When Will I Get a Real Job?

Over the past three years of trip leading and working odd-jobs (toilet expert, mine caterer, electric fence fixer) while traveling, I’ve gotten this question a lot. I always responded honestly, citing a combination of plans I used to have for myself; taking a year off, graduate school, a series of jobs to make me very successful and well-respected. But none of those answers felt right.

What is a Real Job? I’m not sure, but it seems that it can’t involve travel, fun, freedom, satisfaction, or more than four walls.

Many young people experience a lot of pressure regarding what they should do next, myself included. After high school, it’s college. After college, it’s time for graduate school or getting a Real Job, which then leads you to another Real Job. This is the path that many people I grew up with have taken, and they are rocking it. But why aren’t there other obvious options? Where does this pressure originate?

It seems to me that “Real Job” carries a negative connotation. It seems to me that a Real Job is the total opposite of awesome. The question of when I would get a Real Job was usually asked after a statement like “WOW, your trip sounds amazing,” and followed by a very large “BUT…”, as if there has to be a catch for having awesome experiences in your life! As if enjoying your life and having a Real Job can’t possibly be happening at the same time.

I was 22, had just graduated from college, and was floating in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Lefkada with my friend Dimitris when the light bulb went on for me about Real Jobs. We were working together on an adventure trip for teenagers throughout Greece. There on a white pebble beach, I asked Dimitris if he believed in getting a Real Job, and when he thought he’d get one.

“What do you mean? Isn’t this a Real Job? Isn’t this Real Life, right now? Look around!”

I looked at Dimitris, a friend I’d only met a week before, and felt so thankful for his presence in my life. I could have kissed his cute bearded Greek face. I felt the sun on my face, the water on my skin and the health of my body & mind. Yeah, Dimitris, this is Real Life. Dimitris gets all of the points.

Now when people ask me when I’m going to get a Real Job, I tell them I already have one (or many) and they are amazed. But your life is full of fun and adventure, they say. How can that be?!

It’s upsetting that we live in a society where we think we need jobs that suck—they suck time, they suck energy, and they suck creativity. We believe this so much that we go so far as to call them “Real Jobs”, and we don’t entertain the possibility that it might not have to be this way. After all, what’s really REAL?

I challenge you to think of Real Jobs in a different way. A real Real Job is something that you are excited for and that you believe in. It’s something you feel good about, and you make others feel good in the process! Your job doesn’t have to define you, but if you want one that does, make it as awesome as you are. So bring it. Be creative. Ask yourself what kind of lifestyle you want and get after it.

So if you don’t already have your dream Real Job, go get it, or go create it!

Being a very serious professional role model in Olympia, Greece.

What are your thoughts on getting a Real Job?

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  • Reply
    January 20, 2017 at 9:01 am

    I still don’t understand how to start doing what you are doing. and I would truly love to! But no one isgiving me proper answers

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      January 20, 2017 at 1:12 pm

      Hey Kaja, not sure if you are referring to adventure trip leading or freelance writing/photography. To get your foot in the door as a trip leader, I recommend working at a summer camp. There is more advice on adventure trip leading on the post I wrote here. Take a look at my FAQ’s for other common questions. Here is a Q&A on my YouTube channel as well. If you are interested in brand partnerships, there is a video on my YouTube channel here. Overall starting a freelance career is dynamic, and for many, requires a lot of trial and error. It isn’t really a straight road and there aren’t really straight answers. I get that this can be frustrating, but trust that everyone doing this has gone through a “figure it out” phase, and is often still finding the best way to pursue things. For me personally, it involved doing writing/photo work for free for over a year on side projects, finding people I admired and trying to intern for them, and paying attention to what was working. Hope that helps. 🙂

  • Reply
    February 20, 2017 at 9:15 am

    Wow. All I can say is wow. I’m 22 right now and am getting all of those feelings and questions that you have written above. I recently moved home from Oregon because it wasn’t fulfilling me in a way I had hoped. Living in a small town I get asked the same things probably ten times a day and it’s so frustrating, when I myself don’t even have an answer to their questions. I’ve struggled with the whole “real job” “go to college thing” I’ve always said that’s what I wanted but at the same time I’ve wondered whether I’m doing it for me or for others. Anyway, I recently decided to start a blog because I found it was sparking a fire within me. I’ve wondered and found inspiration in how people can make a career out of it. Your post truly continued to inspire me and I’m so glad I read it when I did because obviously just starting a blog, which is something I’ve never done, it’s hard to know where to go from here. So it’s relieving to read that many successful bloggers have that same thought. So thank you!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      February 21, 2017 at 3:12 pm

      Hey Whitney, glad you found some support in this piece. I totally understand your frustration with the questions you’re getting asked all the time, and it can be really hard to do any work on ourselves when we feel like we have to have answers to those things at the same time. Know that even I still struggle with the “where do I go from here?” question, and I know I always will. This road isn’t straight or easy, but it’s not supposed to be. Remember that the best way to start anything is just to start – you can change your direction while you’re moving. xo

  • Reply
    Dakota Klein
    August 11, 2017 at 10:34 am

    I’ve been following you on Instagram for awhile now and finally sat down to read your blog, (it’s just as wonderful as your instagram btw!) and this article although it’s only the second one means something that I wish to explain to people so much! I’m about to graduate college in December and I plan to take off to Australia to do odd jobs and see all I can see. I wish people could understand that a 9-5 doesn’t have to be the only route or that you have to view work as miserable/ or something you have to do before the fun starts. I really appreciate your writing and cannot wait to read more!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      August 12, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      Hi Dakota! Thank you for reading and congratulations on being so close to graduating! Nobody has to understand but it’s hard that they don’t. I see you and I hear you– happy you are taking a path that feels right.

  • Reply
    February 14, 2020 at 11:38 pm

    I watched your TED Talks video on YouTube that’s about “Does photographing a moment steal the experience from you?” and I said I have to look at her blog! I read some in your blog and lastly, I read this. Your thoughts and your life had inspired me a lot! I am very lucky that I found your blog and I`m very thankful to you. Greetings from Turkey 🙂

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