Fear and career: a little rhyme

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by Saoirse, creator of @science.and.magick on Instagram. In this feature, Saoirse opens up about how her initial career choices were founded upon fear – a feeling that has been passed on from family members and ancestors as a result of intergenerational trauma.

Whilst stressful at the time, Saoirse’s experience of unemployment at the start of COVID ended up being of significant benefit. It allowed her the time to re-evaluate and embark upon a career path she actually desires; she is now studying towards a masters degree in psychology!


“…around 85% of the global workforce dislike their job

Fear and career, I love a little rhyme.

My first career choice was fully guided by fear. Fear of security, fear of fitting in, fear of rejection and fear of expressing what I actually desired. According to a Gallup poll in 2017, it has been estimated that around 85% of the global workforce dislike their job. I was most definitely one of them.

When I was in my final year of school, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I knew I was lucky, in that certain subjects have always come easy to me. Our exams were also mostly based on a memory game rather than critical evaluation and individuality, and I was lucky enough to have a strong memory.

I was able to ‘work the system’, but I did not want to. I did not want to go straight to University, as I had zero clue as to what I wanted to do in life. Like many people at 18 years old, I questioned everything with very little actual life experience. How are we meant to put all our eggs in one basket at that key time, and confidently state that X is the career path we want?

As I received strong academic results, I was repeatedly told by my teachers, parents, extended family members and neighbours that I was throwing my life away if I didn’t use my brain. There was never any discussion around whether, say, taking a gap year might possibly be the right choice.


“I could change what ‘career’ meant to me and create a more fulfilling one”

My parents were heavily conditioned by societal pressures. They thought that if you did not attend University, then it meant you were ‘wasting’ yourself. So I put down options, lasting for 3 months at University before dropping out. What followed next was a year of shame.

My Mum would constantly bring it up. I felt shame when my friends would invite me out on their University nights out, as if they were moving on with their lives and I was being left behind.

This year was less a time of growth, and more a time of increased shame conditioning to just do what others expected of me. I returned to University the following year to complete a Business degree, choosing the subjects I knew I could do best in, versus what I actually wanted to study. This led me to choosing to study accounting in my final year of University, before going on to pursue it as a career.

At no point have I ever enjoyed accounting or audit, but I knew it was safe and I knew the fear of shame. However, at the start of COVID-19, I found myself unemployed. I went into fear mode and began helplessly looking for a new job that would fill and numb this scary emotion and experience.

Luckily, COVID-19 had other plans and the unemployment continued. It gave me time and space to separate what was mine and what was inherited. To think about how I could change what ‘career’ meant to me and create a more fulfilling one.


“I had to push through the fear of security and live in the growth potential of ‘what if it all works out’”

I’ve also recently learned that anxiety and shame that can be passed down through noncoding DNA, which alters your chemicals so that when placed in certain experiences, it enacts the same reaction that your parent and ancestors felt before you.

My Mum had always wanted to be an artist, and has recently begun to draw and paint again which makes me incredibly happy as she’s really talented. I used to keep her paintings that were hidden away, in my room when I was a child. It’s interesting to think why she kept them hidden away. I think what it was trying to teach me at the time has now come full circle.

When my Mum was 15 years old, she asked if she could do Art for the Leaving Certificate. The nuns told my Granny, and together they decided that science was much better placed and that it was safer to become a nurse. ‘Safer’ in terms of it being more likely to guarantee a steady income and the ability to have a family, which at the time in Ireland was the perception of ‘success’.

My Granny had been raised by nuns, after her parents tragically died. She chose her career not out of choice, but out of survival mode. I do not know the story of her own mother. But I know that going back two generations, career was built around fear and self-preservation rather than joy.

To add to this, my parents had had a difficult separation. Money was not something that was in abundance, and therefore this fear of security began to foster. My Mum pushed us all to get a career that was safe and had regular income potential. I know this came from a place of love, but I stopped thinking of pushing through fear and those growth opportunities, instead becoming conditioned to form an attachment to security.

All of these experiences are linked to epigenetics: how behaviours and the environment can affect the way your genes work. Fear and stressors can be part of that. I do not know if that is what happened here, or perhaps it was just environmental perceptions of shame. But the point comes to the fact that we have the power to change what occurs across generations.

Epigenetic changes are reversible; they never change the sequence but are just tags that may latch on. We can create new images and experiences and encode these to allow for more enriching experiences and help reverse stress patterns.

It also highlights the need to look at generational trauma. Is there a pattern as to how your parents/grandparents responded to stress and anxiety? When I told my Mum that I was going back to University to do a Psychology Masters and have a complete change in career path, her initial reaction came from fear.

Questions came in left, right and centre. Had I thought about the future, and what were the career prospects? She has always encouraged us to have the next five years planned out, but having worked five years in a career that I knew did not provide me with value or purpose, I knew it was time to set the boundary. I had to choose myself. I had to push through the fear of security and live in the growth potential of ‘what if it all works out’.


“Fear and career no longer go together

Glennon Doyle’s affirmation: “We can do hard things” is one that I often come back to. I try to do the hard things that generations before me were unable to do due to their own pressures and fears.

I try to always live in my own integrity. I still work in a job that I do not particularly like, but it is completely reframed in my mind. The job does not define me; instead, I use it to allow myself to move towards my goals and intentions. I study in the mornings and evenings for my masters. I visualise the career and life that I want, and I know it is achievable.

Fear and career no longer go together.


Thank you Saoirse, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@science.and.magick).

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