Leaving the campus grounds again: A tale of Professional Development

By Nikoletta Erdelyi

On a gloomy Friday morning, about a year ago, my life changed.

After finishing a talk about employment at an event with the provincial government, I stopped at a Starbucks to catch up on e-mails.

At the very top of my unread messages I found a offer for what that seemed like my dream job in academia. Shaping the student experience for the better, while managing large-scale benefits-related projects was right up my alley.

Double espresso in hand and trembling with excitement, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. After all, I’d always struggled in interviews—but this time I’d made it through despite a rigorous recruitment process that included a 30-minute presentation and an exhaustive reference check. I was their chosen candidate. I quickly bought some expensive champagne that I sipped with a straw in celebration.

Plus, I’d nearly doubled my salary only two years out of university. The start-up culture I had grown accustomed to in downtown Toronto was quickly abandoned. Suddenly, the familiar open-concept floor plan became a personal office with my name on the door. And I was barely 27. Even more appealing was the 20-minute commute, compared with the long hours I’d spent on accessible transit to get to my previous job downtown.

Not what things seemed

A little while ago, I resigned. After spending almost a year in my “perfect fit” role, I had come to the realization that I was deeply unhappy. That, despite the paid vacations and every benefit under the sun, this path was not making me feel fulfilled. I felt conflicted and ungrateful—a quality often attributed to millennials early in their careers.

Surely I was not being rational. After all, I had endured a steep learning curve that involved a ton of learning around institutional practices and I was more equipped than ever to lead projects that would have a lasting impact. Still, each work day would leave me feeling empty, with an absence of mental and emotional energy required to do the things I loved. I hadn’t written a single poem in months and, as a creative person fuelled by art and expression, this raised some internal red flags that I couldn’t ignore. Moreover, my close friends and family noticed my growing irritability; I was slipping away, detached from the things that mattered most.

Another big decision

A long month of extensive pondering and reflection led to yet another big decision. Once again, it was a Friday morning. The news came that Ghost Tales—a play that I’d had the unique opportunity to write and perform the previous spring with the Soulpepper theatre company—was going on tour to Kingston. Every artistic cell in my body lit up after a long period of darkness. From that instant, I knew I’d leave behind the campus grounds and follow my heart, which was aching to bleed in the dark blue ink of eccentric poems and stories.

From a practical viewpoint, I don’t know what’s next for my career or whether I’ll ever return to the nine-to-five world. But what I’ve learned this past year is that, sometimes, professional development is not about growing the digits on your pay cheque or having your name glued to a door. Sometimes, professional development is about looking within. It’s about mustering the courage to define what matters and to take a leap into the vast unknown to follow your heart.

Paulo Coelho said it best in The Alchemist: “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

Nikoletta Erdelyi is currently working at Ryerson University as the diversity projects lead for Magnet (magnet.today). She is a recipient of an Ontario Arts Council grant.

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