When I left my job at a tech startup years ago, I realized that I wanted to do something different. I was afraid to change careers, but I decided to go for it anyway. I did a lot of research, took crash courses, networked with people, built up my portfolio, applied to jobs, and pitched to clients.
I got crickets — and I thought, that’s okay. I’m still starting, right? But months later, my pitches and applications still kept getting rejected or ignored. I changed gears, did things differently, but I was getting the same result: nothing.
I was running low on funds and hope. But I held on because I didn’t want to move back in with my parents back in my rural hometown.
I was a small-town boy, raised in a mining and farming family, who finally got himself a condo in the bustling metro. Going back to my hometown felt like taking a huge leap forward, then retreating ten steps back.
My downward trajectory continued for several more months. I eventually started pleading door-to-door for work until employees rushed me out.
By the summer of that year, I had exactly $23 in my pocket and an empty bank account. I had 15 days left to pay my rent before my landlady kicked me out.
One afternoon, I realized how bleak my situation looked.
I was crossing the street when I came across a group of university girls in their preppy summer dresses. They were on their way out of our residential building, probably off to some hip, summer weekend party with friends.
The “summer girls” were on one side of the pedestrian lane, and I was on the other. As we crossed the road, a gentle gush of wind blew past us. Their dresses fluttered with the breeze, and the girls giggled. Their laughter twinkled with the summer spirit. They were a perfect picture of energy, youth, and hope.
In contrast to those girls in their designer summer dresses and carefree days, I was broke, unemployed, and alone. I went home and I ate rolled oats with dried fruits, raisins, and milk for dinner. At least dinner tasted nice.
The reality started to set in. I would have to move out soon. I could already envision myself applying for local, meager-paying jobs in my hometown. My condo in the metro faded into the distance. It all felt inevitable.
How to fix a failed career
I was mooching off a coffee shop’s free Wi-Fi, searching for articles that can give me a better perspective, when I started typing: “How to fix a failed career.” Immediately, Google provided suggestions: “How to fix a failed career at 30… 40… 50.” It was both scary and reassuring.
It was scary because it felt that my failure was too real. Likewise, it was reassuring to know that so many people out there were experiencing the same thing (or worse).
But I’ve learned that successful people always go through epic highs and lows in their careers and lives. What made these people stay and eventually become successful was their grit: Their persistence and ingenuity in making and finding ways to survive and grow.
I envisioned it like a sword fight: Parry, feint, slash forward, slash back. Your opponent might overwhelm you, but you have to keep on fighting, deferring blows to beat the opponent back.
It’s okay to take a step back when you want to start something new
It took me a very long time, but I eventually landed my first client. And then my second, and then more. I even got a really good job offer from a large corporation.
One major thing I learned in the experience is the willingness and acceptance to take a step back. After all, you can’t go in your desired direction in life if you don’t change lanes.
I could’ve taken the easy way out and kept to my old industry. I wouldn’t have had to endure those months of constant anxiety and near starvation. But then I’d be staying in a field that I don’t have a passion for.
It’s worse to get stuck in a soulless job.
Keep yourself in the game
My tech startup job paid well. So I had enough in the bank to cushion my extended unemployment. But I pretty much zeroed all my reserves before I got a “break.”
Circumstances differ from person to person. And we all have different strengths and weaknesses. But the point is to do everything you can to keep yourself in the game. Too many people start with something new and then quit halfway through because they couldn’t continue.
If you started something and realize you don’t enjoy it, then it’s okay to stop and consider changing lanes.
But if you know it’s something you really want to do, despite the challenges, then I highly encourage you to find ways to stay. Keep improving your skills and portfolio in the field, continue your outreach to potential clients or collaborators. Don’t quit halfway through.