One of my passions is learning about other peoples’ journeys. A friend of mine and fellow BU alum, Keith (who blogs at Espose) has had an interesting career journey that he’s shared in the piece below. This is especially relevant for 20 somethings in search of a career or for anyone who likes a good read. Enjoy!
My plan after graduating from college in 2011 was simple. I’d do two years of Peace Corps in Ukraine, get a Master’s in Nonprofit Management afterwards, dive into the nonprofit world, and then one day run my own organization.
Three years later that plan is shredded. I work in an office that frustrates me always and at times drives me completely insane, and my professional life is directionless. It’s not a unique story amongst 20-somethings and my trajectory is by no means representative of everyone. But a common thread for many of us is getting what we wanted, realizing it’s not what we expected, and then not knowing where to turn.
For me, the first seeds of doubt were planted before I even got to Ukraine. Before I left, I worked for a bicycle tour company and loved the energy of the rapidly expanding small business. This contrasted sharply with the inefficient, glacial-paced, red-tape atmosphere that overshadowed my work with Peace Corps Ukraine, Ukrainian NGOs, and at the school where I taught English. In particular, working at my school was the most perplexing challenge of my service. On paper it was the ideal job, but secondary factors made it miserable. These included interpersonal conflicts with the cliquey staff and my mostly apathetic colleagues, structural challenges like the draconian administration and ever-changing schedule, and the more ambiguous but ever present hopeless vibe that pervaded the school and the economically-depressed, post-Soviet town. I was constantly stressed, even when working completely independently or outside of work altogether.
I returned to the States with a reversed sense of priorities — I didn’t know what I wanted, but I sure knew that I didn’t want to work for the government, in NGOs, or as a teacher. I moved back to Boston and found a job temping through August at an office at Boston University. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen into a familiar trap — I love my work with the students, but this office, its employees, and my daily tasks rival a Dilbert comic in absurdity. Living in Boston, I do have the advantages of the city and a network of friends, so for a while I simply tried to separate life and work. But eventually I reached a point where a “good” day was when I mentally blacked-out for half of my waking hours five days a week.
The Monday before 4th of July, I had a terrible day at work. None of the events were exceptionally heinous individually, but collectively they gave me one big wake-up call and the much needed epiphany that I don’t have to deal with any of this. Even though I’m still unhappy at work I feel empowered to take ownership of my professional life instead of letting the clock tick down to the end of August.
Going forward, I’m going to try to have a more balanced approach. I’ve traded in my clear-cut lists of “wants” and “don’t-wants,” for flexible tiers of preference weighted much more towards intangibles like people, mentorship, and office culture. I’m now very aware that choosing a job is also choosing a lifestyle; that jobs largely determine personal schedules, how and when people spend their time, and living purely for the evenings and weekends leaves people disengaged from whole swaths of their lives. I’m also trying to appreciate the benefits of uncertainty. Being directionless is often anxiety-producing, particularly after pouring over endless job postings with still no idea of what I’m really looking for, while most people around me carry down their well-defined career paths. But every once in a while I stumble across a bundle of possibilities I had never considered or even known of, and I’m completely free to pursue it. There’s nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
I still can’t say I have a plan, but I do have a perspective. And though less concrete, it’s more than what I had three years ago.
What are your thoughts on a career journey? Do people ever really like their jobs? Leave feedback in the comments and to hear more from Keith, check out his blog at espose.wordpress.com.