By Loric Avanessian
Growing up as a first generation Armenian-American — my parents both immigrated to the U.S. in the 70’s — I was told there were three acceptable career paths in life: doctor, lawyer, engineer. My dad is an engineer, my sister is a lawyer, and I studied business… an acceptable alternative.
My plan was always to combine my love of film with my degree and work in the entertainment industry, in marketing. I spent two summers killing myself to get internships at NBCUniversal, unpaid, with plans to move to L.A. permanently after graduating from school.
I graduated college a semester early, like the natural-born overachiever that I am, and packed my things, ready for my big move to the West Coast. I moved in with my grandparents in L.A. while I looked for a job, which I found pretty easily, in retrospect. About a month after moving, I was an assistant media planner at a small agency, and our client was a film studio. I was set.
Within five months, I was crying on the phone to my mom every day after work, miserable on my hour-and-a-half drive each way through the worst of L.A. traffic. One of my coworkers, a condescending 25-year-old who held the position directly above mine, made me feel worthless and stupid. I was so nervous about doing anything wrong that I was making more mistakes because my hands were often shaking. I triple checked my work before turning anything in and still made errors. It got to a point where my employer basically said, “Either you can quit, or we’re going to fire you.”
“I was miserable and didn’t have a support network to get me through it. My parents were still in Michigan, a time zone three hours ahead, my sister was in New York in law school, miserable in her own way, and while my grandparents are wonderful people, they’re still very much from the old country — they don’t speak English and have never worked here, or had to fully assimilate into American culture.”
I was panicked. How could I quit my first job six months after starting? Wouldn’t that look terrible on my resume? How would I ever get another job? It was my mother, surprisingly, who convinced me to quit. I had expected her to tell me to stick it out for at least one year, to try harder, to do more work at home until I learned, but instead she told me that nothing was worth the misery that this was causing, and certainly not an entry-level job.
But I hadn’t given up on L.A. quite yet — I was still determined to find something in entertainment. I searched for four months, each month bringing me closer to defeat. I was miserable and didn’t have a support network to get me through it. My parents were still in Michigan, a time zone three hours ahead, my sister was in New York in law school, miserable in her own way, and while my grandparents are wonderful people, they’re still very much from the old country — they don’t speak English and have never worked here, or had to fully assimilate into American culture.
By month four of unemployment, I was feeling pressure to just find something. I had always been told gaps in your resume look bad — the longer you don’t work the harder it is to get a job….
All of this advice I had heard over the years was making me desperate. The “entry-level” jobs required two or more years of experience, and my research online showed me that with the salary I could reasonably earn in the entertainment industry, I would be living with my grandparents for a long time. Alarmed, I called my friends from business school asking, “What do you do? Do you like it? Can I do it? OK, here’s my resume. Thanks so much for referring me….”
Four interviews and two job offers later, I ended up in New York City working for IBM as a consultant. Sold out. No longer working in anything remotely related to what had always been my passions. And it’s the best decision I’ve made.
“Regret can be toxic, sending you down a path of ‘what-ifs’ you’ll never be able to answer.”
It took me trying and failing at one of my biggest goals in my twenties (so far) to learn not to attach my self-worth to a job or my happiness to doing something I thought I should want. I have never felt like such a failure as when I was told I was going to be fired after mere months on the job. I went to a good school! I got good grades! I wasn’t supposed to be bad at this! What if I wasn’t cut out for anything other than school? What if the only thing I was good at was studying and regurgitating material?
I just completed two years at my job at IBM, and while I’m only 24, and there is still so much I don’t know, here is what I’ve realized:
If you rely on your job to be your only source of happiness, you will be miserable. Fill your life outside of work with the things that bring you joy. Spend time with friends, read good books, draw, paint, go to concerts. Whatever it is, don’t expect your job to be your everything. Those who say, “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life,” are looking through rose-colored glasses. There is no job in this world that is wonderful in every regard — that’s why it’s called “work.”
Some people feel powerful by making others feel insignificant. Don’t let those people define you, your abilities and your value. If I had stayed at my job in L.A. for another three months, the damage to my self-esteem would have been exponentially worse than it already was. Set your own limits.
Job searching for four months is nothing, and I see that now. At the time, it felt like four years. I have plenty of friends who searched for much longer and eventually ended up in exactly the field they wanted. Do I regret not sticking it out? Not really. Regret can be toxic, sending you down a path of “what-ifs” you’ll never be able to answer.
I made a decision to move on based on my own limits, and no one else’s.
Loric Avanessian is a movie lover, bookworm and pop culture geek currently working in none of these things as a senior consultant at IBM in New York City.