Career Cupid

It’s nearly August so I’m quitting my job.

As usual.

My office

The counselling section of my office. Doesn’t it look menacing and worthy of quitting?

This year the ads that make me start hyperventilating–you know, the ones with the binders and the backpacks and the Lunchables–have started even earlier so even though I haven’t taken all my summer holidays yet, and it’s only July, I’m in full-on quit mode already.

Sayonara.  Ciao.  Asta la Vista.

You get the gist.  Apparently, I like quitting in the romantic languages.

The upshot of it is:  I can’t do it anymore.  It’s been 15 years of hyperventilating (in August, mind, not July) and I can’t face another year.  I’ll never make it out alive.   I’m almost positive that the photocopier/scanner/printer has it in for me.  Lately, my office key has been giving me trouble and I’m convinced it’s a sign.  So, I’m oudda here.

Later, alligator.  While, crocodile.  Don’t look back, Jack.  All that stuff.

At least, mentally.

Mostly, I’m just lying awake at 2:14 a.m. fretting and stewing (although sometimes, I change it up and do a little stewing and fretting instead).

And, even though it’s 2:14 or 3:14 or 4:14, my husband, Practical Man, is often awake too since I’m not one to fret or stew motionless or in silence.   He pats my arm as I sigh and whimper and flounce around under the covers.  He kisses my hair and tells me that, of course, I can quit if I want to….that it’s just work and happiness is more important.

Then, I get a bit huffy because of course, it’s not “just work” and I can’t “just quit”.  I mean, I like my job!   It’s challenging and interesting and I finally have a boss who is a mentor.  And, what about the mortgage and that new paint job I’d love (turquoise) for our 1970 Fiat 500 and being able to treat ourselves to the applewood smoked cheddar at the expensive grocery store?

So, then he hugs me and tells me that of course, I don’t have to quit if I don’t want to.  Work is important to me and he totally understands.

Um….what?  I can’t believe he doesn’t think I should quit!

Do you ever have conversations in the dark like this?  You know, where one of you is overwrought and incapable of rational thought and the other one can’t say the right thing, no matter what he tries?

I blame it on Target.

I’m sure that they are responsible for this tidal wave of September and the commercials about the darn Lunchables and the glow-in-the-dark backpacks.  It all makes my heart pound and my stomach churn and I wonder:  How, exactly, did I do this last year?

And, the year before that and the year before that?  Obviously, I had some sort of magical way ignore the evil Target with its back-to-school specials, to tame the fear of the oncoming tidal wave and worry less about the never-ending to-do list in my head before the onslaught.  I must have known how to put the photocopier/printer/scanner in its place and show the office key who was boss.  What was the trick?

My office

The office part of my office. Also menacing.

Suddenly, I remember how I did it:

I quit my job.  Creatively and enthusiastically.  Every night, for about a month and a half, at around 2:14 am.

See you in September.

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photo of Toronto Pearson Int'l airportSo, I’m on the little tiny plane this morning (I think it’s called a Dash-8 but that sounds more like some sort of new-fangled punctuation to me) heading out on the first leg of my journey as a guest of Ross Medical School and I realize:

Yes indeedy, I am a geeky career counsellor.

I had belted myself into seat 2A (i.e. seat 2 of 8 total and ‘A’ meaning left-side-of-plane-as-opposed-to-right-side) and was settling in for the journey.  I started looking around our little plane and watching the pilot and first officer do their safety checks, I wondered: do they love their jobs?  Do they want to be pilots?  What was their journey to this job?  Do they dream of someday being crew of a DC-3 Dakota or a 747 (okay, so a DC-3 Dakota is an old plane I believe but it’s one of the few, cool sounding bits of plane lingo that I can toss out) or, do they love their daily commute back and forth to Toronto with its lovely, low-flying scenery and cozy cabin?

Maybe you don’t think that wondering these things makes me a full on geeky career counsellor.  But, there’s more.

As we took off, I started wondering about the people who make the bolts and screws that hold this contraption together.  I pondered the folks who plow the runways  and de-ice the wings.   Since I could see directly into the cockpit of the plane, I thought about my husband and his former career as an avionics instrumentation technician and ruminated about whether the people who work on this plane love problem solving as much as he does. 

Hopefully, they do.

I then turned my attention to the cabin interior and contemplated the interior designer who had picked out the sturdy, germ-resistant head rest material and the funky plexi-class porthole windows.  Mine was scratched, making me amuse myself with thoughts of indigant seagulls or skydivers with long fingernails.  I mean, what would scratch a window, way up here, above the clouds? 

From the lettering painted on the side of the plane to the ticket takers and baggage handlers to the people choosing what food we get to eat during our journeys, there are innumerable careers wrapped up in my 7:15 a.m. flight.  

Cool.  Oh, oh,  I forgot about alarm clock manufacturers!

Told ya.  I certainly don’t speak for everyone who works in career advising but you know I’m not kidding when I say, “hello, my name is Christine and I am geeky career counsellor”.

Wait ’til you see what I can do with the little bags of pretzels they give us with our drinks!

I’ve always subscribed to the theory that picking one–and only one–career identity is something that’s not reasonable for most of us to do.  Whether it’s because of life circumstances, financial issues or any other bits of daily reality, most of us will have quite a number of different jobs over our working lifetime, all packaged in one bulky sack called “career”.

Actually, I love that it’s like this.  I was never good at picking just ONE kind of ice cream and I have the same issues with jobs.  There are just too many fun flavours to try.

Turns out that celebrities–y’know, those people who seem to have the golden careers, doing exactly what they love and getting paid very, very well for it–sometimes wonder “what could have been” career-wise too.

The recent article, “Working Class Heroes” by Darryl Sterdan (QMI Agency) talks to celebrities about their ideas for alternative careers. 

Ahhh…the luxury of sitting in your multi-million dollar mansion and thinking “what if”, eh?!  But still, it’s fun to hear (and sometimes mock) what they say.

I know I’ve been away from blogging for a long time.  A thousand apologies and few not-very-original excuses as well.  It’s a sordid story full of spam/hacking/evil internet gremlin trauma but now I’m back (albeit in WordPress format so please, update your bookmarks)…and just in time, as I’ve had a close encounter with how tricky career decisions can be sometimes. 

And you thought I was ignoring you while I vacationed off the coast of France or something, didn’t you?

I applied for an interesting job recently.  It’s a job I’ve seen many people do over the years and feeling a renewed interest in the work and the organization, I finally decided to apply for it, sorta kinda thinking that I might not get an interview (it’s a Big job).

In the interview, I found out more about how the role has evolved and what it looks like today and going forward.  It was really exciting and the director of the department is really inspiring and I knew that this was one of those crossroad moments:  keep going down the “big job” path or stay where I am.  

That might sound like a no-brainer decision but “where I am now” is actually a place I’ve chosen to be and have had to compromise to get to.  I reduced from full-time, traditional employment two years ago to working 3 days/week and spending 2 days/week running my own business and working on writing books.   I realized after the interview that if I was successful in being offered the “big job”, I’d have to go back to full-time, traditional–albeit fun, exciting and Big–employment and give up some of my many other career-building projects. 

Hunh.  Much waffling ensued.  Some fussing was also thrown in there just because it seems to be in my genetic makeup to waffle and fuss simultaneously.   Husband knew the right answer but wisely let me dither.

I asked myself and others, “am I afraid?” and “what do I want my life to look like?” and “what am I thinking even doubting how cool and exciting and challenging this move would be?”  Relatives and friends weighed in with everything from, “We’ll support you in whatever you decide” to “Are you crazy?  You love your life and career right now! Don’t change a thing.” to “Are you crazy?  Why would you give up a fantastic opportunity like this?  Go for it!”

Avoiding the “big” path, the prestige, the challenges, the increased responsibility, the managing of programs and people, the travelling up the career ladder…it’s not easy.  And sometimes, I know people think I’m making the wrong decision.  They shake their heads and mutter things about “not living up to my potential”. 

Sometimes, I wonder if they’re right.

But then, I think:  what do I love to do?  what do I want my life to look like?  Two years from now?  20 years from now?

And it doesn’t get easier, but the choice is clear.

Lately, I’ve been doing a pretty good job of writing my fiction novel according to a schedule–not waiting until the “mood” or the “writing magic” strikes me. I just sit down and sure enough, stuff comes out and even though there is the odd moment of staring at the screen–with the cursor blinking at me, reminding me (blink, blink) that I’m not getting any younger or (sigh) any closer (blink, blink) to becoming Stephanie Meyer/Sophie Kinsella/Meg Cabot and (blink, blink) who do I think I am anyway trying to write a novel–I do actually manage to get a decent amount of writing done just by being plain, old, sometimes creatively-uninspired me in yoga pants with laughable bank account and starting.

Sounds easy, right? Just start. Never mind that it’s taken me the better part of a year to really start the starting with any regularity.

I don’t know about you but I often have to spend a lot of time thinking about something. Sometimes with wild and gleeful anticipation and other times with dread and a slight sense of panic but whatever it is, I often percolate and ruminate and muse and imagine and squint at the girl on the swing that hangs above my desk and even when I’ve done all that, I amuse myself by looking up synonyms for words like percole and ruminate and muse…

Oh, I have great intentions and I come up with amazing ideas and plans (have you ever noticed that the brilliant ideas you get at 3:42 am sound absolutely ridiculous when you say them aloud to someone at 10:00 the same morning?) but I am still training myself on the consistently doing part.

In my head, some things seem so big and bold and barrier-filled. Sometimes in a wonderful, thrilling way and other times in a scary, unwieldy way. And whether I’m full of shivery excitement or goosebumpy with nerves, the fact is that I need to move past thinking about scenarios that merely keep me revelling in the possibilities…because just thinking about them won’t get me closer to achieving them. Neither does all that doubting, insecure self talk that goes through my head.

Ah, but it’s such fun and so familar and safe.

Often, successful career evolution or change, like many other things, is about developing good habits, tackling small things every day and yep, just committing regular time to the doing part even when you don’t particularly feel the magic. Then, the tough part: you have to rinse, lather and repeat many, many, many (sigh) times.

So annoying how that works.

But thousands and thousands of fiction words–and blink, blinks–later, I can tell you that it actually does. So, if you’re staring at the sides of your cubicle or (lucky you!) out the window thinking, “How do I get to where I want to go?”, try what at first might feel monotonous and mundane: think about what little steps you can take on a regular basis to help start your career going in directions you dream of.

And then launch yourself out of that chair and start doing them!

I’m off to lather, rinse and repeat.

When I look back at the last couple of posts, I have to laugh at how sporty I seem. All that Olympic athlete admiration and addiction makes me sound as if I’m a real sports junkie…or at least a fan.

Um…no.

Actually, I am the quintessential bookworm. My parents signed me up for soccer lessons when I was 6 to help me “get out of my shell” and I spent every match running away from the ball (it really hurts when it hits you!) I spontaneously forget the rules of the game during the rare times I am watching sporting events and I am irrationally intimidated by stores that sell running shoes and spandex and those wildly out-of-my-league carabeener thingys.

Nope. Not sporty at all…or am I?

I’ve been working on my fitness and have been running and doing other forms of cardiovascular torture…er…exercise every day. I run at home, on the treadmill, where no one can see me or notice the very un-sporty way I huff and puff and pretend to be athletic. But the other day, I boldly bought a new exercise shirt to wear in the privacy of my own home and y’know, it perked me up a bit and dare I say…kind of made me feel as if I wasn’t just “faking it until I made it” but that maybe, finally, possibly, inconceivably and yes, even deservedly, after hundreds of kilometres and gallons of sweat, that I was actually becoming a little sporty!

It made me think about career aspirations. If you have a goal or a dream, maybe it feels far away. Maybe you feel as if you’re masquerading and a huge fake. But I bet that you’re not. I bet you’re still defining yourself as you were but maybe all that work you’re doing towards your goal is actually helping you to become, without you even noticing it.

Comedian/actor Billy Crystal used to say: “it’s not how you feel but how you look…and you look mahvelous!” And not to encourage a shopping habit or consumerism, but maybe if you outfitted yourself with one of the tools or sartorial attributes of the job you aspire to, you might see yourself in a new light–as in, almost or already there.

Wearing my new shirt and squinting my eyes a little, I can imagine that Eloise, one of my favourite children’s characters might stand in front of me and say, “You look rawther sporty today.”

How about you? I bet you look mahvelous too.

Have you tried a Jappa Dog? Would you?

In my last post, I talked about learning from the career model put forth by Olympic athletes and it was basically a post full of awe and, to some extent, envy for the way Olympic athletes can delay career gratification, focus on smaller goals on the way to a big goal, persevere in the face of adversity and put all their career eggs in one basket. (I also wouldn’t mind getting my hands on one of the Canada jackets that they wear to the medal ceremonies but that’s a wish list for another day).

One reader, Carly Goldsmith (blogger of “Success Without a Suit“), wondered about that last point — advocating putting all your career eggs in one basket. And she’s right — I don’t really advocate that. That point (poorly articulated no doubt due to the constant ear worm of the Olympic theme song, “I believe”, that’s been tormenting me these last 2 weeks) was meant to be about how I am in awe of people who put all their career eggs in one basket because it’s not something I could ever do…nor is it something I normally advise others to do. I just think the ability to do it is interesting, incredible and yes, possibly sometimes gold/silver/bronze-medal producing. It’s a career model that shocks me with its bravery and also, to some extent with its limited scope because for many of us, that singular focus might cause us to miss out on some really wonderful and unexpected opportunities.

So let me step down from my podium of Olympic athlete awe (and outfit envy) and clarify that I usually suggest the model of a career tree, rather than a tunnel. Working with many students and new graduates as I do, I hear from people frequently who seem to have an expection of finding the track, getting in the groove, leaving the starting gate and then coasting along for 40 years in some sort of mythical career tunnel. And I spend most of my days trying to talk them out of it.

This week, the reasons why were illustrated stoically, if not enthusiastically, by Ben Mulroney and the Jappa Dog. I’ll explain why but first, more about my tree analogy (cue the laughing by those who know me as a plant killer from way back).

Thinking of your career as a tree rather than a tunnel is much more practical, flexible and yes, even fun. What I mean by a “tree” is if you grow your interests and skills out through a variety of branches, you not only keep your career interesting but you also offer yourself many options if one branch gets closed off because of career fatigue, firing, flirtation, fate or any other obstacles that may or may not continue my love affair with alliteration. Got a great job? Got one you don’t love? The tree works for both situations. Keep those branches growing by volunteering, joining boards, spending time on hobbies, taking on different projects, signing up for classes and so on and so on. Hang sparkly ornaments of cool experiences and new interests on your tree’s limbs whenever you can. Stretch your branches to the sky and wiggle in the wind.
And once you’ve stopped rolling your eyes at my analogies, come back to this week’s example.

I’m pretty sure that Ben Mulroney wasn’t too enthusiastic about trying one stylin’ Vancouver street vendor’s version of a hot dog (The Jappa Dog) with all its seaweed shavings and miso-mayonnaise toppings. And I’m pretty sure he didn’t like it when he actually tasted it on camera. But he’s got another interesting experience on his tree that he would never have had if he had refused to venture down a new branch.

So while we may admire those people who put all their career eggs in one basket, you may want to consider a tree instead. Because, whether it’s a maple, birch, magnolia or joshua (mine resembles a banyan), your career tree can be beautiful.

Even if the Jappa Dog ain’t your kind of thing.

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Land Your Dream Job, Love Your Work

I am Christine Fader, a career counsellor, author and speaker. I have written a book that's been dubbed, "Chick Lit meets Job Search" (Your Workplace magazine) which thrilled me because that's exactly what I was aiming for when I wrote it! I like to help make career and job search processes more accessible and fun because we all know that there are days when you'd rather just stay in your pjs eating Nutella straight from the jar... Visit me at christinefader.com/CareerCupid
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