If you’re really lucky, the career path you choose at 18 will remain a perfect fit for you ever after—but in reality, that’s not how it works for most people. So what’s the best way to move forward if your current profession isn’t doing it for you anymore? Sure, it can be really gratifying to watch your work identity evolve through the years, but it’s also scary to let go of worn-out passions while taking the risks required to discover new ones.
In this week’s Good@Work column, SoulCycle and Flywheel co-founder Ruth Zukerman is tackling this very issue, filling in for Amy Odell while she’s on maternity leave. Here, the author of new memoir Riding High pep-talks a Well+Good reader who’s gearing up for a career 180.
Q: I’m a recent college graduate, and now that I’m entering the workforce, I’ve realized that the degree I chose isn’t my “passion” anymore. How can I stay motivated when I’m essentially starting from scratch?
A: “The opportunity is always there to start again.”
I’m the perfect person to answer this question because I’ve been in the position of having to reinvent myself—over and over again. It happens with so many people, and it’s happening more and more.
Specifically, I was a dancer, and from age eight I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life. I took dance classes through high school, majored in dance and performed professionally in college, and when I graduated, I moved right to New York City. Unfortunately, in the arts, NYC is one of the most competitive places to live. I started going to auditions and continuing to hone my skills, and I had some part-time jobs to support myself. But after about two years, I realized it wasn’t the life for me. Quitting dance was a huge decision, especially because I didn’t train myself in any other work skills. I had no idea what I was going to do.
I’m not gonna lie—it was really challenging. Obviously, you won’t just fall upon another path immediately. But in retrospect, I’ve discovered you can learn a lot from trying new things, even things that you might not end up liking. Every experience opens a door to something else.
Every experience opens a door to something else.
In my case, I ended up taking a job as an office manager at a catering company because I was interested in food and cooking. It was really my first experience working behind a desk, and I hated every single day of it. Yet, you rule things out by trying them. I learned that I needed to find a job that involved movement, and while I had no idea what that meant at the time, it eventually led me to start teaching dance aerobics years later, after I was married with children. Also, don’t forget that you can learn something valuable from any job you’re in. That catering company was essentially a customer service-based business, which SoulCycle and Flywheel both were, too. I was able to learn communication skills in that realm and take them with me when I launched my own brands.
If you’re in a job that wasn’t what you were hoping for and you don’t have any other prospects, you may just need to sit with the discomfort and, for a period of time, not feel gratified or fulfilled. There’s a huge growth process that comes with that. You may not feel it when you’re going through it, but you’re cultivating maturity and wisdom that will equip you much more for whatever you’re going to do next. And you never know what opportunities will present themselves, even if you’re not thrilled with what you’re doing at the time.
For example, when things didn’t work out for me after co-founding SoulCycle, I didn’t know where I was going to go next. So I made the choice to stay at SoulCycle as just an instructor. (I know—when I tell people that story, they look at me incredulously.) As uncomfortable as it was in many ways, I was so loyal to my riders that I couldn’t imagine not continuing to be their leader. That was always my calling. And I ended up meeting my future co-founders of Flywheel by just being there.
Instead of dwelling on what you’re losing, imagine all the exciting new opportunities that might exist for you.
It also helps to work on shifting your perspective. Instead of dwelling on what you’re losing by letting go of what you thought your career would be, imagine all the exciting new opportunities that exist for you now. It’s not dissimilar to when a relationship ends. It’s devastating, but at the same time, think about who might come next—it could be someone who’s even better for you. And in this case, you might find a career that makes you even happier than the one you’re leaving behind.
Whatever you do, just don’t look for the easy way out. I know people who have gone into certain fields because they know they can make a lot of money, but you should never choose a career for that reason. I did something similar—I got married for all the wrong reasons, because it was an easy way out financially. But if you’re striving for instant gratification, you’ll always be disappointed in the long run.
Essentially, it all comes back to having a certain amount of patience and trust in the path. I think it’s important to realize that evolution is part of life—I founded Flywheel when I was 52 years old. The opportunity is always there to start again.
Ruth Zukerman is the cofounder of SoulCycle and Flywheel and the author of Riding High: How I Kissed SoulCycle Goodbye, Founded Flywheel, and Built the Life I Always Wanted. She is currently Flywheel’s Creative Director and continues to teach several sold-out classes every week nationwide. She lives in New York with her two daughters.
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