The 44 Year Old Virgin
I was always a bit jealous of friends who knew their calling at young age. “I’m going to be a fireman when I grow up!” Not me. I floundered. I had vague ideas about being a journalist for National Geographic, but I had no clue how to get started down such a path. It seems impossible now, but growing up in my small town, I really thought career options for women were limited to teacher, nurse or secretary – all which I considered noble professions, but nothing really excited me. Not knowing what to do with my life left me with a strange, deep sadness. It was like desperately wanting to fall in love, but not being attracted to anyone.
It took me a long time, 42 years to be exact, to find my purpose. But just like finding true love, it struck me like a lightning bolt and I became willing to take big risks in order to follow my passion. Now, knowing my purpose is a huge relief in itself, but that doesn’t mean things get easier. Today, I am starving student, living off my life savings and the tiny paycheck I get at working part-time at a wonderful, lean, results-driven NGO based here in Geneva.
I am just beginning to learn the skills needed in my newly chosen field, and am immensely grateful for the opportunity, but basically I am a 44 year-old intern. The rookie. A fumbling-clumsy-inexperienced newbie. It’s humbling, but I am excited to go to work every single day! I want to shout from the mountain tops and that deep feeling of sadness has been replaced with something better than I imagined: warm contentment and knowing, that even though I sometimes struggle, I am on the right path, finally. Blissfully. Finally.
My career wilderness years were uncomfortable; I failed a lot and often lacked motivation. Even though I had success at times, I never felt like I was living up to my potential. I buried that deep feeling of sadness, trying not to ask myself any tough questions, until I finally couldn’t take it anymore.
For those who are just starting out or, like me, wondering how to start over, I think it’s good to embrace being uncomfortable, even if you are naturally quite good at what you are currently doing. Being uncomfortable pushes you to make changes and will open doors you can’t believe. The opposite would be to settle, and no joy ever came from accepting less that you what can possibly be. If you haven’t found your purpose, keep looking! Try new things. Volunteer. Moonlight. Invent. New fields and opportunities are emerging every day. Your dream job might not even exist yet.
The legendary Julie Andrews delivered a wonderful commencement speech to graduating class of 2013 and, as usual, she has the best advice:
The best thing for being sad, is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn. – T.H. White, The Once and Future King