I met a 23-year-old college graduate this week who is anxious about how to get started in her career. My 19-year-old sister-in-law feels similar anxiety in what field to go into, what job to go for now. I want to be able to help these girls, but at 32, I feel the same anxiety about what I want to be when I grow up.
In the last few years I’ve tried to put everything I’ve learned about careering into one focused essay, and it feels impossible. This essay is a mess. I recently re-read it, having last touched it at the end of 2020, and realized my thoughts around work have completely changed.
Today is my last day working at a company where I planned to spend the next decade.
In a week, I’ll start my 8th job since graduating from college 11 years ago – my 4th since moving to Arizona nearly 5 years ago.
Those numbers used to make me feel embarrassed. Now I see them as a part of my career story, and this current transition feels like one of my best career moves yet. It feels right because it was totally my decision based on my values, what I knew I needed in my life.
2022 started out rough for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way given the current state of the world. I was sick and thought I had Covid, did the whole spend a day in line for a test and wait all week for results thing, which thankfully were negative. Sweet Leo was sleeping worse than he ever has in his life. We canceled his first birthday party because half the guest list was sick with Covid. Throw in a tough family anniversary date of grieving. And underlying was this nagging reminder that I wasn’t happy in my job. This one disastrous week was a culmination of everything I felt in 2021 – struggling to stay afloat in my day-to-day life. Something had to change.
When I was on maternity leave with Leo last spring, I dreamt about how I could be a stay-at-home mom. I loved that he was my only responsibility. I wanted to spend every minute with him. I was tired, but all my energy was happily focused on his care.
Then my boss called and said a position was opening up that she thought I’d be great for. It was a promotion. I realistically had to go back to work anyway, and I jumped at the opportunity for a new challenge. Mostly, if someone thought I was going to be good at something, I didn’t want to let them down. Plus, I did love the company and wanted to move up eventually.
But it didn’t take long to realize this role wasn’t for me. The stress and challenge of it felt like too much with all the pressures and sleep deprivation of being a new mom. It was a different type of work than my previous job, and my heart wasn’t in this sector. I worked with wonderful people who I would call my friends, I loved the company, but I wasn’t happy.
Having changed jobs every 1-2 years since college though, I was determined to be more intentional about my next move. In September, I resolved to spend the rest of 2021 evaluating my career and developing a long-term plan. I read several career books, took lots of assessments, and wrote out my dreams.
And got nowhere.
At the beginning of 2022, I had no answers for my career vision. After that first hellish week I just knew that something needed to change. I needed a reset. I needed a mental break and a whole lot more fun in my life.
I kept thinking, it would be fun to work at a bookstore. Even for just a year. Take a break. Get out of my home office and (mask up) around people again.
When I said it out loud, I was surprised that Kyle didn’t laugh at me. Instead he said, “Let me run some numbers.”
The “numbers” would allow for me to do something for less pay, or work part time. I only wanted a year, I said, to reset, to have more time with Leo, to get some mental space back in my brain. Once Leo gets to the toddler room at daycare, we can go down to taking him part time and save some money there as well. I liked this picture of my year ahead. It was the first thing in months around this heavy topic of career that felt right to me.
The decision was made and I immediately felt lighter, more optimistic. I started telling my friends about my plans to apply at our local bookstore and stay home with Leo part time.
Then something magical happened.
One of my best friends said she had an opportunity on her team for part-time work if I was interested. The job is in social media writing and project management, something that aligns well with my career background and passions. It’s flexible and remote. My friend would be my boss. My salary is even about the same, although the part-time equivalent. And it’s work that I find engaging, which is what I felt was missing most from my recent job.
It couldn’t have worked out any better, and yet it wouldn’t have been a thing at all if I hadn’t resolved to totally change things up and take action. If I hadn’t made a decision for myself instead of just going along with the traditional path of looking for a new full-time job to replace my old one.
When I think of giving career advice, I realize there is no one answer out there to figuring out how the game works. Yet, here is what I know to be true:
- Your network is your best bet. Don’t be shy to tell people your plans or desires. The more people you talk to the higher your chances are for someone to respond with an opportunity, a connection, or some kind of useful knowledge. One of my jobs happened because Kyle and I met a couple at a bar one night and happened to hit it off. The woman gave my card to someone in the marketing department at her company. A year later I ended up working there. This new job I’m taking is with a friend I met at yoga 3 years ago. Reach out to people you know, no matter what industry they’re in, and let them know what you’re working toward. This is especially helpful if you don’t think you have the right experience or background for a job. Personal connections go a long way.
- Optimize for interesting. One of the career books I read last year is called The Long Game by Dorie Clark. Her advice when faced with job decisions is to go for what sounds most interesting to you. I have found this especially helpful as I’ve been overwhelmed with what all I could do, and I’ve realized that more than anything I want to be engaged with my work. You know what sounds the most interesting to you, and that’s ultimately what is going to create meaningful work. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about something that interests you, even if what you learn is that you don’t actually like that field of work.
- Your resume creates a story, and no employer is as worried about the holes as you are. I said earlier that I was self-concious about changing jobs every 1-2 years and having no long-term experience at any one company. This worry has all been in my head. I have never had anyone ask about this in an interview or show any concern about it. The important thing is that you can explain what you’ve taken from any job you’ve had and show how it leads to what you can contribute in the role you’re applying for. My career story is that I’ve spent 10 years in professional editing and writing for different types of audiences, platforms and publication types, and I’ve specialized in higher education. This is ultimately what I’ve been doing and want to keep doing, though the jobs may look different from one another.
I don’t know what my new part-time venture will bring. I don’t know what lies ahead a year from now, 5 years from now, or 10. I don’t have the answers for what I want to be when I grow up, but I have some clarity on what I want the next year to look like. For now, that has to be enough. I’m hopeful that this year will inform the following year.
For any of the younger people reading this, I hope you can find what feels right at least for the year ahead. Trust that it will lead to more answers, but embrace the fact that you may not ever feel that you’ve figured it out. That’s all part of the fun.