Doing what you need to do…

Hi AOWers! It’s Aisling, with my first post of 2012. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Years and thank you to everyone who tweeted or e-mailed with well wishes, you’re all so very lovely.

With the new year and new starts in mind, I wanted to talk today about work and how I struggled with needing to be defined by my career. It took me a long tim to realise that I am more than just a job…has anyone else ever felt the same way?

I started a new job recently and it’s been a revelation. For the first time in a long while I don’t feel sick as I travel to work. I don’t have to swallow down a lump of anxiety upon waking in the mornings. I can get dressed in the morning and my hands don’t shake as I button my blouse. I’m able to eat breakfast. I’ve NEVER eaten breakfast, always thinking that I couldn’t eat at that time of the morning. Turns out, I was missing out-breakfast is awesome.

I know I make it sound as though I was an idiot, that I ’stuck it out’ for too long and so made myself feel terrible. The truth is, I didn’t realise that some people-in fact, most people-don’t have panic attacks at the very thought of starting their working day. I genuinely thought that going to work had to be difficult, that it had to be hard work. I believed that to make a career for myself I had to suffer in the process and that of course it would be a struggle-this was the industry I was going to work in forever, they were hardly going to hand me my pension on a silver platter, were they? The trouble with that thought process was that I began to endure all kinds of being ‘dumped on’ with the air of a weary martyr-‘it’s fine. I don’t mind. I’ll be ok…’ and that’s no fun for anyone. I wore myself out, I wore Phil out with my constant exhaustion and misery. My friends either had to listen to me moaning or not hear from me at all, for days on end…I was far from a desirable party guest.

I enjoyed my job, once upon a time. I was good at it, thought it could be a career. Whilst it wasn’t ‘helping people’ or saving lives, it was fast-paced and fun. I was brilliant at training others, I could see improvements that could be made. I worked more effectively than any of my colleagues and I got results. I thought that if I could maintain all these positive points, I would stop comparing myself to my best friend the lawyer, my cousin the journalist, the nurses and creatives and all the other people I know who excel in their chosen professions and are confident in the career choices they’ve made.

And therein lies the problem. As long as I was comparing myself to anyone else, as long as I was struggling with being so jealous of those who had jobs they loved and careers they were proud of, I was never going to happy. A change had to be made.

And change I did. Not just the job, but the attitude. I may well have envied my friend Rebecca, the nurse…but I could no more be a nurse than the man on the moon. I’m impatient and the sight of internal organs makes me hurl. Now, instead of jealous, I am proud of Becca. Laura, my bestest friend in the world is training to be a solicitor. Instead of wishing I had a wicked line in pencil skirts and an impressive job title, I’m simply in awe of her intelligence and work ethic. And I can apply the same logic to all of my friends and their career choices, because I am finally happy in my own.

I wanted to be the girl who loves her job. The girl who was saving the world, or saving libraries. Bringing life into the world, or helping to stop life being extinguished. Discovering new species, or creating new laws. I thought I could only ever be important through my career, that I would only ever earn respect with an impressive job title and matching salary. Turns out, that’s crap. Turns out, people respect me for the person I am, not the job that I do.

In my new job the work is challenging and the money pays the bills. The people make me howl with laughter. My free time is my own and I am slowly adjusting to being valued at work. I’m not curing cancer and I’m not classifying frogs…but I’m working hard at a job that needs to be done and I’m happy doing it. What more, really, can I ask for?
Categories: Life Experience, Money and Career
17 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted January 5, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I used to have a job that made me ill – sick at the thought of going in, unable to sleep, nightmares, exhaustion.

    Until I had enough, and realised that, like you, I didn't have to make things so hard for myself. My friends and family didn't care what I did as a job, they only cared that I was happy.

    So I made myself happy. Changed jobs, took a paycut, and finally managed a good nights sleep for the first time in years.

    Having a fancy career is lovely – but it doesn't have to be your defining point


  2. mahj
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I agree with every single point you made Aisling, but literally can't believe that you've only just started to have brekkie!


  3. Posted January 5, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    wow, a really great post, and so important too! Your outlook/attitude is key as to where you are heading next….and I'm straight off to whip up a mega brekkie after seeing that picture….nom nom nom xxx

  4. Esme
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Why do we do it to ourselves? I was in the same position as you up to a few months ago: it honestly got to the point that I started dredding going to bed on any night but Fridays and Saturdays because it meant that soon I would be waking up and going back to work. I was so unhappy but I kept thinking that I had to put up with it.

    And now I've got a new job and although it's not perfect and I've made some sacrifices, I'm choosing contentment 9-5 over pursuing a career goal that may or may not turn into something.

    Well done Aisling xx

  5. Posted January 5, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    loved this post, mainly because I think it's so important to not be defined by what you do for a living. And I have fallen into the same trap as Aisling of envying others/beating myself up for not working harder/smarter at uni/other jobs/etc. So glad you're loving the new job A, brilliant news.

  6. Posted January 5, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Perhaps it's not a case of a career defining us, but ambition defining us? Perhaps for some people it's in their DNA and some people less so? Like for me, (and this is just my experience, I know that some will disagree), I couldn't rest easy if I was cruising in my job. It makes me unhappy to not be working hard, sometimes too hard, and I'm happy to take stress on the chin as part and parcel of making that choice. But that work doesn't have to be in the office does it – right now my job isn't as stretching as I'd like so I'm working flat out on the blog. In six months time, priorities may change. I suppose its about finding your balance and the tipping point is different for each person?

  7. Anonymous
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I've been reading AOW for a while but this is the first time I've felt I just had to respond (probably a little intimidated before!). This post really touched a nerve – I feel stuck in a job I don't enjoy, working minimum ten hours a day, not including the work I take home and always on call. I was dreading coming back to work after the christmas break as I didn't want to get back on the treadmill of exhaustation and stress again. Struggling to see where my skills are transferable to and not easy to get a job these days… I know other people don't feel like this about work but I'm stuck and can't see a way out.

    Anyway, don't want to use this post as therapy but just to say thanks for showing me there's light at the end of the tunnel. I'm glad you all are in better situations and hopefully I will be at some point too!

  8. Posted January 5, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Great post, Aisling. And completely agree with Anna's comment too – I know that if I'm not feeling challenged at work then I'm generally unhappy (not least because it makes the day go so slowly). I think this is one of the reasons why so many of us are setting up blogs and websites – not only as more creative outlet, but a way to continue stretching ourselves and striving for something more.

    And completely shocked by the whole not having breakfast thing…I'm starving come 11am even with breakfast so no idea how you managed without!

  9. Posted January 5, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Sometimes it's like AOW has a window into my brain. It's almost unnerving.

    I think it's not just about working hard, particularly, it's about doing what you're good at. Like Anna K, I'm not happy unless I'm giving my all to what I'm doing, I need to feel challenged, but lately I feel like I'm working at something I'm not naturally good at, so I am constantly nauseous with anxiety that I'm going to fail. For some reason I feel like I shouldn't do the things I'm good at, because they're not challenging enough, but that's ridiculous, I should surely give 110% to what I'm good at, and then I'd be really getting somewhere.

    I'm trying so hard to make the right choice. Thank you, Aisling, for an exceedingly helpful and well-timed post. Now could you all stop seeing into my brain, in case you spot the crazy…

    K x

  10. Posted January 5, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Oh….you guys.

    Anon-we're so very glad that you have commented, I hope it won't be the first and last time! If this post did give you a little bit of hope, I'm pleased. Sometimes it's impossible to find the light atthe end of the tunnel yourself, isn't it? I hope that your job situation rights itself-sending lots of luck!

    Anna and Emma are so right too, it IS about defining yourself by ambition as well as career. But it's ok to not be the most ambitious person in the world-if it's not in your blood, it's just not. You can't force it…as I have learnt!

    Here's to 2012 being the year we all find the right place, the right level of ambition, the light at the endof the tunnel for those who need it.


  11. amy f
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    One of my resolutions is to make 2012 a year where I'm happy from 9-5.

  12. Posted January 5, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post, Aisling and I'm so glad you found your way out. Like so many others, I'm currently trying to find my way out of my situation. Anna's post a few months ago about how many attempts she's made to escape her job in the last year completely described my situation. My trouble is that I love the place I work at just not the job because I've completely outgrown it and I'm either bored out my mind or stressed by the mountain of work I have.

    Did you completely change careers Aisling? I've been doing so much soul searching whether I want to stick in my industry but the thought of such a drastic change, and possibly having to start at the bottom of the ladder again, fills me with fear and dred!

    Thanks for, again, giving us somewhere to discuss these important matters AOW!


  13. Posted January 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I have written and deleted this comment a thousand times. Raw nerve.

    I'll just say this. Katielase's comment sums it up for me. I like to feel I'm doing something I'm good at – whether that relates to the part of my life I'm paid for or not, it really doesn't matter.


  14. Becca
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Like Penny….raw nerve. Today I did 12 hours. Yesterday I did 12 hours. The day before….. By my choice of profession 12 hours is pretty tame. Some days I have days where I LoVe my job, love the people, love the buzz. Then I have others where I think 'is this IT' and get like Esme was, except I hated Saturday nights because tomorrow is Sunday and that means I have to get ready for work next week. Sometimes I feel like a vegetable-I think all day and then get home and can't face reading or watching the news….because it requires thought and I don't have that in me.

    For me, it's not about challenging myself, although I wonder what it would be like if I wasn't. I did the job I did because it paid well and because I didn't want to be an accountant. That's it. Now my parents love telling people what I do and I like making them proud. I'm not sure I'd want to do anything else either (except not work) because every job has it's crappy down days.

    For me work is about going to an office with people I really like, earning enough for treats for TBTMMO and I and which allows me to have most (but not all weekends off). Will I feel the same in 5 or 20 years. Unlikely.

  15. Carly Collins
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    I could not agree more with this post. I had a horrendous job upon leaving Uni and would experience similar feelings to you in a morning. One day I jumped and I've never looked back. Funny thing was that I didn't realise how miserable I'd become until I wasn't- if you know what I mean?

    Well done and welcome to the 'love my job' club. I think we're very priveleged.

  16. El
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    How well timed! I'm starting a new job in a completely different career path on Monday and I feel sick in case I'm making the wrong choice and should have stuck it out 'doing good' in my previous NHS jobs. But moving into a new job and career will give me the chance to test and proove myself, which is something I havent had to do for ages. So even if it all goes hopelessly wrong, at least I will have tried! Positive Mental Attitude!!

    Wish me luck in the big bad business world…

One Trackback

  • By On living to work, not working to live on January 12, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    [...] work.  It defines a huge part of who I am and what I stand for.  We’ve talked before about how work shouldn’t define who you are.  I stayed out of that discussion (well…I didn’t really, but I tried) because unlike many of [...]

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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