"Just getting home from work now, and even more work to do from home for my internship. Who has time to be a kid anymore?" -- March 2011
That was a Facebook status I posted my senior year in high school, and three years later I find myself in the same position. I've been working since I was 10 years old, from walking dogs to being a nanny, and a waitress. I eventually moved to working in retail at 16; I was working for Lacoste. At 17, I landed my first internship at GIRLS WHO ROCK, a charity concert which sponsored girls' education for the non-profit She's the First.
I've spent my whole life working towards my dreams and my career. People have always asked me why am I always working, and I have always responded it's because I love to work. But in reality, my career was the only thing I've ever had control over. People come in and out of your life so I made my career my first priority. I also believed that my career would always bring me happiness.
This past semester I was "living the dream" -- at least according to everyone else. I had this great internship at MSNBC where I worked at the legendary 30 Rock. I worked with amazing producers, learned from journalists and anchors that I admire, and worked with huge celebrities. I was interviewed on Fox, I had articles written about me, I was featured on my schools website; those were a few of the amazing things that happened this semester. My career was at an all-time high and people were continuously asking me to help them with their careers. This all on paper sounds great -- I had people constantly telling me how much they would kill for my "perfect life."
But in reality, this past semester was the worst semester of my life. I found myself getting sick, and was having anxiety attacks. I was constantly tired and stressed out. My friendships suffered because I was always too tired to hang out with them. There were many things that I missed out on because I was always catching up on work or had an early morning the next day. I ended up in a terrible heartbreak because I used him as an escape, but in reality I was so focused on everything else I couldn't see the signs of how toxic he was to me. And I couldn't find time to put myself out there and date other people because I just didn't have the time or energy. It got to a point where I had to schedule time to have a phone call with my own parents.
This was an everyday struggle, and I enjoyed being at work so much because I would try to leave my problems at home and give all my focus to the job at hand. But even at work, as much as I loved what I was doing, it didn't give me the happiness that I needed it to fulfill me. And it wasn't until one day one of the anchors took me to coffee. She has been in the business for over 15 years and is one of the most respected journalists out there. I asked her how she stays so grounded and balanced. She told me "Opal, as an older sister to you... more like your mother, in this industry you need to realize your job will never love you back."
Here is this woman I admire for her career telling me that it's great to work hard and sacrifice but that, in the end, the job won't bring you all the happiness in the world that you think it will. I was stunned.
Before this conversation, I was debating how to spend my winter break, and I was highly considering just spending my break working and doing a winter internship, but I knew that wouldn't really help me. Sure it would add another name to my resume, and give me experience but that won't satisfy me. I thought to myself, what will bring me happiness, what will "love me back"? That's when I decided to use my money from my internship to go back and volunteer in Kingston, Jamaica. It is one of the toughest things I've ever done, but knowing that I'm making a difference in a child's life brings me all the happiness in the world.
Don't get me wrong, I still interned as long as I could at MSNBC up until December 31, and I will start another internship in January. But I want to stress that life isn't just about your career; it's about doing things that make you happy, whatever that is. For that anchor, it was realizing that being a mom brought her all the joy in the world; for a friend of mine it's traveling the world; and for me it's helping others. As a new year begins, it's important to know while you're working and sacrificing for your career, remember that it won't ever love you back. Make sure to find time to do things for you. Surround yourself with people who lift you higher. Take time to explore places you've always wanted to go. Turn your phone off and get lost in a book you've been waiting to read. Connect with an old friend that you haven't seen in forever. Call your grandma and tell her that you love her. Pack your bags and volunteer in a third world country. Do whatever it is that makes YOU happy.
Follow Opal Vadhan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/OpalVadhan