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True Life: I’m a Career Perfectionist. And You Probably Are Too.

 Hi, I’m Kelsey, and I’m a career perfectionist.

I’m a 24-year-old, fresh-faced NYC transplant from the Midwest and I work in my desired field. Despite my successes, I frequently experience expectation-induced panic attacks, culminating in page-long to-do lists and tearful phone calls to my dad. My perfectionism hides in the shadows of my dirty laundry and mismatched sock drawer; pedantry and unrealistic goal setting are reserved for my professional life only.

Since graduation, I’ve painted a vivid picture of what post-grad life ought to be; a sort of mental vision board that’s equal parts inspiring and damaging. I use age-similar, successful professionals who I perceive as “having it all” as a barometer for my own level of success.

My professional triumphs always seem to fall short of “enough,” leaving me with even higher expectations and a dash of disappointment. I’m bound by a set of impractical demands; not set by my boss or my parents, but by myself.

Aside from engendering my strong work ethic, dwelling on the picture perfect vision of my ideal career has hurt me more than it’s helped.

Settle for Nothing

In some ways, we all suffer from Gen Y CP. Whether you’re still holding out for that perfect design job or refuse to work at anything other than your app-based taco delivery service, we keep our expectations high and our standards higher.

This is due in part to our desire to work from the heart rather than the wallet; taking a job just to pay the bills no longer constitutes success. We’re driven by our want to “never settle,” which was a staple cliché of our upbringing and the backbone of our so-called “entitlement.”

This is all validated by one powerful tool: Social media. In the world of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the successful 20-something writers, designers, bloggers, techies and entrepreneurs of our time are right in front of our faces. Their omnipresent success encourages us and leers at us from our iPhone screens, setting seemingly attainable yet impossible standards.

A Doubled-Edged Sword

Wanting it all is often a double-edged sword. While it does serve as a source of motivation and in many cases, inspire success, it can also lead to impatience, unnecessary stress and missed opportunities.

What we fail to realize is that the road to professional fulfillment is a long one. Call it youthful exuberance or millennial entitlement, but it’s common for today’s young professionals to expect recognition by the age of 25. We want it all, and we want it after two years in the workforce.

But lifelong success isn’t achieved in one year or even ten. The very nature of building a career isn’t instantly gratifying; your first job won’t be your dream job, your path to the top will be more of a zig zag than a straight line and you may have to suck it up and work as a waitress to make ends meet. The world isn’t a perfect flower and neither are you.

The road is also quite crooked. Your five-year plan will not go off without a glitch, and it’s usually the glitches that set you off on the right path. Holding out for the “perfect job” won’t get you anywhere but stuck at the starting gate. Even worse, you could turn down a truly great opportunity in your futile search for the impactful, yet creative and personally fulfilling first job with flexible work hours, a $60K starting salary and a cool title to put on your LinkedIn profile.

Having a clear-cut career plan makes for a useful roadmap, but you can’t fear driving off course. Embracing the illegal u-turns instead of avoiding them will introduce more opportunity and experience into your professional life. Enjoy your ride to success instead of questioning, critiquing and trying to change it.

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