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.

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.

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

It pays the bills vs wrong path

traffic_lights_mist

So the plan is to keep this blog pretty impersonal until I’m fully back on track (VERY long story – if you were unlucky enough to spot my emotional rant that was up for about half a day a few weeks ago then I sincerely apologise, no-one wanted or needed to see that). But I do want to keep up blogging.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between an ‘it pays the bills’ job and a ‘wrong career path’ job… is there a difference? These could both be classed as the same thing, but I’d argue there are subtle but important differences.

greenlightLet’s start off by looking at the Right Career Path Job:

You’re on track, in a role that sort of feels in line with where you want to be heading. It’s not necessarily ideal, but you’re not worried about it messing up your CV or making it difficult to get your next relevant job. You’re building the right skills and contacts to get where you want to be.

redlightSo now we come on to the Wrong Career Path Job:

A right career path job can easily slide into a wrong career path job. As we start to realise what it is we really care about and what we’re really passionate about, as opposed to the things we have a passing interest for, we can begin to feel like we’re not actually building the skills and contacts we want to be building after all.

amberlightWhich leads to the It Pays the Bills Job:

Now temporarily and purposefully I don’t have the slightest problem with it pays the bills jobs. With an it pays the bills job you know exactly why you’re doing it – to pay the bills. That’s it’s aim and you carry on doing it while it’s achieving that aim. If it goes above this, say you learn some new skills or meet some new people, then that’s great, but if not, well that wasn’t really the intention of the position anyway.

I think the problem comes when either your right career path job or your it pays the bills job slides into wrong career path territory. Then you’re making a choice. An it pays the bills job is temporary. A wrong career path job could turn out to be much more permanent. And you don’t want that. Don’t settle for that.

What is authenticity? Who am I?!

These are the questions I’ve been thinking about recently, but where to even start?

what-if-and-why-notDara over at Good at Life has dedicated this month as Authenticity August and it’s great to read her insights and advice and be inspired (I’d really recommend you take a look if you haven’t come across her blog before). One of her first posts of the month talks about letting go of what people think, and until recently I didn’t realise quite how much I struggle with this.

Often if I have an idea I’ll test it out with others, mention it in conversation, looking for confirmation that it ‘fits’ with who other people think I am, that it’s something they encourage and could see me doing. I shouldn’t be doing this. I think we should listen to others, because it’s important to know how we come across to other people and there are often truths in how others see us. But I don’t think we should ever let this dictate our actions or hold us back. We shouldn’t be looking for approval, only insights to help us to come to our own conclusions and enable us to make our own decisions.

Following a job interview where I was asked “what 3 words would family and friends use to describe you?” I decided to actually ask 3 family members to answer this question. After getting pretty positive answers I also asked them for 3 ‘negative’ words to describe me. Sometimes our ‘weaknesses’ can actually reveal our biggest strengths. The answers provided an interesting insight into how I come across to others, and most of them I’d agree with, at least to a certain extent, though some I think only apply in certain contexts.

Authenticity is accepting the good and the bad, strengths and weaknesses, but it’s not about immediately accepting the opinions of others as facts about ourselves and our characteristics. I guess the opinions of others are actually a pretty good insight into how authentic we’re being – how much the way we act reflects our values and who we truly feel we are.

wavesofdoubtauthenticself

I recently attended a meet-up group to discuss personality types. I’ve always found this sort of thing interesting but meeting and learning about the different types was just fascinating.

I’d always thought my type was INFP but, never having done an official Myers-Briggs test, I spoke to some knowledgeable members of the group about this, and was surprised at the suggestion that I could possibly be an ENFP as these types are very close. I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert, and after some more thought I’m almost certain I am, but it’s surprising how much influence your environment can have on who you think you are.

Maybe we’re not necessarily who we’ve grown up to believe we are. We might have to dig a little deeper to find our true authentic selves.

For a more full and detailed explanation of authenticity have a look at what Kevin Rafferty has to say: What is authenticity? and Connecting to your authentic self

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.

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.

What’s blogging all about?

I was more than a little surprised to find the following, rather unfriendly and cryptic, comment in my inbox a few days ago. I was in two minds about sharing it but it’s brought up a couple of things I’d like to discuss, so here it is:

Forget the blog post. I won’t blow smoke in your face and say I’m so glad that I read your post. What I will say is that people who go by a pseudonym annoy me. No name, no way to connect on LinkedIn or follow on Twitter. As well, your subtitle is a bit self-defeating and not a good way to start the branding process. None of this would have to be said in the form of a reply if I knew who you are and how to contact you; because I would like to offer a bit of professional advice. Namely, I’m not the only professional old-timer who is going to see your talented prose but wonder, “Are you for real?” So, two things that piss me off: one) you are a talented writer, yet immature; two) I don’t know how to contact you to tell you this in front of others who are to follow your writing, including my much respected pen pal, Rebecca. Sorry if this offends you, Rebecca. Bob McIntosh http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobmcintosh1

Assault on the anonymous

I choose to blog anonymously for two main reasons:

1. I feel that it helps me to be more honest in my writing

2. I’d rather my current and potential employers didn’t come across my confused ramblings

I don’t write this blog as any form of self-promotion or marketing. I write it for myself, to help me to explore career ideas and thoughts and to share these with others, and to enable me to read the thoughts and ideas of others who I can learn from. Being anonymous allows me to do this completely freely.

A supportive community?

Until I received the comment above I was pleased to be part of what I’d so far found to be a welcoming and supportive community of like-minded people. To me blogging isn’t about always agreeing with others’ views, but it is about being constructive and supportive.

I’d love to hear your views:

– How do you feel about anonymous bloggers like myself?

– What’s blogging all about for you?