I met millennial Ruchika Tulshyan at the 2013 Forbes' Women Power Summit. Since connecting, she has epitomized the quote “fortune is in the follow-through.” Ruchika reached out, letting me know specifically what she was looking to do, but without expectation. She has subsequently (and consequently) done some editing work for me. I am delighted to have made her acquaintance.
I’ve always validated myself through my work. I got my first internship at 15 and interned every summer since, until I got my first job at 22, armed with a Master’s degree. As a journalist I get my affirmations from the frisson of pleasure every time I see my name in print. Over time, it’s measured by clicks, Likes, Shares…etc.
So last month, when I quit my job to relocate to Seattle for my husband’s new job, I was terrified. I had no job prospects lined up. I was scared of standing still, fearful of what those empty, endless days ahead would bring. With no family or friends in Seattle, what would I do all day?
When I sold my furniture in Atlanta, a software engineer working for Delta Air Lines came to buy our pool table. “Do you like your job?” I asked. “It pays the bills,” she replied. She really wanted to be a high school math teacher, but a combination of money and embarking on a path she thought she wanted post-college had kept her in the profession for 5 years already. “Not sure I can switch now,” she told me. And she wasn’t even 30. I felt reassured – so I wasn’t the only one feeling like I was in the wrong job because I had developed new skills and interests since college!
That conversation sounded so familiar, because I’ve had it with so many. My friends, even in other fields – finance, technology, medicine — complain about the daily hum. Many Sunday nights are filled with a palpable air of dread. Most of my friends in their 20s question their career decisions. Not everyone dislikes their field of choice, but certainly, many don’t feel fulfilled at their workplace. As people learn what they are good at and not, who they want to be has changed drastically since they started down a career path. But with economic uncertainty, many are scared of change. A pause is out of the question.
Despite the occasional terror, I am beginning to realize I am fortunate.
During this love-for-my-husband, hence self-imposed break, I’ve returned to why I wanted to be a journalist in the first place: the sheer love of writing. I write everyday, even without the deadlines. Very few journalists I know write because of an unshakeable need to write. Prior to my time off, I hadn’t written everyday because I wanted to since…well…I was a child.
As journalists, we’re encouraged to stay away from the “I”. But spending time exploring a new city, sights and people, I’ve been inspired to write deeply personal prose. It helps me find my purpose. My inner voice signals what I want to do next. Words I choose in my writing – entrepreneurship, leadership, communications – are emerging to form patterns I never paid much attention to before.
I’ve heard of people feeling unfulfilled after 25 years in corporate America. But in today’s world, we’re getting to that realization much earlier. At 26, I already feel like I’ve been working for decades. Now I see I just wasn’t always putting my best skills to work, especially the new ones I’ve developed through the course of my career so far. When I graduated college in 2008 – digital media was just taking off. Today, there are whole careers built around it.
My mother always said: we make the best decisions when we block out external noise. I’m a natural people person, so I’ve always deferred to others for advice. “What do you think I should be?” “Where’s a good place for me to work?”
But now that I’m far away from loved ones, my husband thrown into the demands of a new job, I have no choice but to listen to myself. I have reconnected with my other loves too – yoga, cooking, skincare. Before, yoga was something I “squeezed in”, rushing from work to class, then rushing back to make dinner. Over the last month, I’ve been early to all my classes – for the first time. No rush.
As I spend more time on my own, I’ve also re-evaluated what makes me happy at work. Reflecting back on the people and places I’ve worked at in London, New York, Singapore, Mumbai and Atlanta, I ponder when and where I was most stimulated. This type of soul-searching is really hard for me, as I’ve had to challenge many paradigms I’ve held for years. Things like: how important is money to me? What type of people do I work best with? What’s negotiable and what’s not?
A career break is not something everyone has the luxury to enjoy. Yet, I strongly recommend it to anyone with the opportunity. It is especially important for millennials like me. As people, we change every few years, but in today’s frenetic pace, it’s impossible to step back and reassess how far we’ve come, before deciding where to go next. Taking a breath, a pause, is one way I’m avoiding the clichéd “millennial burnout.”
Ruchika Tulshyan has lived in six cities over three continents. After being teased for being a “human dictionary” as a child, she had no choice but to become a journalist. She has spent most of her professional career covering money, Asia, women’s leadership and lifestyle – often at the same time. She co-founded an investment company at the age of 23 in Singapore, where she’s from. Ruchika is also a proud volunteer-organizer of TEDxCentennialParkWomen – part of the global TEDxWomen conference. To learn more about her (and to hire her for freelance editing – says Whitney), click here (rtulshyan.contently.com). Follow her on Twitter at @rtulshyan.
What are your thoughts on burnout?
Have you ever had a quasi — self-imposed pause?