When I was in grade school, I distinctly remember announcing to my family that I would someday be an artist or a writer. “You won’t make any money,” my mom declared, “so how are you going to eat?” My dreams were dashed. I felt heartbroken.
My sisters and I were raised to strive for prestigious professions with impressive salaries to match. According to our parents, a surgeon, judge, or chief engineer were one of the few careers we could rely on to provide for ourselves and our own families someday. Through college, I shouldered this “truth” that I wouldn’t be successful unless I went to law or med school after graduation. It took a huge toll on my happiness until I finally learned there are myths we should avoid like the plague when it comes to navigating our careers.
Below are three of the biggest career myths women face plus job experts on how to reframe your thinking so you can overcome these lies and achieve your true calling.
Myth #1: There is only one best career for you.
By my junior year of college, I had taken all the pre-med and pre-law course requirements. I even took the MCAT and LSAT—medical and law school entrance exams, respectively. But I had also remained involved in art and writing. I even chose to major in English “on the side.” I loved these subjects, and I secretly took these classes against my parents’ will because I knew I’d go crazy without them.
The truth was, I felt lost. I thought that if there was a “perfect career” for me, I would know it as soon as I came across it. So I kept my foot in every door while waiting for my perfect vocation to reveal itself.
The truth: Dr. Marty Nemko, Ph.D., a career and personal coach based in Oakland, California, writes in Psychology Today, “There are many equally likely-to-fit careers for the many people who are bright, organized, and like working with people.” If you are successfully using these skills at a job that isn’t your dream, you will end up happy with your career versus holding out for a shinier opportunity. “In fact, many people end up less happy because shiny objects tend to be shiny to many people and so competition for jobs in that career is fierce.” Dr. Nemko adds.
Myth #2: You must match all the requirements to be successful in a career.
By senior year, I was paralyzed by the thought of committing 3 to 4 more years of my life to a set career path. So I put law and med school on hold while I went into teaching middle school English. If I wasn’t ready to become a lawyer or doctor, I told myself, I could figure it all out while passing the knowledge I did have to young people. After all, those who can’t do teach, right? Au contraire.
The truth: I would have passed up a dream career in writing and art if I thought I had to fulfill all the requirements like having years of experience from a full-time job in the field or a rolodex of relevant contacts. Alyssa Krane, chief talent strategist at Powerhouse Talent, a boutique HR consultancy in Toronto, tells Monster, “While the job posting outlines the ideal candidate, the truth is, at times, employers need to adjust their requirements to meet the talent supply in the market.” Similarly, if you feel called to a career but fear that you don’t have everything it takes, look at the skills you do demonstrate and think about where you shine in other areas. If you meet the main requirements of a job, definitely apply for it!
Myth #3: There is a “right time” when it comes to starting a career and a family.
In my parents’ ideal world (and in my ideal world too, if I’m being honest), I would grow successful in my career before I even thought of starting a family. In my mind, there was a proper order and timing for these things if they were to turn out well. I believed that if I started a family first, I risked not progressing in my career because I would be distracted by all the diaper changes and other responsibilities that accompany being a parent. Even though I didn’t date much during or after college, life had other plans for me. I actually started the career and was passionate about it at nearly the same exact time I married my husband and started our family.
The truth: There is no right time. I wish I knew the name of the wise woman whom this advice came from, but I heard it through the grapevine. I do know she was a c-suite executive at a leading finance firm, and she earned her role at the company while having and raising young children. I thought if she could do it there was no reason why I couldn’t do it too. Seven years later and it turns out she was right. I have been able to grow in a career I love while raising two daughters who are now 4- and 6-years olds. If having a family is part of your calling, ditch the promise of perfect timing. The truth is the right time is on your time.
Whether you’re still figuring out your major or have been ten years on a job you’ve been questioning, consider the career myths that might be shaping your decisions. Look to women who have proven these myths untrue and find out what steps they took to achieve what once seemed impossible. If they could do it, you can too.