is what our Darling writers had to say about fragmented pieces of their career paths and how to piece them together to make something beautiful:

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

The first thing I ever remember wanting to be when I grew up was horse trainer, which is hilarious because not only did I not have a horse, I don’t think I’d ever been on one at that point! You’d think I’d grown up on a ranch somewhere, but no. I grew up in a small beach town in Florida, void of horses.”—Erin McNeely, Denver, CO

“When I was a little girl, I wanted to be the editor of Vogue.”—Kelsey Yarnell, San Diego, CA

“When I grew up, I wanted to be an author of mystery novels.”—Shelby Thomas, Denver, CO

“Initially I wanted to be a saxophonist, next a veterinarian and then a lawyer in the army. Somewhere in the midst of those three, I realized my preferred career was justice-oriented, expressly creative and involved fixing or helping people in some way.”—Nadia Hussain, London, United Kingdom

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a lot of things. I was a big dreamer and wanted to be a firefighter, doctor and Olympic skier all at once. The only thing that stayed consistent was that I always wanted to be a writer!”—Bailey Coleman, Lubbock, TX

“I always loved to write, but I’ve wanted to be a farmer, an astronaut, a nurse and a bartender.”—Iona Brannon, Los Angeles, CA

What did you study in college? Have you used your degree?

“My undergraduate degree is in Liberal Studies and English. I entered college thinking I wanted to be a high school English teacher. By my senior year, I decided that teaching wasn’t for me, and by the time I applied for grad school, I’d pivoted quite a bit.

My masters is in International Development. Honestly, I’m not using either degree directly right now, though I have worked in the field of my masters in the past. Yet, the work ethic, communication skills and life experience I gained while acquiring my degrees have proved themselves useful time and time again.”—Erin McNeely, Denver, CO

I majored in English literature at Boston College, and I have definitely used my degree. I taught English as a second language for several years in Morocco, and I am now a freelance content writer.”—Kelsey Yarnell, San Diego, CA

“I studied Theology, which involved a complex mix of philosophy, social sciences, ancient languages and mostly biblical, historical studies, with a dash of art history. I loved it. Most of my employment hasn’t directly involved using my degree.”—Nadia Hussain, London, United Kingdom

“I studied communication and psychology in college. I guess I’ve kind of used my degree, but not in the ways I thought I would!”—Bailey Coleman, Lubbock, TX

What is your current job title? Does your career look exactly like what you imagined?

“Currently, I am the Director of Marketing for my husband’s and my company, as well as a freelance writer. My career does not look how I imagined though. I thought I would end up in high heels with a briefcase in Manhattan, and now, I mostly work from home with my babies running around!”—Bailey Van Tassel, Costa Mesa, CA

“I’m a freelance writer, writing mostly digital content for online businesses. As a college student, I could have never conceived of this job. I didn’t really know freelancing was a possibility and I didn’t know I would take such an interest in business/marketing/entrepreneurship.”—Kelsey Yarnell, San Diego, CA

“I am a Substance Abuse Prevention Counselor & Licensed Social Worker. I never imagined what this position would look like because, frankly, I never knew it existed!”—Shelby Thomas, Denver, CO

“I am a social media manager and content writer for a website developer. My career does not look anything like I would have imagined even nine months ago.”—Bailey Coleman, Lubbock, TX

What curve balls or unexpected turns have occurred along your career path?

“So many curve balls, so many twists and turns, heartbreak, tears of frustration and also, so much redemption—all of it. Job searching is really hard, and no one really talks about that. Coming out of grad school as the idealistic 20-something I was, I just assumed I’d get a job in my field no problem. That was not the case.

I sent out more resumes than I could ever count. I went on so many interviews. Some of them were great, and I was crushed when never heard back. Some of them were so awkward I wanted to crawl into a hole, and I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t hear back.—Erin McNeely, Denver, CO

“I graduated college in 2009 during the recession. So getting a job straight out of school was tough. I tried and tried to get a writing job, but no one was paying. I ended up eventually getting into a sales role with a tiny company and loved it!

I find the years I did sales to be some of my favorite, and they also gave me such an edge. I also got to travel internationally for that job and really needed that to help me feel fulfilled in my mid-2os (pre-kids). The biggest turn that I never thought possible was starting my own company. That by far has taught me the most.”—Bailey Van Tassel, Costa Mesa, CA

“I was studying to be a nurse when I realized I wanted to spend my higher education learning about media and communications. Even in media, I changed. I originally wanted to work as a foreign correspondent. Then, I pivoted toward lifestyle writing.”—Iona Brannon, Los Angeles, CA

What did those curve balls teach you?

“Be open-minded. Think outside titles, and go for experiences instead. Don’t be too good to take out the trash. Take chances on people who take chances on you. No business is better than bad business, and bet on yourself. Always bet on yourself.”—Bailey Van Tassel, Costa Mesa, CA

Once I realized that it’s okay not to be okay, I gave myself permission to thrive. I encountered these challenges in part, if not entirely, because I didn’t always honor my journey or listen to what I knew I needed. What I’ve learned is that when you approach confusion with compassion, being upset with understanding and exhaustion with empathy, curve balls feel way less curvy.”—Shelby Thomas, Denver, CO

“Mystery and unexpected circumstances are to be wholeheartedly embraced, not feared. Often curve balls, destined to veer you “off track” and send you spinning, do the exact opposite. They lead you somewhere you couldn’t have arrived at by yourself. Curve balls taught me to be flexible, resilient and hopeful.

Life will always, always have curve balls. It’s just a matter of how we respond. We can choose to refuse to succumb to mediocrity, using each surprise to build something positive.”—Nadia Hussain, London, United Kingdom

“It’s okay to let go of past dreams in pursuit of new dreams.”—Iona Brannon, Los Angeles, CA

What’s something you wish you would have been taught about career and the job search when you were younger?

“I wish someone would have told me that sometimes a job can just be a job, not everything has to be steeped in meaning and purpose. Sometimes, the meaning and purpose of a career is to just pay the bills and free yourself up to do the things you love and are passionate about outside of your job.

I wish someone would have told me to not take rejection so personally. Also, if an interview is really bad, sometimes that because of the interviewer, not the interviewee.”—Erin McNeely, Denver, CO

“I wish I had been taught that your career doesn’t have to be linear. We don’t live in a society anymore where people are expected to stick to one job for 40 years. You can hold multiple titles, you can have multiple passions and you can quit multiple times. Also, job-searching is like going on first dates. It’s exhausting.”—Iona Brannon, Los Angeles, CA

“You can choose a course of action to pursue a specific career, but you should also be prepared to walk through doors you may never have thought of. You may end up discovering a totally unexpected passion.”—Kelsey Yarnell, San Diego, CA

What advice would you give your younger self?

“Take more chances! Nothing will make or break you unless you let it. And, follow your gut always so that you know when it’s telling you something.”—Bailey Van Tassel, Costa Mesa, CA

“As you seek to discover the career that you want, listen to your intuition (it’s there, I promise), be kind to yourself always, and remember to have fun. No career should come at the cost of your joy.”—Shelby Thomas, Denver, CO

“Most of your wonderful, well-meaning five- to 10-year plans won’t pan out exactly as you anticipated. A tight grip on things you hope for can sometimes quash the dream entirely.

Being a constant go-getter, ambitious and active young woman, I would go back and tell myself to relax a little bit on the small details and to be intentional about rest. Be open to change and the unexpected, you’ll soon find that the free-fall, mysterious part of life is far more fun anyway.”—Nadia Hussain, London, United Kingdom

What has your career journey been like? What advice would you give to your younger self beginning her career? 

Image via Yoni Goldberg, Darling Issue No. 14

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  1. I love all the advice and stories in this post! Careers aren’t a linear thing anymore…The advice I would give to my younger self… It’s ok if life doesn’t happen on your timeline. and it’s ok if your life doesn’t follow society’s “traditional” timeline. When I was little I loved animals and wanted to be a vet. I also loved art and anything creative and wanted to be an artist and help people and have my own business. In high school, I enrolled in art school and thought I would go to college to become a music therapist. I met my husband and got married and started a family young. I spent several years as a manager working in catering/event planning. I learned a lot about people and business and myself. The only thing that stayed consistent through this all was I was always writing and trying to create something.. for myself and for others. I am now a full-time parent, student, and intern. I’ve been freelancing for a while and am going back to school for mass communication and working in social media/content creation and marketing and loving it. The advice I would give to others/ myself- ALL experiences are valuable. Even the ones that are hard or don’t feel relevant to your “daydream”. all the jobs I’ve had are helping me where I am now. love this post darling team! – Hannah- https://www.theblessedlittlelife.com/

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