Does anyone have the answer?

keeplookingupI went to a careers workshop last weekend. It was a cheap informal event so I thought it might be a good chance to confirm my current career plans – and it did. My problem right now? Taking action.

Eight others were at the workshop, and most of them were close to twice my age yet are still struggling with finding purpose and meaning in their work. This worries me. Chatting to them they’d had varied career paths, and the lady leading the workshop had been an occupational therapist before moving into careers (and yoga). I love hearing people’s stories. Especially when they don’t make much logical sense and involve a bit of experimentation and risk-taking. They’re the best kinds of stories and the sort I’m trying to write for myself. But one story stood out to me. It’s a story I don’t want for myself.

Meet Tess. Aged 40ish. After leaving uni she temped, volunteered, travelled, trained as a teacher, realised this wasn’t for her, worked in a book shop, and now works as a teaching and library assistant in a school. She tells me she lies on application forms because her work experience is too bitty, and I’m guessing she missed lots out while speaking to me. She wants to travel and write alongside her day job but isn’t sure how to fund this. Money is a big issue for her.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this – Tess knows what she likes and just needs to work out the practicalities of making it happen. So why do I desperately not want a similar story in 20 years’ time? I don’t want a lack of money to prevent me from following my dreams and finding my meaning and purpose.

Let me introduce you to Kate, who I met a few months ago. In her 30s. After uni she did lots of temporary jobs, spent a year in Australia, taught English for a bit, and generally has a pretty chaotic CV like Tess. Kate is doing what she wants to be doing – experimenting. She’s created a website and is currently doing an illustration course. She knows she’s lucky. Her dad was an entrepreneur and she’s always had money – she currently rents out properties for an income.

There are two key differences that I can see between these stories. Kate doesn’t have to worry about money, Tess does, yet also, and I think more importantly, Kate isn’t ashamed of her rambling career path, whereas Tess seems to be less proud of her path. Is it about the money? I hope not. Anyone can save up and keep an eye on their spending, and Kate agrees we can live on much less income than we think we need.

smileworldI think it’s really all about the attitude. When Kate told me her life story she went into great detail, trying not to miss anything out, talking about where she’d worked and who she’d met along the way. The voluntary work she’s done and wants to do more of, the classes she goes to in the evenings. She isn’t ashamed of her lack of a career path. Tess on the other hand skimmed through what she sees as the most important things she’s done, brushing over everything else and seemingly viewing her unconventional path with much less pride and much more negativity.

Maybe there is no answer in the search for success. Maybe you just have to enjoy the journey.

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A year today

I’ve now been writing this blog for exactly one year. And a lot has changed.

paperlink-made-with-love-anniversaryOne year ago I hadn’t long graduated, I had one unpaid internship, some odd bits of work experience and a little freelance writing work under my belt. I’d done some useful and interesting voluntary stuff at uni, but it was a struggle to get onto the right career ladder (in fact you could say I gave up on working out and waiting for the right career ladder in the end).  Now here I am, another unpaid internship, waitressing work, a few other bits and pieces and one cruddy proper job later and I can’t say I’m overly happy with my progress on the job/CV front.

On the vision front, however, I’ve done much better. One year ago I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I’d put two and two together and made five, ending up in completely the wrong work for me, but three months of career coaching, a lot of informational interviewing and a ton of research later, I’m actually pretty sure I’ve worked out what really matters to me.

The hard part is going to be turning this vision into reality.

On a more personal level there have also been some big changes – friends and family moving away, moving back home and then out again to a new city, challenging my own ideals and assumptions. I’ve got a lot more work to do figuring things out but I’ve proven I can handle difficulties and I know I’ve got some good people around me. I’ve learnt how to cope with uncertainty and uncomfortable situations, how to motivate and encourage myself, and the importance of just showing up (a topic I plan to cover in another post soon).

Has it been a good year? Sadly I’m hesitant to say yes. Have there been some good moments? Of course! Is next year going to be better? I’ve a pretty good feeling it might be.

Why people complain about their work… yet do nothing about it

A few years ago I bought my dad a place mat that read: ‘Hate your job? There’s a support group for that. It’s called Everyone and they meet at the pub.’ Nearly all of us complain about our jobs.

But what if people aren’t as unhappy with their jobs as they make out? What if they actually just enjoy a little moan? We need to let out our frustrations somehow to push through difficult times. I think a lot of people really like the stability and routine of a regular job – better the devil you know. Any change is in some sense a risk, a step into the unknown, and they say that we only make changes when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the discomfort of trying something new.

Nothing in life is perfect, but when we find deeper meaning in what we’re doing it makes it worth struggling through the difficult days. Cal Newport wrote about ‘the passion trap’. The idea that we should stop looking for our ‘passion’ and instead focus on getting really good at something. I’m not sure it’s quite this simple – I do believe there’s more than just one great job for everyone, but I don’t believe that anyone can become great at (and learn to love) just anything.

I want everyone to want the best for themselves, but I know I need to accept that the odd moan doesn’t mean someone’s in the wrong job and needs to look for something more meaningful and/or that better fits their strengths. It might just mean that they’ve had a bad day in a generally pretty alright job that overall they’re actually quite happy with.

POSTER-COMPLAINING-TW3While I might unintentionally pass judgement on people for staying put, they could just as easily judge me for my choices.

I guess I’d like to think I live by the saying: If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. If I’m moaning it’s because I’m unhappy and need to make a change, but maybe if some others are moaning it just means they can’t or don’t want to make a change and simply haven’t changed their attitude.

Everyone has their own reasons for being in the situation they’re in, just as I have my own reasons for being in the situation I’m in.  All I need to focus on right now is my own journey.

Coping with uncertainty

I wrote this blog a good few weeks ago now, but it’s sat in drafts until I’ve plucked up the courage to post it. Here goes.

So I said I was going to keep this impersonal until I was sorted. I’m not quite – actually I’m nowhere near – sorted but thought I’d share anyway, after all, it’s likely to be a long journey and this blog’s meant to be about me sharing my experiences, however uncomfortable they might be at times. And things are pretty uncomfortable right now.

I did resign from my job, 4ish weeks ago now. And I finished yesterday. I’m excited about the possibilities and opportunities, accepting of the fact I may well have to take an ‘it pays the bills’ job for a while, but also just a little bit terrified that I won’t be able to maintain my wavering levels of positivity. I still haven’t decided whether it was a ‘bad’ or ‘good’ choice, I have ups and downs, but that’s irrelevant now.

I left, two months earlier than planned, for a number of reasons:

  1. Waiting for another job first (the ‘sensible’ thing to do) would mean continuing to feel completely inauthentic, and even dishonest – I felt so much relief in simply telling my boss that I don’t want to be there and it’s not for me.
  2. I had a very honest conversation with my boss, which highlighted how misaligned the opportunities for growth at the company are with how I want to grow professionally and personally.
  3. While some people could say I made a rash and very much emotionally driven choice (I wouldn’t argue with you on the emotion front, but I do know it was from an authentic place), I want to be the person who takes risks, the person who is proactive and makes things happen.

I really struggled with this decision after I’d first made it. While some people lose their jobs, are made redundant, and face difficult circumstances that are completely out of their hands, I actively made this choice. This was all down to me – there’s nowhere to hide.

And in that moment I had a choice to make. To depair, to cry, to beg to keep my job after all, to grab the first menial job I could get my hands on, to explain my decision to others warily and with doubt. Or to embrace that choice. To share it with enthusiasm and happiness, to remain calm in the knowledge I have enough savings to give me time to work this out, to keep smiling, keep meeting people, to stay positive.

If I could go back to that day I spoke to my boss, would I change the conversation? Would I hold back? Would I let logic and expectation and ‘sensible’ hold me back? Or would I hold on to my authenticity, my self-respect and faith that I can make this work?

So what can I share from this experience? Well here’s how I’ve stayed positive despite overwhelming uncertainty:

  • Great quotes and inspirational TED talks. My personal favourite is Steve Jobs’ commencement speech, and I continue to read some of these quotes every single day. But a new quote I’m particularly fond of is: Above all, be true to yourself, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it. – Hardy D Jackson.
  • Music. I never used to listen to music at work. An office culture of headphones and skype/email conversations with colleagues is my idea of hell, but knowing I was leaving I gave up trying to fight it. For my last weeks of repetitive routine tasks, I used music as a distraction and focus to get me through. And it did a pretty good job.
  • Meeting people. During this period of uncertainty there have been times when I’ve felt like I couldn’t face anyone for fear of disapproval. But instead of sitting at home in despair (as I might well have done in similar situations in the past), I’ve dragged myself out. I’ve spent time with friends, family, complete strangers, recent acquaintances. And I’ve been open and enthusiastic with as many of these as I feel I can. I’ve found that most of the time, if you speak with enthusiasm and conviction, that’s exactly what people around you will reflect back. How great is that?

positivity-text

Why I keep applying for jobs I don’t want

puzzle(d)I feel like I’m going round in circles at the moment.

I know my official ‘skills’ (well, kind of, I like to think I have most of the standard ones: communication, organisation, teamwork etc. – who would ever admit to not having one of those?) and I know my ‘interests’ (the stuff I like but still don’t know quite whether I like it enough to be classed as a ‘passion’) and I find jobs that require these ‘skills’ that I have and are related to these ‘interests’ of mine.

Except something’s missing.

Let me try to explain…

My newly started job hunt/ application/ interview/ result process goes something like this:

  1. Find a job that fits my ‘skills’ and ‘interests’
  2. Write an application that shows how I match all of the person spec and links in with details of the job description (Write something vague about linking ‘skills’ and ‘interests’ to explain why I really (?) want the job)
  3. If I’m lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to be invited for interview, answer the questions trying to sound as interested and enthusiastic as possible
  4. Convince myself I want the job
  5. (Usually) Rejection – depending on how well I’ve managed to convince myself the job is perfect, a period of mild unhappiness that I didn’t get an offer, followed by a feeling of great relief that I haven’t been offered another desk job which would be ok, but in no way excites me

I apply for jobs that on paper, and to other people, look pretty good (do I have the right skills? check. Is it an area I’m interested in? check. A good company? check. Good opportunities for progression? check. Reasonable salary? check. Okay location? check… check. check. check. check. check.) Except when it comes down to it, I dread having an office job. And I’m confused about how and where to compromise. I still don’t really know what I’m looking for, only that I’m not going to find it by carrying on applying for similar office-based 9-5s. I’m also not going to find it by running back to something familiar like education.

I’ve turned down more than one job offer in the past, I’ve been the reserve candidate on more than one occasion, and there have been many more times when I haven’t even reached the interview stage or have failed to receive an offer after interview. But never has there yet been a job I’ve really genuinely wanted. I’ve been offered jobs I don’t want, and not offered jobs I don’t want. But never have I been offered or not offered any job that I do truly feel excited about.

In and out of control

controlI’ve been thinking a lot about the type of job I’m looking to move on to, and one of the aspects I’ve been thinking about is control.

I like to be in control, to be able to see the bigger picture and move things forward. I guess to have some degree of power and influence. I’m not one for maintaining any kind of status quo just for the sake of it.

I’ve never been one for following the rules. If it’s a useful rule with a clear and valid purpose then I see no reason to break it, but sometimes you’ve got to see the bigger picture and be flexible about things. I see rules as guidelines, if they’re not working, try something different.

So in a job context let me give you a couple of examples of levels of control:

Teaching assistant vs teacher

Teaching is something I’ve always had an interest in – learning, communicating, creating, planning, supporting, presenting, leading. Yet I dislike working as a teaching assistant. In the past I’ve helped out in classes and most of the time I’ve just felt like a spare part. I hate that. When, on the other hand, I’ve been allowed to take a lesson or work with a small group I find the work much more enjoyable. It’s all about the level of control and responsibility.

News editor vs news reporter 

Writing news stories is something I have experience of and really enjoy doing, and I’ve worked both as a reporter and as an editor. Both have their pros and cons. Being an editor is stressful yet rewarding, you have control of everything, you arrange and attend the meetings, you interview people, you allocate stories to writers – you do what you like to get the job done. Whereas being a reporter or writer is much more relaxed, yet can be frustrating. I’ve had stories changed so much I’d rather my name was no longer alongside them, and it’s much harder to see the bigger picture when you’re focusing on just one small article in a publication.

I’d choose high responsibility, a high level of control and flexibility over working for someone else on just a small part of the puzzle any day, but you have to start at the bottom.

You can’t edit others’ writing until you’ve written lots yourself and had your own work scrutinised. You can’t teach others until you’ve observed lessons and worked alongside rather than in front of classes. Sometimes you might not enjoy the stepping stones as much as you’d enjoy the final position, but they’re the only way to get to that great job.

I guess it’s about enjoying the journey as much as you can, knowing that you will get to where you want to be in the end, and that it will be worth it.

Not so great expectations

I was looking through some old school reports the other day. Back at school the teachers knew and supported everyone, and had high hopes for many of those they taught, but from university onwards each student becomes more and more anonymous.

clowntvweather

Well it would certainly be a conversation starter…

My tutor at university was great, I remember him telling me that I could do anything I wanted when I left. Nothing at all to do with my intelligence – one of his suggestions was joining the circus and another was becoming a weather girl! I think he was really just trying to say ‘the world is your oyster’.

Then you start applying for jobs and you realise just how big a pond you’re in, and just how small a fish you really are. And even once you’ve got that first job, there’s always that niggling feeling – is this really it? Can’t I do something better than this? Aren’t I destined to do something more meaningful?

And it begins to feel like you’re not living up to your potential. All of that talk of becoming an artist, a doctor, a teacher – whatever good solid, or even dream, job you thought you might end up with when you’d finished your education – has gone out the window, and worst of all, no-one really seems to care what you do or become anymore. You’re told you’re lucky to have any job in this economic climate, that it’ll ‘work out eventually’, that no-one really knows what they want to do.

Those dreams of doing amazing things, of travelling, of excitement, of adventure… “Oh yeah, you want to do that? Sure, you do that one day,” they say. Well I want to remind everyone, and myself, that we’re not here to live up to other people’s expectations of us; we’re here to live up to our own expectations for ourselves, so we better make them high.

pacific-blue-eye-really-is-a-small-fish-in-a-big-pond

Being a small fish in a big pond doesn’t have to be a bad thing.