Why I Regret Not Taking My Dream Job

I was 20 when I was offered my dream job.

As a kid, I poured over the glossy pages of magazines. Seventeen was my go-to. I was the kid who waited by the mailbox for the new issue and hid it beneath her textbook in chemistry. I was obsessed and dreamed of moving to the Big Apple to write.

I’d always enjoyed writing, but middle school is when I truly fell hard. By high school, I was itching to write about anything and everything I could get my pen on. I matched up with the school’s yearbook and newspaper and had the time of my life. Before I packed my bags for college, I knew my purpose.

The day I met my college counselor, we sat side by side at a tiny table in a noisy room. And he asked me the same question he had probably asked 50 other times that day to incoming freshmen: what do you want to major in? Without hesitation I said, “Journalism.”

I never wavered from that answer. I never doubted or regretted my decision. Why? I had a passion. I had a purpose. I had a dream. I was on a mission to accomplish what I had set out to do.

In college I gained reassurance of my purpose. Professors and classmates gave me the support and hope I needed. They helped me realize that my dreams weren’t too far out of reach. And, when I decided to shoot for my dream job my senior year, they were there by my side.

It was a four-month internship with Seventeen. It was a leap of faith, but I needed to know if I stood a chance. I needed to answer the “what if:” What if I’m good enough to get their attention?

If I didn’t try, I knew I’d regret it.

The week before I applied, I spent every extra hour on my portfolio. I wanted it to look, feel and read like a magazine. And it did. My cover letter was an article, headlined: “Midwest Girl with Grit Goes to Big Apple.” My resume was an illustrated timeline. Each section of my work had a beautiful intro. I even designed a cover with photos of my hobbies and interests. By the time I dropped the package into the mail, I was beaming with pride. I’d never wanted something so bad and it showed.

A photographer taking a snapshot with her camera

A few weeks later I got the email I’d been waiting for. They wanted an interview. I reread the message who knows how many times before that sneaky little voice of doubt asked: How are you going pull this off? If I get this unpaid gig, how was I going to pay for it?

That little voice had a point. I was 20 years old – three months from walking the stage at graduation and five from walking the aisle at my wedding. After crunching the numbers, it would take more than $10,000 – that’s living on the outskirts, taking public transit, eating ramen. I was a college student who had spent nearly all her savings on her wedding. It was impossible. Or was it?

It didn’t take long before excitement got beaten down by excuses and self-doubt.

It would look great on my resume. Check that, it would look amazing on my resume. But that, most likely, would be it. Unpaid internships don’t guarantee paid positions in the end. But, let’s say I did get a job offer. Then what? Would I uproot my fresh marriage and move us out to a huge city opposite of our plan? And life in such a big, expensive place would force us to live paycheck to paycheck.

While my shiny credit card looked tempting, I didn’t want to start my marriage in debt, nor did I want to leave on my own for a few months. I made a pros and cons list – a literal, handwritten pros and cons list. Funny how quickly the cons column fills up when you’ve subconsciously already made your decision. Maybe it was just to humor myself. Maybe it was a last ditch effort to discourage myself.

I had a life-changing decision to make and that little doubtful voice kept picking and nagging: You can’t do this. It’s selfish. Certainly this is a mistake; you’re too young and inexperienced for this kind of success.

I declined the interview.

Instead of following through and finding a way, I consoled myself with the fact that I had made it further than I thought possible and that that was enough. And while I had made it further than I thought I would – the thing is it wasn’t enough.

Looking back, it doesn’t make sense. I went through all the pain of prepping just to know if I was worth it only to find out I was and back out.

Instead of accepting the interview, I caved. Instead of pushing aside my fear, I panicked at the thought of success. Instead of focusing on what could be, I made excuses for what I thought could never be. Instead of giving it my all, I gave up on my dream.

Let me repeat that last part: I gave up on my dream. My dream.

While talking myself into that decision was difficult, it’s nothing compared to living with it.

I wish I could tell you that I love my current job more than the career I imagined for myself, writing for one of the nation’s best-selling magazines. I wish I could tell you I don’t dream of living in exciting New York City. I wish I could tell you I think I made the right decision.

But some days, I can’t.

I applied to see if I was good enough, to answer the “what if:” What if I got their attention? But at the end of the day, while I’d answered that question, I had another: What if I had gone through with the interview and been hired? What then would’ve happened?

And that’s where my mind still goes today. It’s been five years and I still wonder what could’ve been.

My life could’ve gone in a much different direction. For the better?

I guess I’ll never know.

Have a story to tell about your professional path? Send yours to editor@moveupgiveback.com.

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Abby Downs

Abby Downs is a St. Louis native and professional writer. If she doesn’t have a pen in her hand, it’s a camera. When she’s not busy combining these two loves, she can be found binge-watching 90s sitcoms, trying new cheeses and planning her next big adventure.