It was the summer of 2009, and I had landed an advertising internship at one of the most prestigious and recognizable advertising agencies in the world, deep in the heart of Manhattan.
After months of preparation and dedication, I had been accepted as one of six students in the entire country to partake in a highly coveted internship program. When I got the news, I remember feeling like my dreams were coming true.
See, in my college advertising program – similar to just about every collegiate program, I think – there was a well-defined path that was universally regarded as the “successful” path. For advertising, it meant a spot at a big name agency in New York City, working on national and international brands.
That was the dream, and everyone knew it.
So of course, being the overachiever that I was growing up, that dream is what I set my sights on. I pictured myself in my Manhattan apartment, riding the subway to work, learning from the most creative minds in advertising with the biggest budgets on Earth. Seemed like a pretty good dream to me…
June 1st rolled around, and I touched down in NYC, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was ready to begin my ascent up the career ladder.
I sat in client meetings where we discussed budgets that blew my mind. There was an endless free supply of M&M’s and Pepsi at my fingertips whenever I pleased. I literally shared an elevator with the CEO of the entire Worldwide operation.
From the outside, my life was something to be envied. But inside, it felt anything but glamorous.
Just a week or two into the summer, I started to experience this uncomfortable feeling in my gut. For one, I hated the pressure of the job. My days filled up with deadlines, client calls, and research assignments that were needed in the blink of an eye.
There was a darkness that hung in the air that I can’t quite explain – this mingling cloud of expectations, sacrifice and stress – and it followed everyone around the office. It coated the entire experience in angst. Every day when I walked into that building, the feeling in my gut would sink deeper, and I knew that was my soul telling me this path was not the one I was meant to choose.
I endured the summer, trying to soak up every ounce of knowledge I could, but I returned to school in the fall knowing the New York ad life wasn’t for me.
When class started back up, my friends would ask about my internship. My first instinct was to lie. To maintain the illusion. But inevitably I’d tell the truth and use a line like, “It just wasn’t for me” or “It wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.”
In those moments I remember being painfully self-conscious of their judgment.
“Do they think I can’t cut it?”
“They’re probably thinking I’ll never be successful.”
The negative self-talk was never-ending. I cared so damn much what people thought about me. I didn’t realize back then just how much my self-worth was tied to the validation of other people.
As much as I knew I hated the feeling of working somewhere that didn’t align with my values, I still loved the feeling of appearing at the top of my game. I mean, this was THE PATH. This was THE DREAM that everyone was supposed to want and it was within my grasp.
I should want to work with the biggest clients in the world. I should want to work at one of the most decorated agencies in the world. I should want to live in New York – the epicenter of the advertising industry.
But happiness doesn’t come from shoulds.
Happiness comes from knowing yourself and living a life that feels aligned with your values. What’s the point in living a life that looks good but doesn’t feel good?
The hardest part of shedding my “should life” wasn’t paying attention to my gut; the hardest part was letting go of the perception that I was “living the dream.”
But guess what? I’ve never regretted it for ONE SECOND.
Listening to that voice inside and following it wherever it leads has brought me to this wonderful point in my life.
I don’t live in New York City. I don’t have a Manhattan apartment. I don’t manage million dollar budgets.
I live near the ocean where the soothing smell of salt always laces the air. I make my own hours. I set my own deadlines. I go see movies in the middle of the day sometimes because it helps me unwind. I work alongside my beloved dog and my partner for life.
This is my GOOD life.
The one I never would have had if I had let the shoulds win.
I want you to think about what the good life means to you. Does it mean waking up every morning looking forward to going to work? Does it mean the ability to express your creativity? Does it mean experiencing adventure? Or being close to your family?
Now the question is… are you living that life? Or are you living the life that you think you should?
This is your one, beautiful shot to live the life you want. Don’t waste it doing what you think you should do.
Let today be the day you start living your good life.