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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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

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.

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.