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.

Location, location, location

perfect-officeLocation has been a pretty big issue for me since finishing uni.

I loved my university town, not too big, not too small, close to the countryside and the sea, everything within walking distance and easy to travel anywhere by train. I’d have happily stayed had I felt in a position to. But with no job and huge uncertainty about the future, it seemed like madness to start renting there and force myself to find a part time job. I wanted the time and space to find the right job. Though I’ve since learnt there really is no ‘right’ job.

I moved back in with my mum. I don’t dislike my home town, it’s by the sea, it’s familiar and it wasn’t a bad place to be, just it’s a little too small, a little too close to the big city, and there’s no longer much there for me other than my family. I moved out once I had some money coming in and this was definitely a good choice – despite initially feeling little connection to my current city, as I get to know it and meet a few people it’s actually seeming like quite a nice place to be, at least for the time being.

I don’t feel quite ready to settle somewhere yet. I haven’t done the travelling/exploring thing, and I’d quite like to. Maybe then I could decide where I’d like to call home.

Rebecca’s post at Working Self really hit a chord with me, and then shortly after I came across Katie’s post at Ask the Young Professional offering similar advice. Both say the same thing: if you have just one true thing to hold on to, make it happen. If you know where you want to live, live there. And I think this applies to things other than location too.

If there’s something you find you keep coming back to, a dream that just won’t go away, no matter how hard you try to find an alternative to following it, then maybe that’s your one true thing to hold on to. Maybe that’s the thing you need to make happen. And it could just be that once you’ve made it happen everything else begins to fall into place too.

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

2.5 to 3 years

3yearscakeThis is the amount of time a number of people I know have been in the same job for. One of them enjoys their job so this is pretty good for her, but a few of the others say they have good days when it all seems just about ok and bad days when they just want to quit. But it’s comfortable, it’s easy, it’s money. So they struggle through the bad times and stay put. You should just be lucky to have a job and appreciate what you’ve got right?

Wrong. Let’s look at some great advice from Paul Angone (hope he doesn’t mind me paraphrasing):

The most dangerous job you can have in your 20s is a comfortable one. Comfortable is quicksand – the job you never wanted becoming the job you can’t escape. There is a stark cost for time wasted on comfortable: you don’t learn; you don’t refine who you are or what you’re capable of; remove challenges, remove growth.

You feel drained by doing nothing (mushy mind syndrome – you can spread one hour’s work over eight). Like a carousel ride that nevers stops spinning. Jump and roll. “We want to promote you” is the phrase you fear most. Quit comfortable before it’s too late.

I’ve jumped off the carousel and I’m rolling right about now. I’ve written a post explaining my current situation, but I still haven’t worked out whether I’m up to publishing it yet.

  • I won’t let myself become the person who’s been in a mediocre, non-challenging job for over a year.
  • I won’t let myself be the person who’s afraid of taking a risk and making their 20s count.
  • I won’t be the person who just sits back and lets life happen.

I’m often told finding the right work for you is just as much about luck and accidents as planning. But we make our own luck by meeting new people, trying new things out and taking risks, not by staying in the same place with the same people while our minds go mushy.

You’re only lost when you run out of petrol

road-trip3-edit

I read that quote on my old university’s alumni Facebook page – a past student had added it to the end of a little piece of advice to this year’s graduates. As long as you have the hope and motivation – the petrol – to keep going, to keep searching, then you’re never truly lost, or at least not permanently lost.

I enjoy driving, and I’m not the sort of person who worries too much about planning a route before heading to a new destination. A quick look on Google Maps, memorise or scribble down the roads, then off I go with about 10 minutes added to the journey time just in case I should get lost (which of course is highly unlikely).

But, inevitably, I do get lost. First I continue to drive, I turn around, thinking I’ve missed a turning, or keep going hoping it must still be ahead. Then I finally give in, pull over and get out a map. Except now I’m watching the clock worried I’m going to be late, so it’s a glance, guesstimate of location and how to get back on track, then I’m off again, full speed ahead. But my hurry often means the journey takes longer than necessary, when I miss the turning again, get in the wrong lane at the lights, or realise I wasn’t quite where I thought I was…

Wow. The more I think about it the more this feels like a perfect analogy for my career (or lack of it).

It’s funny because right now what I want more than anything is to quit my job and never go back. And in order to do that I need to find a new job. Except despite my extreme desire to resign (which increases every day I go into work), somehow I’m not in a hurry to make a decision and grab hold of another job. I want to make sure my next choice is the right one for me – not me pretending to be sorted, me pretending I’ve found something different when it’s actually just a variation of what I currently do and dislike, but me knowing that I’ve thought about my next move, planned it and made sure that this time it’s different. This time I’m taking a very good look at the map.

lost.Because when you’re pulled over at the side of the road, you might still be in the wrong place, and not all that happy to be there, but it’s worth taking that extra time to make sure that when you head back on the road to take a different turning, you’re taking the right road – the one that’s going to get you to where you want to be, not another dead end.

And something else to remember: dreams are journeys, not destinations. As soon as you take one tiny little step towards a dream you’re already living it. You’re already no longer lost. I came across a great post about this by Paul Angone: The big lie about your dream.

So I may feel pretty lost right now, but I’ve definitely got the energy and motivation to get moving, and becoming un-lost could just be a matter of one or two tiny little steps in the right direction. It’s all about taking a good look at the map before getting started.

Without a plan

goalplanwishThey say that if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re unlikely to get there. That’s pretty much how I feel right now: lacking a plan.

Now I’m not saying  that I and all other 20-somethings need a detailed life plan to get anywhere. Not at all. But I do feel that I need at least an outline of a plan, because right now I’m a little bit stuck, and no matter how small the step, I’d like to feel like I’m moving in the right direction.

I can’t help but feel like I’m heading down the wrong path, but I’m struggling to see a different route. I want to do a u-turn; start afresh. Try something new and different. Take some risks.

But I am taking action and enlisting help, so there will be lots of planning ahead.

First new thing to try? Morning pages. That’s three pages of writing anything that comes into your head, first thing in the morning. (Great explanation of the potential benefits here: 5 reasons why you should start writing morning pages – right now!). 

This isn’t so much planning, more an attempt to clarify my thoughts so I’m able to make some kind of clear and authentic plan in the near future. It might be a long journey to create and shape a good path, but I want to be achieving goals, not just hoping for the best, and that isn’t going to happen without a plan.

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.