You don’t have to get serious about your career till you turn 40(40岁前不必过分忧虑你的职业)

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If you feel that your job gives you no room to build on your strengths and passions, then you’re in the wrong job. Recently I’ve been writing about how you should learn to be true to yourself and take charge of your career, In response, blog readers have been writing me about how they fantasize about abandoning their PhDs.

Then I got an email from someone who’s done just that. Aki Song (宋Aki) dropped out of her PhD program here in the States, returned to China, and is pursuing her passion as an artist. And she sent me the beautiful image you see here. I was so moved by her drawing and her story that I asked if I could interview her for you. She said yes. Here’s the interview:

Where did you study in China? What were you studying in the States?

As an undergraduate, I studied sociology at Peking University. I went on to the United States for a PhD in the same field.

Why did you drop out?

Part of the reason lies in China’s education system. Like other students, I didn’t get to “choose” my major. Instead, I was admitted to the university with a major assigned to me. I didn’t know what sociology was, although I found it interesting later on. I didn’t apply to an art school in the first place because I couldn’t afford the tuition.

My parents were proud of me to attend the best university in China. Then I was admitted to a PhD program in the States. Everything looked fine.

However, the more I found out about academic life, the more uncertain I felt. I didn’t know it meant devoting decades to this field I entered reluctantly. I loved my professors for their dedication to research, yet I doubted if I could do just the same and be just as happy.

I couldn’t help envying the American undergraduates: at least they could choose majors after the first year. And the possibility of change occurred to me for the first time, perhaps partly as a result of cultural shock, and partly because of the constant inner conflict in my heart.

A series of personal life crises hit me at the same time. One incident put me in a life-threatening situation, and it took me months to recover. I thought about the meaning of my life every night. A feeling of uncertainty and sadness flooded me. I couldn’t gather myself together or focus on my studies.

In a word, I lost the strong momentum to go on, and seriously wanted to redirect and pursue my dream, at an “old age” in the eyes of many Chinese.

How did it feel? How did you develop the self-confidence to do this?

It was scary. I didn’t know which path to take and feared for losing the beauty of one road, when I chose another.

I said to our director: “Sorry I’m a bad student. I NEVER thought I could be.”

She said, kindly: “Don’t think of it that way. Think of it as ‘This program doesn’t suit you’.”

I will always be grateful to her for that.

What did your parents think?

I have the best parents anybody can dream of. They supported my decision, especially my mother. All they wanted for me is to be happy and healthy. She and my father never pushed me to excel, which made me excel in college entrance examinations, because of a good attitude. So my mother said: “If you don’t like it, don’t do it. I hope you can do something you enjoy.” Although she worried about the prospects of my financial stability, she didn’t push me.

Any thoughts for other Chinese students struggling with hating what they are studying?

I think it is extremely difficult to jump out of the box. Chinese are not willing to lose face, so it becomes even harder. Chinese are also used to the notion of “love the profession you are working in,” regardless of one’s personal feelings.

I am not in the position to give people advice on this, because I have just embarked on the journey of self-exploration. I hope I will get something done and establish myself in a few years, so that I can say: “Follow your heart; build on your strength. 25 years flies.” Many of us work 25-30 years, it passes faster than we imagine, so don’t waste too much time in the wrong trade.

Yet there is the problem of survival. I am searching for a way to better navigate.

Where are you now and what are you doing?

I’m in Beijing and still looking for a job both art-related jobs and conventional corporation jobs. For the time being I can start up as a freelance artist since there are many part-time jobs in illustration and design. I would love to work as an artist as long as it can sustain and generate some profit.

In the artwork you sent me, I sense a tension between the playfulness of the style, and the threatening mood that emanates from the piece. Why did you send me this?

The idea of the picture came from a dream, in which the little girls unintentionally disturbed the aqua spirits in the crop field, so they flew away holding their breath in order not to be found. I wanted to send you something you might enjoy looking at, as thanks for supporting my wild life transition. It is a time of vulnerability and self-doubt, so I especially appreciated your kind remarks, and your sincerity in replying to a comment by a stranger.

I know you’ll join me in thanking Aki for sharing her story. Her wisdom, courage, and talent all are undeniable. These qualities will serve her well throughout her career.

Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life

One thing Aki brought up that has me thinking is the idea that because Chinese are not willing to lose face, we may be unwilling to take risks. Risk-taking is central to entrepreneurship, and so I hope that we as a society learn to better accept when we ourselves fail, and to embrace our friends when they fail.

I like this quote from the Italian actress Sophia Loren: “After all these years, I am still involved in the process of self-discovery. It’s better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe. Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.”

Today is a good day to start the rest of your life

Another thing that strikes me from this interview is the notion of career transition as a right reserved only for young people. It is never too late to forge a new path in life and in fact, as one evolves through life, it’s only natural that our careers will evolve with us.

I recall the days when I worked at City Hall, and I and my colleagues would start thinking, and worrying, about life after politics. Then-mayor Richard Riordan, a self-made centimillionaire who has reinvented himself several times, would always wave his hand and say, “Relax! You don’t have to get serious about business till you turn 40!”

Now that I am on the other side of 40, I can assure you that things do become clearer over time as one settles into life.

I hope that you will take advantage of your 20s and 30s to relax, and that you give yourself the freedom to explore. In fact, your career will be made not in the next two years, but over the next 40. Over that time, you’ll have good jobs and bad jobs, good bosses and bad bosses. More important than any one decision you make is that you learn constantly, and that you celebrate the little things along the way.

 

on the Chinese version of this post, which is here. 

40岁前不必过分忧虑你的职业
如果你觉得在工作中无法发挥自己的长处和热情,那么你的工作不适合你。最近我写了一些关于怎样直面真我和掌控职业之路的文章,许多读者回应了我的博文,谈到他们如何幻想放弃博士项目。

然后我就收到一封邮件,碰巧是一个放弃了博士项目的人写的。Aki Song(宋Aki)放弃了她在美国的博士项目,回到中国追寻成为艺术家的梦想。她还寄来旁边这幅漂亮的画。她的画作和故事感动了我,所以我问她是否可以为大家接受采访。她同意了。以下是采访的内容:

你在中国的哪里学习?在美国学习了什么?

我本科是在北京大学念的社会学系。毕业后我去美国攻读同专业的博士学位。

你为什么不念了?

一个原因是在国内的高等教育制度下,我和很多同学一样,没有办法“真正”选择自己的专业,而是被学校分配到一个专业去。当时并不知道社会学是什么样的,虽然后来觉得挺有趣。最初并没有报考艺术院校,主要是因为付不起学费。

父母觉得我进入最高学府是件值得骄傲的事。后来我继续去美国念博士。一切看来都很顺利。

但是,我越了解美国的学术生活,就越觉得不确定。我从不知道学术生涯意味着投入几十年的人生给这个当初误打误撞进入的学科。我很喜欢我的教授们,他们都非常专注于自己的研究。但是我不确定自己能像他们一样专注,一样开心。

我禁不住羡慕美国的本科生们:起码他们可以进入大学一年以后再选择专业。我头一次有了转变的想法。一部分是因为文化冲击带来的影响,一部分是因为我心里持续不断的冲突。

大约同一段时间,我生活里出现了一连串的危机。其中一次还让我遇到生命危险。我花了几个月时间恢复,每天晚上都在思考人生的意义,被不安和悲伤席卷着,无法集中精神学习。

简而言之,我失去了前进的动力,并且迫切希望转向去追寻我的梦想,即便这转向发生在我们中国人眼中“不小的年纪”了。

那是怎样的感觉?你是怎么找到自信做出这一决定的?

感觉是很可怕。我不知道走哪一条道路比较好,害怕选择一条路,就会失去另一条路上美丽的风景。

我跟指导老师说:“对不起,我是个坏学生。我从来没料到我会是坏学生。”

老师很和蔼的说:“不要这样想嘛。你就想‘这个项目不适合你’好了。”

我会一直感谢她。

你父母怎么想?

我有世界上最好的父母。他们支持我的决定,尤其是母亲。他们只是希望我健康快乐。父母从来不会强迫我去拿第一,所以我才能在高考中取得优异成绩,因为心态好。我母亲说:“你要是实在不喜欢,就不要念了。我希望你做自己喜欢的事。”虽然她会担心我的经济状况,但从没有逼我做任何事。

对其他在不喜欢的专业里挣扎着的中国学生,有什么想说的吗?

我觉得要跳出思维定势非常困难。中国人好面子,所以就更难了。而且中国人习惯于“干一行爱一行”的想法,有时会忽略个人感受。

我没有什么资格给大家建议,因为我才刚开始自我发掘的旅程。我希望在未来几年里可以做到一些事情,建立自己的事业,那时侯我就可以说:“随心而动,发挥长处。25年弹指一挥间。”我们大都要工作25到30年的时间,这段时间比想像中流逝的快多了,所以不要在不适合的行业待太久。

但是生计问题始终存在。我也在找寻平衡的方法。

现在你在哪里,在做什么呢?

我在北京找工作-既找艺术相关的,也找传统的公司工作。目前我想先从自由艺术家开始做起,因为有很多插画设计类兼职。如果做艺术家可以生存下去和有一点钱赚,那么我很想做为艺术家工作下去。

我感到在你的画里,轻松的画风与画面流露出的紧张感形成了对比。为什么你寄来这幅画?

画面的灵感来自我的一个梦。梦中两个小女孩不小心惊扰到了田地水中的神灵,所以她们逃跑了,屏住呼吸怕被找到。我想发一张你可能会喜欢的图,来谢谢你支持我的疯狂人生转变计划。我现在处在一个比较脆弱和容易自我怀疑的时段,所以非常感谢你亲切的问候,和对一个陌生人留言的真挚回复。

我想大家会和我一起谢谢Aki分享她的故事。她的智慧,勇气和才华都无可否认。

要得到完整丰富的人生,必须经历挫折错误

我一直在想Aki提到的一件事,就是中国人因为怕丢面子,所以可能不愿意挑战风险。企业家精神的核心就是挑战风险,所以我希望我们社会作为一个整体去学习更好的接受失败,并且当我们的朋友们失败的时候,学会去拥抱他们。

我很喜欢意大利女演员索菲亚•罗兰的一句话:“这么多年过去了,我依然在自我发现的道路上前行。”探索人生的可能性并且犯些错误比小心翼翼的过完一生要好的多。要得到完整丰富的人生,必须经历挫折错误。

今天是开启一段人生新旅程的好日子

采访中另一件让我印象深刻的事,是那种认为职业转变是年轻人专有权利的观念。在人生中开创一段新的道路从来都不会太晚,而且实际上,随着我们自身的成长,我们的职业自然会随着我们而成长才对。

我仍然记得自己在市政厅工作的日子。那时我和同事们会开始思考和忧虑从政界退出后的生活。时任洛杉矶市长,白手起家的亿万富翁理查德•赖尔登,本身曾经历过多次自我重塑,他总是挥挥手告诉我们:“放轻松!不到40岁根本不需要认真忧虑你的事业。”

现在我也过了40岁,我可以向大家保证,当你的人生渐上轨道,随着时间的流逝,事情都会变得清晰明朗起来。

我希望你会利用二、三十岁的时候好好放松,给自己一些探索发现的自由。事实上,你的职业不会在未来两年里确定下来的,而是要在未来40年中确立。在那40年的时间里,你会有好的工作和不好的工作,好的老板和不好的老板。你要做的最重要的决定应该是持续不断的学习,和在人生的旅途中且歌且行。

 

 

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