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It’s Ok If Your Dream Job Is Sometimes Terrible


There’s a pretty strong assumption out there that once you land your dream job, everything will be perfect. Suddenly the sun is brighter, the air is fresher, and you’re never going to dread Mondays ever again.

Well, unfortunately, that’s just not how it works. We can (and should) seek out a job that brings us into alignment with our goals, values, and vision. That doesn’t mean, however, that there won’t be challenges, perhaps even significant ones, and days when you feel like the whole thing was a big set-up or that you made a huge mistake.

As people fighting for change, our careers tend to be extremely personal— which in turn creates a long list of criteria: Work that feels meaningful, work that makes an impact, a job that utilizes our best skills, a good boss that could also be a mentor, co-workers that feel like a community, decent or better-than-decent pay and benefits, opportunities for advancement or professional development, time to still be a human outside of work…I could keep going.

Then, if we have the luck and privilege to find this position, we expect all the pieces to automatically fall into place.

Sometimes, they will. You will immediately feel respected, powerful, seen, heard, appreciated, healed. (If that’s the case, CELEBRATE! You sooooo earned it.)

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 11.26.14 AMBut, your dream job might also still come with its fair share of challenges. And perhaps even more so if the job feels close to your heart.

Your boss could be really difficult, some days or every day. Your co-worker could totally take credit for your work whether she meant to or not. You might f-ck up that project, accidentally send that gossipy email, or feel completely frustrated with the organization’s disorganization. These are all possibilities.

Which, makes it completely normal to have those days when you just want to forget the whole damn thing and book it to an island with insert celebrity crush name here. (Escapism fantasies are pretty great, though, yes?)


It’s not only normal to have those down days, they can actually be very useful. Those feelings of frustration or doubt have information for you. It could mean:

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Are You Stuck in a Self-Care Double Bind?

(Originally written for and cross-posted with the Young Non-Profit Professionals Network on May 7th, 2015)

I’m not here to convince you why self-care is important.

Because I think you already know. You know that if you don’t take care of yourself, then you won’t be able to help anyone else. Put your flight mask on first, and then help others. It’s just that simple.

You also know that as advocates and do-gooders, we are the worst culprits of not taking care of ourselves. We slap on that “martyr” sticker and give everything we have to others even when it feels like we have nothing left to give. And then, fatigue and burnout ensue.

So, we’re not going to spend any more time on the why.

Rather, I am much more interested in talking about what actually makes it so hard to practice that self-care all the time.

You know you should take a break, set a boundary, go to sleep earlier, get to that yoga class, or eat something that isn’t a carb. Your head knows it.

But sometimes it feels like there is about 10,000 miles between what you know you should do and what you actually feel capable of doing.

This is what I like to call the “Self-Care Double Bind,” and it’s a sneaky little trickster.

The Self-Care Double Bind is the running feedback loop that tells you to “take care of yourself” in x, y, or z ways, and then makes you feel terrible and guilty when you aren’t able to do it.

For example, here’s a narrative that I hear from clients pretty frequently:

“I really should get to that meditation class today. I know that it will make me feel calm and centered. Today is busy but I have to put myself first, right?! Right!”

Cut to later in the day:

“I didn’t get to the class. I must not be trying hard enough to take care of myself. It’s my own fault that I feel so exhausted and scattered.”

Now, your narrative might not sound exactly like that one, but I bet that a lot of you have similar rolling thoughts, keeping you feeling like some kind of failure, or guilty for not “doing something right” or “being enough” in some way.

That is the Double Bind. And it is anything but a true expression of compassion.

Especially right now, as the events in Baltimore are unfolding and crowds are rightfully taking to the streets, the last thing any activist needs is to question their commitment to their own livelihood. Our drive to stay alive is, in fact, sometimes the only thing we have.

So, what would it look like if you pulled yourself out from that tangled Double Bind? 

Alicia Rabble ImageWell, I like to call that process: self-love.

If “self-care” is your nagging neighbor who is always ready to pounce with judgment, then self-love is your sweet dog who thinks you are the best person in the world know matter what.

Self-love is the lifelong journey that all of us are on.

With every decision you make, every relationship you start or end, even with every fight with a co-worker or with your mom, you are learning something new about what does or doesn’t work for you.

And that process—that sticky, gooey, sometimes yummy process—of learning how to do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t, is self-love. And, it’s the key to feeling the alignment and contentment that we all crave.

Self-love might mean taking that long hot bath or showing up at that meditation class. But, it could also mean forgoing both of those things when what you really want to do is misbehave a bit or throw a tantrum for a few minutes. Self-love will remind you that it’s all okay.

So as a starting point for getting untangled from that self-care bind, I invite you to ask yourself the following question:

What do I need in this moment?

Whatever the answer, accept it and follow it.

Following through on your core instincts and desires is what leads to a deeper understanding of yourself, and how to find your way back to that center at any moment.

And when you find yourself getting down on yourself, the broken-record of shame starts playing, or you’re heading towards burnout, tune in and ask “what do I need in this moment?”

Your mind, body, and soul will all thank you.


Alicia Jay is a certified transformational coach and the principal of Rabble Up (www.rabbleup.com), a coaching practice designed to help emerging leaders in the social change sector find sustainability and alignment in theirAlicia Rabble Headshotcareers and lives. She is also the Managing Director of Make It Work, a national campaign promoting economic security for women and families. With a background in leadership development, philanthropy, and gender justice, she has a deep understanding of how being an activist on behalf of others doesn’t always translate to advocating for your own needs, as well. She is out to change that.




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From What Are You Ready To Be Liberated?

I’m really attracted to the idea of not caring what other people think.

Sometimes, I am golden. Coasting the waves of life feeling free of others’ judgement, fully expanded as my true self.

And other times, it’s a bit more of a mess. Tangled with anxiety, worried that what I just did or will do next is wrong, a bad choice, not good enough, disappointing someone. Those moments are a reeeeeeal drag. And, completely human.

So, if I’m in the pursuit of my own liberation, what does that really look like?

Ocean of liberationThroughout my twenties, it meant dipping my toe in the ocean of freedom, and then running back to shore as quickly as possible. Then, slowly walking back towards the ocean to submerge my whole foot, and then just maybe, up to my knees. It meant taking risks, and then collapsing into myself completely ashamed and terrified. But then, being able to jump that much farther the next time.

It meant choosing creativity and innovation instead of the safe road, finding the people who inspired and brought out my innermost vulnerabilities, and waking up each morning being willing to face the reality of ME.

Slowly but surely, I started to get to know the pieces of myself that are truly my own, and the pieces that have been constructed by someone or something else.

Now, swimming in that ocean of liberation feels a lot less chilly, and a lot more welcoming. 

And when those moments of old, tired, burdensome self-judgement and fear creep in (which they might always continue to do), I remind myself that “not giving a f-ck” is way more sexy and sweet than staying hidden under a rock during this short thing we call life.

So, from what are you ready to be liberated?

Here’s my own ongoing (like…forever) LIBERATION LIST:

– Choosing freedom over guilt

– Choosing humor over anger

– Choosing real wealth

– Choosing power over meekness

– Choosing nourishment over criticism

– Choosing depth and breath

– Choosing to say “sorry” only once

– Choosing action over inaction

– Choosing to be bold when everyone around me is acting small

What’s on your list?

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