Professional Heartbreak: What To Do When Your Dream Career is Dying a Slow Death

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By Soo Youn

It’s not like this is the first time I’ve had my heart broken. Obviously it’s happened before, at different times in different ways with different partners, but this time I really do worry that I won’t recover.

The first time was in grad school – the cheating and stealing. There was my first real job – culminating with that guy that lied about everything. I even took some time off, sort of, and experimented with something new. I went abroad with a new name, a new identity, but I never really got over it. Then I came back to the States, and now for the last three years or so, I really wonder if I’ll ever shake this one. Sometimes I think about throwing in the towel altogether. How many times is too many to bounce back? And will there always be something to come back to?
I’m talking about my career, of course. When I was younger, I was even naïve enough to call it a vocation, but that seems like a long time ago. I am a journalist. I should probably explain that I never meant to be one, but it happened anyway and I fell in love with it. It was the fling that took.
When I was a kid, I never dreamed of being a nurse or an actress or famous. I was a bookworm who looked forward to the 4th grade because that meant I could check out three books from the school library instead of two. I loved all manner of books, but I especially loved biographies. Stories of people like Patrick Henry or Dolly Madison – the stories of real or important figures. A lot of these people also seemed to have been lawyers, which is what I was going to be when I grew up.
The assumption that I was going to law school was a given that persisted throughout college. Upon graduation, I worked as a paralegal at a prestigious white shoe corporate law firm in Manhattan, and it confirmed what I had already known – corporate law wasn’t for me. That was okay though, I knew I’d do public interest law or something. Then I flirted with the idea of publishing or writing, even, for a living. But it seemed so…risky. Something other people did who didn’t care about responsibilities or just had loads of self-assurance they’d make it in a career that few succeeded at.  Not conservative little me.
Then I did a couple of things. I wrote my favorite writer, Michael Ondaatje, a letter volunteering to be his assistant, should he need one, and handed it to him at a reading.  He called me to say he was flattered and already had one but would keep my name on file.  Then I interviewed at Conde Nast and had a job at Vanity Fair for roughly a day before politics nixed it. Then I went to work for a fashion/music writer as his assistant.  I mean, I was obviously still going to law school. I took the LSAT!
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