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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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

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.

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.

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.