By Bianca Mendez
Even the most ambitious people can reach a rough patch in their career path. Just ask Sarah Vermunt—she’s totally been there. It was a breakdown in Starbucks that made her realize that being a professor was not for her, and she needed a change. So, she followed her passion and founded Careergasm, a career coaching business to help stuck people like her former self find their passions and make a career out of it. And now, she’s helping you navigate those twists and turns that having a successful career comes with in her two new books Careergasm: Find Your Way To Feel-Good Work and Career Rookie: A Get-It-Together Guide for Grads, Students, and Career Newbies. Ed sat down with Sarah to talk about her career path her advice for those who are in a rut themselves, so they don’t need to have a Starbucks breakdown themselves.
Can you walk me through your career path before launching Careergasm and what lead up to it?
I used to be a professor at a business school. I taught Organizational Behavior (workplace psychology). I LOVED teaching, but I haaaaated conducting research (which is like 80% of a professor’s job). One day I just couldn’t take it anymore. Something in me just broke. I had a very public breakdown in the middle of a crowded Starbucks. (I know. Sexy.) I was mortified, but it’s exactly what I needed to let go of that old career path and move onto a new one. Now I help other people do the same — to figure out what they want and get the hell out of Dodge when they just can’t take it anymore.
Tell us about your books. What made you want to write them?
My book, Careergasm, is basically a love letter to anyone who feels trapped in a job they hate. I dedicated it to everyone who dreads Monday morning. I’m all about freedom and what I really wanted to do with Careergasm was to help other people be free. But it’s hard to feel free when you’re stuck in a shit job and you don’t really know what you want to do instead. So helping people to feel free really meant helping them to figure out what they want. It’s really hard to quit your job if you don’t know what you’re moving towards. So in Careergasm I tell a lot of stories — my own, and lots from my clients — about how to figure out what you want and how to get out of your own way.
With Career Rookie, I really wanted to help new grads feel less paralyzed and more empowered. I work with a lot of grads who went to school for something their mom or dad wanted them to study (hello engineering and accounting!) but didn’t ultimately connect with. Once they finish school they’re like “yyyyyeah, I can’t do 20 more years of this”, but they don’t know how to pivot so early in their career. So Career Rookie is about figuring out what you want, making a change if you need one, and also how to navigate all of the logistical shit nobody teaches you in school — like how to get mentors and how to negotiate your salary.
You work with so many different people in different places in their career. Is there a commonality among the people you work with?
Yup. I work with people who are super fucking lost and feel really, really frustrated about it — people who have been trying to get it together and make a career change for a couple of years but just keep stalling because they don’t know what they want, let alone how to get it. I help them get clear on what they want so they can finally get unstuck.
I love the advice you gave in Careergasm to find your inner toddler. Can you explain to our readers what that means and how you came up with the idea?
Most of the people I work with don’t know what they want, but they DO know all the things about their current job (and past ones) that drive them NUTS — the stuff that makes them want to throw a raging toddler-level hissy fit. You know, the kind you used to throw in the middle of the candy aisle when your mom wouldn’t let you have a jumbo bag of Gummy Bears. So one of the things I have readers do in Careergasm is write down all of the crap that makes them want to throw a fit (both at work and in their personal lives) and all of the stuff that makes them want to squeal like delight (kind of like a little kid at the splash pad). If you look over those lists there will definitely be some themes emerge that offer up a few clues about what you like and don’t like. The trick is to use those themes to help you navigate your career.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten?
It was from my Dad, though he probably doesn’t even remember saying this to me. He said, “Figure out what you like to do and find a way to make money doing it.” Super simple, awesome advice.
What do you hope someone can takeaway from your books?
I hope people get the clarity they need to make a change and develop the courage to get after it. I also hope that people have FUN while reading them. Sometimes a stroll through the career aisle at the bookstore feels kinda like a snoozefest and I wanted to write something that was very unconventional — something really helpful, but also a bit snarky, a bit sassy, and filled with real talk.
You strongly advocate for people to find a career based on what they love. Why are so people hesitant about doing that?
We walk around with a zillion assumptions about work. One really common assumption that many people carry around is the assumption that you can either have a fulfilling job that pays peanuts or you can have a good paying job you hate. Somewhere along the way we’ve paired the idea of doing fulfilling work with poverty, and tied the idea of financial security with having to suck it up and do a job you hate. Which, I gotta say, is total bullshit. But we carry that assumption around because we see so many people doing it wrong…and we assume that’s the way it has to be. One of the most important things you have to do if you want to find your way to feel-good work is really examine the assumptions that are getting in your way.
Another thing I also loved that you said was to apply for jobs you actually want, which can seem not-so-obvious to recent grads and those trying to find a new job. What advice do you have for them to not settle?
Oh man, if you settle too early you’re just gonna keep on settling! I have a client who is 25 and she came into our first session together and said, “I’m too young for this shit.” She knew she had settled and she hated the idea of living out another 40 years of her career like that. So here’s my advice if you’re a career newbie: You’re not likely to land your dream job straight outta school, but that doesn’t mean you should settle for something you don’t like. Decide how you want to learn and grow in your first couple of jobs and apply for jobs that will give you the most for you time and talents while you grow.
What about people who are currently feeling stuck in their careers or maybe they want to transition or don’t know where to start?
If you want to make a change and don’t know where to start a really good thing to do is to admit that you’re frustrated and get some help, whether it’s reading Careergasm or a book like it or working with a career coach or something else. So many people suffer alone, trying to figure it out themselves. I think that’s because we think there’s something wrong with us if we feel lost. We live in a society that urges us to follow our dreams, so of course you’re going to feel like a loser if you don’t even know what your dreams are. Feeling lost is such a common experience, but one that nobody talks about. Actually, a great place to start might be with my free careergasm crash course — just a little something to get your gears turning.
Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat?
Instagram, baby! @careergasm
Bianca Mendez is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor who has contributed to Refinery29, TeenVogue.com, Bustle and other publications. Her perfect day in NYC consists of trying the latest fitness class followed by a night of wining and dining. Check out more of her work at biancammendez.com, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Photo: Anushila Shaw