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Learning (the Hard Way) What It Really Means to Love Your Job

Your dream job may not be what you think it is, and that's okay.

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Originally published on Career Contessa, written by Ryan Burch

I moved to Los Angeles at 23 with no job, no friends, and scattered work experience. I remember being so desperate to get my foot in the door anywhere. I wanted so badly to have a salaried job and as shallow as it sounds, I couldn’t wait to change my LinkedIn title to something impressive (bye bye “server/catering assistant”). At that time, all I wanted was to be given a shot at an entry-level job.

I hustled hard on LinkedIn, sending messages to anybody who worked in an industry that I admired. I got several interviews this way and after weeks of persistence, I got an internship at an event marketing company that I was obsessed with. Thank goodness I got it because I’d already decided that I didn’t want to work anywhere else. I just had a feeling that it was where I was supposed to be.

On my first day, they were having an end-of-summer margarita mixer party. While everyone else was getting tipsy, I worked the party—talking to the execs about my passion for the biz and playing up my strengths. The following Monday I was called up to the CEO’s office for an impromptu interview. They’d been impressed with my tenacity and decided to create a position for me as the executive assistant. Phew! I hadn’t exactly figured out how I was going to support myself on an intern’s (unpaid) salary.

Within five months, I was promoted and producing big-budget events for high-profile brands. I traveled up to 50 percent of the time and got to work alongside athletes, artists, editors, and executives. The perks were unbelievable. I went backstage at sports events and music festivals, and we were always invited to incredible after-parties. In addition, our company’s LA offices were beautiful. We brewed our own beer (our brainstorms were ‘beerstorms’), managed our own schedules, and often got to work from home.

After becoming a producer, I got to work alongside girls my age that quickly became my best friends. Every time we traveled, we would travel in one big gaggle of girls. Although the work itself was exhausting, we had each other and we would always find time for a little adventure (even if it meant going out on one hour of sleep).

I’ll pause for a minute. This probably still sounds like the dream job, right? Well in many ways it was—and continues to be for a lot of my friends.

But the exhaustion started to take its toll on me. At one point, we worked 20-hour days for eight days straight, while sharing a small room between four of us. Even though event days were hard on everyone, no one complained because there was always something else to worry about. Stormy weather, unreliable staff, faulty technology, missing shipments, power outages—you name it! There are a lot of variables to manage within a short period of time, and you better smile and keep your head on straight if you want everything to go smoothly.

Even though I tried to be as tough as the other girls, I would get terrible anxiety before each event. From set up to tear down, there was rarely time to eat a real meal—I totally lived on Kind bars—and my stomach problems worsened. I couldn’t sleep on the road, and I was developing insomnia as well. These were the non-glamorous parts of my “glamorous” job.

I was constantly gone, so my boyfriend and I were fighting a lot more, and I felt like I never had time to talk to my old friends in Oregon or call my parents. I was working so many long days in a row that I would forget birthdays—I even forgot Mother’s Day! I simply couldn’t keep up with my personal life, and my work-life became my full life.

In addition, although I was gaining valuable work experience, I yearned to be a part of the “bigger picture.” I wanted to learn about the greater marketing mix from the brand perspective, beyond just events. It occurred to me that if I stayed in this niche industry much longer, I could be limiting my skill set and my long-term career goals.

My actual decision to quit came while onsite at Bonnaroo Music Festival. The event activations I produced were a huge success and my clients were thrilled—but I wore myself to the ground in the process. After calling my boyfriend and sobbing for the fiftieth time, he begged me to quit. He said he couldn’t stand to listen to me sounding so sad anymore. Although I hadn’t been ready to face it, I knew that he was right. I realized that I was no longer happy in my job and it was time to move on.

It’s been two months since I quit, and I don’t have an ounce of regret.

Although it didn’t turn out to be my dream job, I will forever cherish the lessons and experiences that I took away from it. I evolved as a person, was inspired by my coworkers, and I did things I never would’ve imagined doing. Scaling a 20-foot building to hang a banner? Building a two-story structure out of truss? So not me but I did it.

The lesson in all of this? It’s great to land a cool job or have lots of perks, but it’s better to love the job itself. Being able to make that distinction will allow you to remain happy and balanced in all areas of your life.

I was so desperate to get that first job because it seemed “cool." Now I’m being particularly choosy and deliberate in my search. I’ve learned a lot about who I am, what I’m good at, and exactly what I don’t want to do. When job searching, I’m not only focusing on the perks that a company offers or the reputation of their brand; I’m examining the “responsibilities” of the job. I want to know what I’m getting into each day so that I can be sure it will be a good match.