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.

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

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.

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.

Overcoming the greatest fear

I’ve just finished reading a book on appreciating life, written by a man facing death.

Death is scary. It means change, loss, finality, the unknown.

But the main point the author makes is that until you face and accept your own mortality, you can never fully live.

enjoyeverysandwichLife is an adventure; death is unknown

(Enjoy every sandwich, living each day as if it were your last – by Lee Lipsenthal)

Lee says that he got to a point in his life that any day would be a good day to die. He was happy, fulfilled and peaceful, despite having terminal cancer. He clearly embraced life and got past the fear of death.

Three things I take away from his story:

  • Gratitude is the ultimate expression of hope

When we start to recognise and appreciate things – even the little things in a life that doesn’t seem to be going to plan – we begin to look for more good things and think more positively, according to Lee. His advice? Every night write down 3 things that you are grateful for that happened that day – from a good meal to a great joke, or simply a smile from a stranger. After a few weeks you’ll find yourself actively looking for things during the day to write down later. I’m going to start doing this.

  • Not everyone values science over spirituality

Lee was both scientific – he studied medicine and worked as a doctor, and spiritual – he practiced meditation and was a great believer in things greater than those we understand. I feel that too often people refuse to believe that science and spiritually can exist in harmony. For me, science is the how, spiritually is the why. Science can never explain why, just as spiritually can’t explain how. It’s refreshing to hear from someone scientifically knowledgeable, yet open to so much more than the narrow scientific view of life.

  • The ‘one-self’ – the world is a bigger place

The chapter that refers to this immediately reminded me of a post by Raimy over at Creative Guru: If I’m not who I think I am then who the hell am I? Lee talks about how the body can’t define the self due to its constant changing, and due to the fact that we are more than our component parts. He describes an exercise where you repeat the following to yourself:

I have a body, but I am not my body

I have feelings, but I am not my feelings

I have desires, but I am not my desires

I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts

I am the self, the centre of consciousness

I really struggle with this concept, but it fascinates me.

inspiration2The desire to change has to be greater than the fear of change to move forward. It’s pretty inspiring to read about someone who overcame what could be described as the greatest fear: the fear of death, the unknown.

It can be really difficult to see the bigger picture, to remember that feelings, desires and thoughts are fleeting, and to focus on the ‘one-self’, the bigger picture, but getting past fear opens up so many possibilities.

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.

Sitting in the park

parkbenchThis might well be the longest I’ve gone without writing a blog post since I started – where does the time go?!

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the idea of fate. And I’ve come to the conclusion that believing things are just ‘meant to be’ is a really positive way of thinking and living. If you don’t accept things that come your way then you’re just left fighting against them.

I’m not sure that I really believe in destiny or fate, but I do believe in believing that everything will work out in the end. Hope is absolutely everything, and I can’t even imagine what it must be like to lose all hope. You have to believe that something better is around the corner when things aren’t so great, or you’d just stop trying, and to get anything really worthwhile out of life takes effort.

If it’s meant to be, it will be. If it’s not meant to be, it’s because there’s something better out there.

I’m starting to appreciate the fact that my job is actually a pretty good starter job. Life’s not a race and I’m holding on to my dreams and ideals, but right now I feel like maybe things are on track and where they’re ‘meant to be’. I’m finally beginning to let go of the regret I was holding about past opportunities and whether I made the right choices. I did what I thought was right at the time and that’s all that matters. Those things simply weren’t meant to be.

I’ve also done a little reading up on mindfulness – the practice of being fully in the moment here and now. It’s really calming and helps me to feel in control. Essentially (from my limited reading on the subject!) it’s a case of paying attention to each individual sense and appreciating them all without judging. I’ve been noticing the birds singing more than I might usually, and not getting so annoyed at music and chattering on the train. I’m not talking about anything spiritual or religious, just relaxation and acceptance – give it a try!