I have a hard time with believing the advice given from professionals in my field who have a great deal more experience than I do.
From what investigatory study I’ve done on myself, I find this cynicism is rooted in two staunch beliefs:
1) I pride myself on being fiercely independent.
2) Having only been part of student affairs in a full-time role for less than year I don’t know a lot about the work past my own experience and because I like being fiercely independent, advice from most people falls on my stubborn ears.
Now, I recognize fully the robust cockiness of what I just wrote. Even reading it makes me wonder why I describe myself as this tail-feather-flaunting, chest-puffed-out young buck. Underneath the bravado of my own confidence in the work place is my recognition that:
1) life is cyclical, that 2) professions come and go, and 3) that the simplicity of my 25-year-old life is not forever. Let’s take these one-by-one, shall we?
1) Herman Hesse wrote a whole book about it, Five for Fighting had a very cathartic top 25 hit speaking to it, and Bill Murray starred in a disorienting and repetitive holiday film about it; make no mistake, life is a cycle. Whatever your belief system may be, it is a fact of human existence that things happen to us again and again. We wake up, we go to sleep. We get sick, we get better, and we get sick again. Birthdays, anniversaries, seasons, etc. Things happen over and over again. As I acknowledge this in my own personal and professional life, I often think about opportunities as they arise and alternative scenarios where I make decisions differently. I firmly believe that the purposes of our lives speak to us frequently, but we aren’t always listening. In the United States, we are over-saturated with being asked “what’s your passion?” or “what would you do if money wasn’t an obstacle?” The answers to these questions are, I believe, your life nudging you in a direction that, if you consciously make the decision to pursue it, lead to career happiness. The mistake here is to never even try listening to what your life has to say. But the silver lining is that it’s never too late to stop and listen. Connor Oberst wrote “Everything’s a cycle/ you gotta let it come to you/ and when it does you will know what to do.”
2) So if everything is a cycle, things like jobs probably don’t last forever, right? But then they come back around, don’t they? I think so. Truth is I haven’t really been around long enough to know. What I lean on is that professions that used to be very popular, like being a farmer or a sales person, don’t exist in the same way, but they do still exist. A fantastic quality of the human condition is innovation—how can I do what I like to do in a way that is new and exciting but still relevant? Sure, some professions, like being a doctor or teacher, seem to be timeless. We will always have our doctors and teachers and lawyers and law enforcement. But the way those jobs are done may change. Bill George, a contributor for Forbes, wrote that “authentic leaders match their behavior to their context,” adapting to be what their team needs when they need it. I don’t see much difference between that concept and an entrepreneur moving their sales entirely online for better business profits, or a local farmer bringing produce to a farmer’s market rather than selling crops off their property. Adapting is our way of staying relevant, of making sense of a new curve.
3) Lastly, I recognize fully that life for me is pretty simple right now. I go to work with the same people I’ve built healthy working relationships with for the past two years, I come home, and spend time with my girlfriend, friends, family, my adorable boxer puppy, and I wake up ready to do it the next day. No house payments, no terrible commutes, no kids to juggle, no conflicting feelings of my job vs. my sanity. HOWEVER, many people close to me are going through struggles to sort through such conflicting feelings. I have friends job hunting for positions that fulfill them emotionally and mentally; siblings relocating to try and jump-start dream careers; and parents who are faced with the retirement dilemma. It’s easy for me to sit at my comfortable desk and feel fulfilled by work and life and watch others squirm in theirs.
I attended a conference session recently where the presenters documented their own paths through undergraduate studies, working for private-sector companies, working for non-profits, and eventually finding their way back to higher education for Masters Degrees and PhDs in student affairs. The presenters left the audience with two career-ultimatums: 1) is it important to listen to the narratives in a career field we hear from people all the time and feel compelled to satisfy requirements to move up in your career? OR; 2) is it important to walk your own path at your own speed?
The narrative we so often hear is that you need X years of experience to work Y job before you go back to school for X degree and apply for jobs in the Y level of authority. I bring these points up as a means of justifying to myself, and perhaps as a way of empathizing with other young professionals, that work place unhappiness does not need to be permanent. However, your workplace happiness, I contend, is entirely in your control.
So do you need to do what older and wiser people tell you to get the “right” job? Is that the story you think your life is telling? Or do you just hope that it is? And here’s the thing—I don’t really think there is a right answer.
The advice I can give you is this: Try to, just TRY, to start listening for what your life has to say about itself. Take the cooking class you’ve always wanted to! Get certified to teach Zumba! Take that extra 15 minutes at lunch! And don’t feel bad about it! Because here is the dirty secret we always hear but rarely believe:
Life may not always be as simple as it is today. Your job or professional field may not always be as relevant as it is right now. And even though life is a cycle, it could be an awfully long time before your life whispers to you like it did yesterday.
I’ll talk to you soon.