…Have you arrived? At least for now?
When I was younger, I felt like I had to prove myself constantly. I had to get that promotion. I had to stay in the office until midnight (and beyond) to finish the job. I had to mingle with colleagues after work because contacts meant everything, although being with my family or taking a run with my dogs would have been a better choice. But, I did it because that’s what you do when you are growing into a career. I think we all do it, at different levels of course, but we just do.
In the Autumn of ’05, when I left the corporate world after 8 years, I crossed the line into my 30’s and I felt like a fish out of water. Not because I was 30 (although that did freak me out), but because I was 30 and felt emotionally very attached, almost by an umbilical cord, to the mother company, the corporation. No check would arrive on Friday (yet). I had to hunt for my work now because I had made the decision to freelance. I felt scared, alone, and most of all, very vulnerable. Aside from the fear of the unknown, I was sure of one thing. That I would succeed.
I knew I had nothing to prove. I was successful (according to me at least) in the business world, I would become successful at whatever I decided to take on from there. This isn’t about being stuck up or naive, it’s about having pride in yourself and knowing that you have value. Whether you work or not, I’m not referring to value based on title, money, or career. I’m talking about what others cannot take away from you. Your relationship with yourself, knowing you are a good person, and feeling very pleased by the progress you’ve made in your life despite the ups and downs.
By the time I was 30, I had nearly 8 years of facilities management and space planning under my belt, along with heaps of corporate communications experience working with those at the top. I would interact with executives on a daily basis, in my company as well as in others. If I could prove my worth as an employee to such accomplished leaders, people I shared no real morals, ethics, or values with, I could prove it out on my own amidst other freelancers, whom I did feel more at home with. I knew I had what it takes to work hard and stay on target. I didn’t place my personal value on my job. In fact, I never associated value with career accomplishments or money. Perhaps it’s because my father is from Kentucky and my mother was raised on a 100 acre farm. Although we lived in nice homes and had, what many would call money, I always remember how my parents felt about job title and career.
“Loving what you do is more important than them loving what you do (meaning the company)”.
I will never forget my father saying those words, which could be directly traced back to his humble roots. As a very successful civil engineer who was sent to Boston in the mid 1980’s to remove the Deer Island prison to build a water treatment facility, which would be the start of the Big Dig project, he genuinely loved what he did. I’d see him in his office sketching drafts by hand (pre CAD days) for hours, completely passionate. He even taught drafting (at the college level) in the evening for many years because he loved his field so much. My father taught me, through how he lived his life, to never sit on the fence. You either do it wholeheartedly, or you get out of it completely. No in between.
I feel very, very honored that I was able to work with some industry leaders in my time. But, these people did not become successful overnight. They struggled, pushed, and some even screwed the competition to get to where they were. Not everyone was this way, but most of those on top didn’t get there by being nice or genuine. Every handshake had a motive. It’s just how things operated. I recall days spent, sitting on the 24th floor looking out over the city thinking, “I’m not cut out for this”. This was when I was promoted to management level and lucky enough to have an office because I was leading a very important facilities related project affecting over 1,000 employees and 35,000 square feet of prime Boston real estate. I did the job, won an award for my efforts even, but most of the time I would go home at night in tears because something didn’t feel right. I loved working in facilities, but disliked the vibe. The competition. The lack of genuine support. My roommate back then, Adi, told me,
“You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole”.
I’ve never forgotten that expression. If something doesn’t fit in a natural sense, don’t force it.
Some of the above thoughts are ones that Marisa explores in her podcasts, topics that I feel are important, ones we all need to listen to and think about. We may need to admit that we’re not cut out for what we’re doing and may need to reconsider our path. And that’s okay.
I hate to sound all Oprah on you, but don’t settle with where you are because it’s comfortable on a financial level or offers job security. If it doesn’t feel right, and the feeling doesn’t go away, you may need to fine tune things. Whether it’s a career change, dumping a client that drains you, taking on a client that challenges you, working for a new company, going back to school, taking up a night class to energize you, whatever. Do it.
I speak from experience. I’ve been working since I was 12. In addition to my parents day jobs, they also owned two restaurants, a British pub and a seafood restaurant. I remember coming home from school and heading straight over to the restaurant to work. I’d fold hundreds of linens for the tables, fill S+P shakers, mop floors. When you start working for your parents at 12, and then at 15 for others, you pretty much know where you want to be when you’re 30. But, sometimes it takes longer. We’re all different. You’re not wierd if you go home after work tonight and feel like nothing was accomplished all week. Or you have a drink with friends and end up in tears over your crazy boss. You’re not nuts or incapable because your job drains you. Maybe you’ve cried in the bathroom stall this week. Maybe these are signs. Maybe you’re not on your chosen path because you just haven’t found it yet.
I could write a book on such topics. Excuse me for rambling. But if you’ve stayed with me this long, then you must relate on some level. Listen to Marisa’s podcasts, they are very thought provoking. My favorite is her interview with former NFL kicker, Tracy Bennett, who is now a big time set photographer in Hollywood. Towards the end of February, she’ll even have a podcast with me to talk about Creative Living. I hope Marisa’s words touch you in some way, provide motivation, and start you on a path of thinking. Thinking is something we sometimes forget to do. Sounds funny, but it’s true. We tune out with our iPod or in front of reality tv instead. We just jump in the hamster wheel of life and run. Maybe this weekend, you can carve out some time to think, journal your thoughts, listen to Marisa’s podcasts, and start considering your direction in life. Perhaps a little change is in the wind?
Psst: Learn more about Marisa here.