The book I needed to read

So looking at my last two posts they’ve been pretty negative. Overly negative. My job situation could be a heck of a lot worse and my colleagues are nice enough really. I’m just frustrated at my current situation and feel so far away from where I want to be.

I first heard about Paul Angone’s book over at StuffGradsLike, then shortly after came across it again at Working Self. With these great reviews I thought it sounded like a pretty good read, but it exceeded my expectations.

I finished it in two sittings (would’ve got through it in one if it wasn’t so late and I wasn’t so tired when I started!). It was such a page turner and just felt so completely relevant to where I am in my life right now. Parts were genuinely funny, and others led to reflection and thinking about things in my own life. It just made me feel so much more positive, and much less alone.

secret#2101 secrets for your twenties

by Paul Angone of AllGroanUp

The great thing about this book is the balance between optimism and realism. Yes your twenties might be hard, and you’re not on your own in feeling like this, but that doesn’t mean you should settle for a mediocre life. You can follow your dreams, it just might not be within the time frame you’d like (secret #19 Our plans aren’t the problem. Our timeline is).

My personal favourite secret is #2 The possibility for greatness and embarrassment both exist in the same space. If you’re not willing to be embarrassed, you’re probably not willing to be great. I fear embarrassment, but I know it’s something that I have to overcome if I’m going to take risks and achieve anything great in my life.

There’s so much good advice packed into this book, yet it never feels like Paul is telling you what you should or shouldn’t be doing. If you’re in your twenties (or even if not!) and feeling a little lost and confused, do get hold of a copy. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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It’s official: I hate my job

dead endOkay, so I have just had a rubbish day at work. But not an awfully or unusually rubbish day, just another bad day of many.

For the first time in my life I’m in a position to say, you know what, I’m not enjoying this and I don’t feel it’s helping me professionally or personally, and I have a choice to leave. All through school and university you’re on a set path – if something’s not working you make small adjustments within that path, like swapping a module, or changing a project or group. But in the world of work there’s no longer that sense of commitment to a set time period. There’s no clear path to follow or ladder to climb.

I miss learning and feeling like I’m really getting somewhere. There’s always a sense of progress with exams and time-frames, whereas in the world of work you make your own targets. I realise I could take a course alongside my job, but I’ve been working so hard to build up experience alongside work that I don’t feel like I have enough time just to relax. It doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day to do everything. Busyness is never an excuse. If you want to do something you make time. And I really believe that, but I’m getting stressed out. 8 hours a day, 5 days a week feels like a massive chunk of my life right now.

And everyone’s been talking about Meg Jay and her book. Part of me feels I should read it, part of me wants to avoid it like the plague. I know your twenties are important and aren’t for messing around. I know that professionally and personally it’s the time to start to make sure you get to where you want to be. I know all that and it scares me and stresses me out. I don’t want to read about how behind I am and how much work I have to do in my twenties. I’m already terrified that time’s flying by and I’m getting nowhere.

I’m considering going back to university, but I don’t want to pick that because it’s all I know, I want to pick that if it’s genuinely the right thing for me to do. Because I miss knowledge and learning and academia. From my experiences so far I’m really not sure that the business world is for me. And then there’s teaching, and I like that idea, but am I just clinging onto another thing that’s familiar?

I’m not proud of my job. I want people to ask me what I do and for me to be able to tell them with pride, not embarrassment.

The 4 career-searching personalities

LongleatMaze_ROW2078107117_20100808

I’ve been thinking about different attitudes to building fulfilling career paths, and I’ve come up with these 4 categories:

Decided Undecided
Starter Know where they want to be and on the path to get there Don’t know but are exploring options proactively and linking interests
Settler Know but unsure how and/or unwilling to put the work in to get there Don’t know where they want to be and aren’t making an effort to work it out

The decided starter – you know the type, have known since childhood exactly what they want to be without even needing to consider other options out there, usually studying something vocational, e.g. medicine, teaching. These people can be pretty irritating. Who wants to hear from someone who has their whole life planned out and is completely content with their decision? Well actually it is kind of nice to know there are people in this world who know what they’re doing. Good for them.

The undecided starter – now you can’t be annoyed with this type, they don’t have a clue but they’re doing their best to work it out. I’d say these people are pretty inspiring, they admit they’re not perfect but they’re not just sitting back and hoping for the best, they’re out there trying things out and building a path for themselves. And this is one major way in which they differ from decided starters: they’re creating their own path, not following a predefined one.

The decided settler – this type is frustrating, they know what they want to be doing, you know they know what they want to be doing, but they’re not doing it. Why? Fear of failure, lack of encouragement, laziness? Whatever it is it’s not a good enough reason for them to settle for something that’s not on the path to what they really want. You want them to make the effort, to work at their dream, but it feels like they’ve just given up and are simply sitting back and waiting for something to fall into their lap.

The undecided settler – they don’t have a clue, and because of this you do feel for them, finding the right path for yourself isn’t easy. It’s discouraging to come across this type, they seem lost and unsure where to start. But it’s a small step to go from undecided settler to undecided starter.

I know which category I want to be in.

Starting vs settling

settlingAfter reading How to customise your life and not settle by Katie Robinson at Ask the Young Professional, a blog I’ve only recently discovered and look forward to following, I just had to share my own thoughts.

Katie makes such an important point, and one that I’d never considered before – understanding the difference between starting and settling. It’s really helped me to to think differently, and hopefully more clearly, about the idea of ‘settling’.

In past posts I’ve talked about striving and searching, rather than just settling for an ‘it pays the bills’ kind of job – but how do you define settling? And what’s the difference between starting out, doing what you have to do in order to reach your goals, and giving up on your dreams?

You have to start somewhere, whether you have very specific or only very vague goals in mind, but you still want to find a starter job that you enjoy (at least some of the time) and that’s on the right path towards your career goals.

The way I see it, you want to have links between your starter job and your future career ideas – a basic framework based on your current interests and skills that you can build on.

For me, these links are science, writing, communication and education. My job doesn’t cover any of these things in depth, but the fact that there are bits of all of them means I’ve got something to move forward from. These links also don’t cover all of my interests, but they’re a start. If I compare this to my previous part time work waitressing, which had just one very vague link to my goals – working with people, then I’m in a far better position to move forward now than I was then.

Settling is continuing in a job that you neither enjoy nor is moving you forward. Settling is not thinking about future career goals and convincing yourself that the job you have is good enough when you know it isn’t. Settling is giving up.

Starting is accepting that you have to pick something for now and give it a go. Starting is finding and creating links to your future career ideas and planning ahead. Starting is being realistic, but thinking forward.

So I’m not settling for a nine-to-five desk job that doesn’t include half the things I want in a job, I’m starting with a nine-to-five desk job that’s going to get me to future jobs that do include more of the things I want in a job.

Which would you regret more?

what ifYou regret more the things you didn’t do than the things you did. No, really, you do.

It’s taken me a very long time to even begin to accept this.

Let me give you an example. When I was offered a paid internship that I was really unsure about taking, one of the first things I asked myself – and one of the first things many others asked me when discussing my dilemma – was which choice would I regret more?

Having worked, unpaid, for the company, I knew lots of the good things about them, but also lots of things I didn’t like so much. I’m very much drawn to variety and new things; I’m bad at commitment. And my expectations for a first job were too high.

I tried to picture myself in the role, and rightly or wrongly felt that I would regret taking on something which I felt so very little enthusiasm for. I knew the company was looking for someone to stay on after the internship and I didn’t want to take the position fully intending to leave after the three months and to be actively looking for other opportunities while in the role. I thought I would feel guilty. I thought that would be taking advantage. Except that’s what opportunities are there for – taking advantage of.

Yes, looking back my thinking didn’t make much sense. Even now I have to remind myself that companies don’t have feelings. You can start a job and quit in a month. It’s about you, not them. And you know what else, I might have changed my mind. I might even have grown to like it – first impressions can be wrong. But let’s keep this balanced, intuition can also be pretty accurate, it might not have worked out. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here.

I turned it around in my head and asked myself – would I regret more taking something with so little conviction, or would I regret more not taking a risk to continue to look for something better. Of course this is rubbish – I could have worked and searched.

We regret more the things we don’t do than the things we do, because it’s the not knowing that drives us crazy, not making a mistake. We can deal with mistakes because we can learn lots from them. All we can learn from ‘what ifs’ is next time,  just give it a go.

Life lessons from the job hunt

hearty-cloud-roadIt’s only now that I have a job that I appreciate not just how frustrating it was not to have one, but also how wildly idealistic I was while searching for one. At the time I clung on to hope, blindly believing that something just right would turn up out of the blue if I waited long enough, but it’s only now that I realise just how overly optimistic I was being (well, overly optimistic in between the odd “no-one is ever going to hire me, I’m going to be unhappily unemployed forever!” breakdown).

Since finally being offered a job that I chose to accept, I’ve continued to check the same job sites (not quite as obsessively and excessively frequently!) but it’s as if my eyes have finally been opened to the fact that it really is just the same old roles coming up again and again. Perfect positions don’t just miraculously appear – and even if one did, I can almost guarantee I wouldn’t recognise it!

Maybe the lack of variety in openings is partly due to the economic climate, but it doesn’t change the fact that I never really knew what I was searching for, yet I still expected to find it.

The number of options out there is ridiculous, and I struggle to see how graduates could be fully prepared for the working world when faced with what feels like endless possibilities. Maybe there isn’t much more that can be done. Maybe it’s just one of those periods of life that you have to go through to work out the realities of adult life for yourself.

I’m ever hopeful, but sometimes I think that maybe I’m a little too hopeful. I said in a recent post that you’ve got to believe things will work out. And I believe that you do. But you’ve also got to accept that they’re going to work out imperfectly, and that it’s going to take time, some risks and a lot of learning and adapting.

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.