What you should do

Katy sent this in to us saying ‘I’m sending this in before I get annoyed with myself about how preachy it sounds’. I happen to think it’s the opposite of preachy. I think it’s open minded, positive, and really pretty inspiring. Katy has followed the path that so many of us have – Worked hard at school, chose sensible A- Levels, on to Uni, and then a job related to the degree you worked hard for…because, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Katy argues not, and she argues it well…

I’ve always hated people trying to pin me down about what I want to do when I grow up. When I was 12 we played this ‘game’ in PSHE called the Real Game. It was this ridiculous game whereby you got assigned a career with a salary, and had to plan your time and money and how you would spend them when you were grown up. You know, alongside putting a condom on a banana…

12 year old me was not impressed with a teacher making me pick me career path and how I would spend my spare time when I was an adult. I told them I dreamt of being a ballerina. Any of you who have met me know why that is ridiculous.

Ever since then, picking A levels or a course at uni, people have asked me what I want to do. My answer has always been “I don’t know, why do I have to know?” And I stick by that. Why do you have to know? I picked my subjects and uni course based on what I loved. I still love Geography, I love glaciers and rivers and hills and being able to look at the world around me and explain it. I never had a career path in mind, and I hated people expecting me to.

So somehow I missed it when I started expecting myself to follow a certain path. I got good A levels, went to do Geography at university, graduated etc… Then thought because I had a geography degree, and had knowledge in modelling and statistics and environmental change had to do something that involved all of those things.

And that’s what I did. I joined a sustainable energy company and did research for them. I enjoyed it in the main part, or at least didn’t hate it. I used knowledge I’d gained and I guess I was making a difference to people, which is a nice motivator. It was so what I should be doing.

But I was bored. Partially it was the office 9 to 5, sitting at my desk all day. Partially it was my supervisors feeling they could do the job quicker than they could explain it to me, so I didn’t have enough to do. I think mainly it was not talking to people. It’s easy to be in your own world all day, ploughing through statistics. Temptingly easy, even now… I knew I could do it, and carry on doing it, and I was clever and qualified to do it so why shouldn’t I?

But when my contract came to an end I knew I didn’t love it. I knew I didn’t want to do it forever. So I let myself open up. I considered every job I saw. I looked for anything that interested me, that I thought I could do, that I could get to while still living with my husband and that paid me enough to live on. Not too difficult a set of criteria, you’d think? But a whole 5 unemployed, salary-less months later… Maybe so.

So why am I writing this post? Well, I found it. A job I have been in a grand total of one week, but that I love so far. I have gone from what I thought I should be doing to something completely different.

I currently work for a major wine retailer in the UK. I applied because I love wine, that’s pretty much it! I don’t know or pretend to know a lot about wine, but I know I like it. The job is as a trainee manager, so some responsibility from the offset, and involves lots of training including the WSET level 3 award and chance to do a diploma in wine. So it’s challenging me and expanding my knowledge, which is important to me.

If anyone had told me through my years of education that I would essentially be doing a job that involved driving a van full of boxes of wine to deliver, stacking boxes of wine piles high in a store, sweeping and cleaning and carrying and generally being a retail dogsbody, I’d have not believed them. Surely this is beneath me, or not suited to me, not what I should be doing.

Well, past version of me, you’re wrong. Maybe it’s not using every skill I’ve ever learnt, maybe I’ll forget how to program a climate model or measure the characteristics of a river. What I am doing is enjoying myself, keeping busy, learning a lot, introducing a lot of variety and activity and ambition into my life. I’m no longer sitting at a desk being bored and counting down the day. I’m up, I have things to do all day. I’m developing some definite muscles on my upper arms, I can now drive a van and properly taste a wine. I can sell.

I spend my whole day talking to people who are interested in something I’m also interested in. I deliver to people who are happy to see me bringing in boxes of wine and ask me in for a cup of tea. I am using my whole self and not counting down the hours and days til I have time off.

Why did no-one ever tell me? Why did I never let myself think that maybe, just maybe, what you’ve already done isn’t everything you have to be. Why limit yourself? Why let your previous choices dictate all of your future ones?

I can now genuinely say how much of a difference it is making to my life to do a job I really enjoy rather than one that’s OK, that pays the bills and gets me through the day.

This isn’t a rant against office jobs or for retail jobs. I’m not trying to be prescriptive. I just don’t think I realised how my preconceptions about what I should do were holding me back. How much I was holding back myself. Don’t do that. Do something you love.

Categories: Life, Life Experience, Money and Career
19 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Morwenna
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    This is a very inspiring post, and I’m so glad you’ve found a job you really enjoy. I find it weird sometimes (and a little scary) that I decided my future career age 5, and have never even considered or dreamt of doing anything else. Although my job is a vocation and I’m lucky that I love being a vet… maybe I will allow myself to dream of opening that flower shop one day. That’s not what I should do of course!

    • Posted December 4, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Another fellow vet here. Who can not imagine doing anything else… Yet I have done jobs completely unrelated to the field (because other than internships I haven’t been able to find a job) , and I have ended up even more convinced that I have to work either with animals or in public health, it itches me every day.

      But, I do love baking…and other creative things. So given the not-by-choice unemployment situation in which I am, this article really struck a cord with me. Particularly this:
      “Why did no-one ever tell me? Why did I never let myself think that maybe, just maybe, what you’ve already done isn’t everything you have to be. Why limit yourself? Why let your previous choices dictate all of your future ones?”
      I struggle with this notion, because deep down if someone would give me the dream job now, it would still somehow be in the medical field.

      • Morwenna
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        Hi Amanda, I think the thing about veterinary medicine is that a lot of us get so focused on it from an early age. You are so driven and it is a lot of commitment and hard work, but sometimes you forget there is a whole wide world out there with people doing a range of exciting and creative jobs that you never even considered. You get so blinkered that being a vet is the only worthwhile thing to do (although, despite it being a great career, of course the reality of practice is quite different to the dream). I wouldn’t change any of the decisions I made in the past, and I’m lucky to have a job I love, but a part of me is quite envious of you getting a chance to bake and possibly making that into something. You’ll never not be a vet, but it’s lovely to have the chance to indulge your creative side, even if not entirely a planned part of your career xx ps just seen your very exciting news, huge congratulations!

  2. Posted December 4, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Oh Katy I love this and I love that you sent it in. And I love wine too so…

    I’m nearing the end of my Ph.D and HATE that people are saying ‘so what are you going to do now? Lecture? Become a professor?’

    I’m very very interested in what I do, it is important stuff and makes me passionate (aka screaming at the tv/news) every day. Do I want to work in academia? NO. Just because I work in academia now doesn’t mean I want it to be my life. It doesn’t inspire me to be a better person, I don’t feel a sense of well being doing it nor do I have work friends to keep me there.

    I told someone the other day that I am keeping eyes open and ears to the ground because something I love will come up. It might be flippant or a lackadaisical way of thinking but if it’s something I love, I’ll know it as soon as I see it.

    Just like a good bottle of red. :D

    L xxx

  3. Posted December 4, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Katy, this post gave me goosebumps!

    I was invited to speak at my old school careers evening for students choosing gcses and alevels. Everyone else had traditional careers. I was invited as someone a little left field. Someone who was and could be a high flying lawyer but instead takes photos for a living.

    What we are never told at school is that just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you will enjoy it or that you should do it. My brother is another example. A star pupil, snapped up to study dentistry, he dropped out and now is in a management role for a giant car supermarket company. I best that’s not where his headmaster would have placed him 10 years ago.

    Here’s to everyone who works out what it is they should be doing, whether that is what they thought
    they’d be doing or not. And to no education being a waste, but always coming in useful and enriching life in general!

    Here’s to you Katy. I hope you’ll continue to be fulfilled in this job. Now, if only it wasn’t before 9am and I knew someone who could pass me a glass of wine…


  4. Katielase
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    This is brilliant. A constant feeling of being torn between doing what I SHOULD do and what I want to do has lead me where I am at the moment. I still don’t love my job. My advantage now is that I’m already not doing a million things that I should have been doing with my science brain and my academic success. So now I really can do what I like, I’ve already failed to do what I was expected to do.

    The problem is that, to be honest, I don’t know what I want to do, I never have. Well, actually that’s a lie because I do know what I would love to do, but currently it isn’t something I have the finances to do. The other lie we are told is that we can do anything we want to do, but as an adult that’s not always true. Mortgages and families and other aspects of life cloud the picture until doing what you dreamt of would damage elements of your life that you cannot and will not contemplate sacrificing.

    Ultimately though, some people love their office jobs, but no-one should ever feel obliged to love one because it’s what they SHOULD be doing. At the end of your life, no-one but you will evaluate what you did and what you achieved and how you lived, so you might as well stop varying about the shoulds right now.

    So happy you’ve found something that makes YOU happy Katy. It’s inspirational.

    KL x

  5. Posted December 4, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    This is really interesting.

    I am really, really lucky. For all the (many) frustrations of the past few years I have loved my job, our students are amazing, my collegaues feel like family and I have a beautiful wee office (actually pretty big) all to myself filled with shoes, pictrures from home and all that jazz. But though I LOVE being here, and will miss it like crazy I really fell into it rather than having a career path.

    When I graduated I had to work, so I did. I worked, whatever job I could get. I’ve been a customer service bod for parking services, done data entry in a secure hospital, worked in a management consultancy, been part of a team delivering a £1 million government project, worked in policy ( I should not work in policy) and then in outreach (love outreach) and now what I do now, running a small and perfectly formed academic department with absolutely wonderful colleagues and students.

    My entire career has been driven by the need to have a job and not be unemployed. Seriously. So right now with unemployment looming (through choice? Why?) I am having to think about what I want to do and I have no idea. I want to keep doing the job I do now with the lovely folk I work with but that is not an option. I’ve never been driven by what I *should* do per se, but have long felt I should be the bigger earner and build on my experience in each job, but I have no idea where that would leave me now. Do I work my way up? Do I do the same again? Do I change sector? Could I change sector? I have no idea where next and it is terrifying and exciting in equal measure. Is there a path I feel I *should* go down? No. And that is the bit I am struggling with. I think people used to think I would change the world as I am an idealist and someone who gets a wee bit involved in stuff but I have no idea how to do that, and I think I’ve changed smaller bits in all of those jobs and that has a value. Sorry this is now all rambly and about me, but all I can think of right now is that I have no idea what to do next and it is really, really scary. REALLY scary. I hope I have a moment like you where it all clicks. I also hope you continue to love your job. Even when frustrated I have continued to love mine – in fact the love makes the frustrating parts all the more frustrating! x

  6. Ro
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Such a good post Katy.

    I had a different reaction to careers advisors – at University I pretty much rocked up to the careers service sometime in the latter half of my third year and expected them to tell me what my career would be. I think I expected their bizarre tests to actually tell them something more about me than I knew myself and come up with a magic answer of ‘You will be a XXX!’ and that would be it. Alas life turned out not to be that simple…

    I have a job now that I have both worked hard to be in a position to get and fallen into by being in the right place at the right time – it’s a sort of dream-job-sounding-job for lots of people (a younger me included) and I find myself constantly trying to explain the reality of my days (sitting at a desk, emailing people who never reply, reading documents…) to disabuse them of a certain ‘that sounds amazing’ look in their eyes. I know a younger me wouldn’t have listened to my negative descriptions so I don’t know why I expect anyone else to but it takes time to realise that however exciting sounding the work you’re contributing to, the day to day reality of your life is equally important and sitting at a desk in a dark office all day is a killer for motivation even if you’re saving the world one email at a time.

    I hope you continue to love the new job!

  7. Jen
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I love this piece and it resonates hugely – I really admire your courage in finding the job you love.

    Having been persuaded by my parents that I should be a lawyer from the age of 15, that’s what I did – law degree from the best university, and now a number of years into a solid and well-paying job that I enjoy and find satisfying at times, but simply don’t love. There’s a nagging voice in my head telling me to go and find something more fulfilling and creative, but I can’t help but feel that I might not be fulfilling my potential if I do that and that I should at least try the same job somewhere else before jumping ship entirely. Perhaps 2014 will be the year that I find the courage to escape and find THE job…

  8. Posted December 4, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Love this, all of it rings very true to me.

    I think – for most people – it takes a long time to come to terms with the fact that there’s not that one career for waiting you out there and that you have to choose something that fulfils you and suits your circumstances at a particular time (whether that be work/life balance, a fulfilling role, ideal location, pay that enables you to live the lifestyle that you want…)

    Coming out of uni with a non-career specific degree and no one to tell me what to do next was quite an eye opener. Luckily, the desire to earn money any way I could drove me into so many different temping jobs. I honestly think the holiday and term-time work I did while at uni and the temping jobs I did soon after were equally – if not more – significant for my career than the A levels and degree (I also got a husband out of one temp job – bonus!)

    It took that range of different experiences to shake up the ‘career path’ mindset that had been ingrained in me throughout school – and through trial and error, to find a career route that suits me and makes me happy (relatively – there are still improvements to be made!)

    It really is a shame that people will often make bad choices based on such a prescriptive way of thinking at such an early age – choices that make for unhappy lives. So good to hear that you’ve found something that suits you Katy – it takes a leap of faith to leave a job that’s good on paper – to one that’s good in practice, especially when you don’t know that it exists!

  9. Posted December 4, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Hi Katy,

    I LOVE this. I know just how you feel. I used to hate people asking me what I wanted to ‘do’ too. If you have always worked hard and done well at school and uni, you are expected to get a good sensible job, work hard and do well at that. My first ‘sensible’ job ended up with me being so miserable and unmotivated, that I felt apathetic and down about everything in life. Not ideal.

    Your new job sounds awesome. Wine was one thing I toyed with doing for a while too. I’ve sort of abandoned the idea, but want to do the WSET for fun anyway! If you can find a job that you enjoy, it’s so much easier to do it well and, in my experience, gives you so much more energy to enjoy life away from work too. Congratulations and good luck with it!


  10. Posted December 4, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    This post is brilliant Katy. Some very wise words in the comments too – I’m glad I’m not the only one struggling between the ‘should’ and the ‘want to’. It’s something I’ve struggled a lot with this year – having trained specifically for one career only to now be in the position where I start every Monday morning wondering where I’m going long term and whether that’s what I really want, but being scared to tell the world that actually, I’m thinking about doing something else in the future. But then I have the panic of ‘what if I start doing that and I’m rubbish/ I don’t love that either?’ It’s refreshing to see people’s experiences that the ‘want to’ can work out too.

  11. Amanda M
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I loved this. I’m so glad that you’re enjoying it so much. And you know how I feel about wine…..!

    I actually think that those people who really enjoy their job are very much in the minority and anyone who does is really lucky.

    There are elements of my job that I like but I hate the politics and general office nastiness. But there are some great people and some of the subject matter is interesting. And until I get paid to read novels, I can’t particularly think of anything I have an innate calling for!

  12. Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Great post and well done for going out and seeking a change. It’s all to easy to stay with something you don’t mind because it’s what you know.
    I’ve gone with a balance for my current job. It’s not as enjoyable as my old job in outreach/teacher support. I don’t see people as much, I don’t give talks anymore, I rarely have to leave my office and I don’t have the same feeling that I’m making a difference (no matter how tiny). I also don’t think I’m as good at it as I was at my last job. But I don’t commute anymore which was the overriding factor for me and makes a huge difference to my life. And I don’t mind my job, I’m learning new things and I like my bosses.
    My husband is doing the job he’s always wanted to do and I do envy him for that, even though I know it’s not always rosy!

  13. Posted December 4, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Ah I this. When I started I thought nursing was somehow a bit ‘beneath’ me too, but it was the right thing to do. My favourite job ever was as a just-above-minimum-wage care worker. Without my husband’s salary I couldn’t have done it though, money does matter a bit sadly.

    So glad you have found something you love! And that thing is wine. Very envious!

  14. Posted December 4, 2013 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Love this post. And such perfect timing, my contract is coming to an end soon and I’m wondering what to do next, you’ve given me some confidence and hope that I’m (potentially) not going to be unemployed for the rest of my life! I’m glad you find something you love doing, that’s just what we all want out of life isn’t it?! x

  15. anonym
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    I am right there- never had a career dream, just kept finding things I new I didn’t want to do (news presenter, academic, sales, teacher) and then decided to really buckle down and figure it out. And floundered for about six months, till one day my visiting mother and I went into a seamstress’ shop and sewing school in the town where I live, and started talking to the other customer there, a nice American lady working on a fancy shawl. We chatted about being Americans in the UK and how hard it could be to fit in and get used to things, and I mentioned my work situation, and she said, “Oh, my husband’s company is looking for people, they work with job seekers. Send me your resume and maybe you’re what they’re looking for.”

    And I did, and they took me on. And now I seem to have discovered what I want to be, finally, in an industry I had never even heard of until recently. I’m waiting to find out whether I’ll be taken on permanently after a two month trial period and I’m both fearful and hopeful- even if they can’t take me on, I know what I want to do now. Finally I know where to look when I’m trying to get a new job.

  16. Posted December 5, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Thank you all very much, these comments have been really really great reading. I honestly didn’t expect to be inspiring people, I just surprised myself with this as a revelation and needed to write about it.

    I think leaving a good job that gives you some money and security is very very difficult. If they’d extended my contract at my previous job rather than not I would have stayed. Definitely. So I guess I should be grateful that I was flung into unemployment and therefore had the chance to explore other options without losing anything.

    There are bits of my job I don’t like still, I think there will be in every job. For me the major difference is not sitting counting down the hours till lunch, and then the hours till hometime. The variety and job itself makes it fun, and so the time flies by.

    To me that small difference has made such a massive difference to how happy I feel in myself, and to how I feel about my future prospects.

    It’s interesting how many people don’t love their jobs. I always thought not knowing what I wanted to do and not loving my job was just something I found! It’s kind of reassuring to know these systems don’t work really. I think part of the problem is it’s easy to want to do a job you see as a child. If you want to be a teacher or vet or doctor or air hostess or hairdresser, fine. But most jobs are not obvious like this, it’s hard to know what you want to be when you don’t even know that job exists!

    Anyway, I went off on a tangent there. Basically, thanks for all the comments. Glad I could be helpful :) xx

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