Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Does anybody know what they want to be when they grow up?

Some recent conversations with friends have prompted me to wonder how many people truly love what they do. Not like, not manage, not deal with, but are truly passionate about the work they do and look forward to going to work most days. I like my job just fine and I learn a lot, but I can’t truthfully say it’s my life’s passion.

Life wasn’t supposed to be like this. Growing up, our parents, teachers and Sesame Street told us we could be whatever we wanted when we grew up. How many of you knew exactly what you wanted to be when you grew up? If you were like me, you always had a clear idea. It might have changed as often the weather, but if someone asked you, you knew you wanted to be a chef, or a dancer, or a nurse or whatever.  Where did that confidence go? Is it lost in the responsibility of needing to pay bills and keep a roof over our heads? Is our imagination and passion slowly being whittled down by the pressures of being an adult? It’s sad to me. I was always sure that I would never be one of those people who just tolerated their job because it paid the bills. I would be one of the ones leaping out of bed in the morning, eager to get to work and make a contribution to my chosen field. I don’t mind my work; it’s fine and given this economic climate, I’m grateful I have a job.  But I have to wonder on when I comprised on finding true happiness in my job. Maybe it’s just part of growing up.

Fortunately, I’m young yet and we live in an era where it’s expected that people make multiple career jumps. I have a great education and I’m gaining good skills that could be useful in almost any field. I have no plans on leaving my current job; like I said, I like it just fine. But I’m still hopeful that one day I’ll find a job that I’m truly passionate about, whatever that might be. In the meantime, I think I’ll go back to daydreaming and imagining my ideal job. That way, when it comes along, I’ll be ready for it.

I’m interested, kind readers, if any of you love your job. Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing when you were younger? If not, what’s your dream job?

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Money vs. Happiness

I’ve been thinking about money vs. happiness a lot lately. All in terms of ones job.  Some people hate their job but it pays well so they stick with it. The good pay allows them to do what they want outside of work and buy shiny fancy things. Others get by on very little pay but love what they do. It makes some things harder in life but they enjoy going to work everyday and tend to be happier outside of work.

Recently I had to face the option of money vs. happiness head on. Based on the circumstances at work I need to start looking for another job. A company I had interviewed with was working on making me an offer. They knew where I needed to be salary wise so presumably planned to match it. I knew a phone call was coming so I seriously pondered how I felt about this job. All the people that know me and this company said it was a great fit, a great opportunity for me. So many things seemed right, in a nice area, close to friends, and a stable company that looked out for their employees. The job was something I’d done for years so I knew I was perfectly capable. All of my potential co-workers seemed very nice. They were even willing to wait for me to become available in 2011. All of these things were checked off in the “pro” column in my mind but something didn’t feel right. All signs said I should be  excited about this opportunity and I wasn’t. Part of me was even dreading the call with the offer. Hoping it would be delayed so I could have something else pop up and I could put off giving them an answer and keep it as a fall back. I finally realized all the pros were things  I was trying to use to convince me to take the job. Nothing about the job itself excited me.

When they called to make the offer they wanted me to come back in to make the offer in person. I had to be honest. I told them I wasn’t interested. I wasn’t going to waste their time or mine anymore. I didn’t even want to keep it as a fall back. I thanked the manager for her time and the opportunity. She left the door open in case I change my mind later.

I really hoped I had made the right choice. Then a co-worker said something to me after I told him what I decided.  He said, “Whatever decision you make will be the right one. Don’t worry about it.” He was right. No one knows me better than me. As long as I trust my instincts I’ll be OK.

I’ve realized that being happy in what I do is ultimately more important than making a bunch of money to buy shiny things.  I’m going to spend way too many of my waking hours at whatever job I find for it to be something I don’t enjoy doing. I’m not sure where I’m going to end up but I feel like I’m at least in a better mental frame of mind now. I know I can’t wait forever for the perfect shining job to come along but I’m not to that point yet. For now, I’m going to be picky and look for something that will make me happy.

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Impending Transition (Insert ominous music here)

My Career (Ha! funny story about that). Let’s not bury the lead.

Earlier this Summer the president of our company gathered everyone for a meeting. He then dropped the bomb that they are shutting down the wholesale division of the company.  Translation: You are all losing your jobs. Happy Thursday! Really, it was a Thursday.

There are various things that made this announcement worse than it already was. A significant percentage of the employees are from Puerto Rico and don’t actually speak English. As the president is dancing around the bad news telling us we’re wonderful (It’s not you it’s me…), he’s stopping every two sentences to let the translator…well…translate. It took at least 20 minutes for him to get to the big news. Eventually he told us someone would be by later to discuss us our exact end date and what sort of severance we’ll get (Peachy!).  Later, our CFO dropped by to individually tell us our fate. Here’s mine. My last day is December 31. My 8 years at the company have earned me one month’s severance. What am I thinking when presented with this news? “I have to work through the Christmas holiday to get my severance?! Seriously?!” Really, that is all my brain could process.

So how have the past three months been?  To paraphrase “You’ve Got Mail“: “It has become something really depressing…” Honestly I drive around the half empty nursery with Meg Ryan‘s voice in my head saying that line over and over. I’ve also had to deal with many uplifting conversations that go something like this:

Customer: I can’t believe you’re closing. What am I going to do?! Where am I going to go?!

What you think: I”m losing my job I could give a crap what YOU’RE going to do. I’ve got other things to worry about right now.

What you say: You’ll be okay. (YOU still have a job!). And other similar platitudes.

Customer: Why are you/they doing this?! You guys are great! Your stuff is the best around.

What you think: Hey genius this wasn’t my idea!

What you say: Basically a summary of the letter the company sent out explaining what is happening. Also politely remind the customer that “this wasn’t my idea.”

Customer: So what job are they going to move you in to? (OK, so most people did realize that us closing meant we were all out of a job but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve been asked this actual question)

What you think: Where did you get this crazy idea that I still have a job?

What you say: There isn’t a job for me. They’re letting me go at the end of the year.

Customer: Oh no! I’m so sorry. What are you going to do?

Such a good question…

Luckily my job requires me to interact with many different people in my industry. As it turns out, I have a pretty good network to tap in to. Who knew? I’ve had a couple interviews.  One place is very interested. But, I’m not so sure I want to stay in this industry.

Here’s the bright side (really there is one). As of January 1st, I am a free woman. I have a college degree, money saved up, and that severance thing. To be completely honest, I was thinking of changing jobs anyway (I just don’t have a  choice about it now). Who knows where my career or I am going to end up? This concept scares the crap out of me. One thing is certain. No matter what I decide my life will be totally different next year and that’s kind of exciting.

Wow…that was very therapeutic. Thank You for your time. I need to find some chocolate…

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When does your job become your CAREER?

My Dad: “Aren’t you glad I got you that job?”

Me: “No, dad.  I’m happy you got me the interview. I got myself the job.”

The search for a job is never easy. At least not for me.  I have a friend into whose lap jobs just seem to fall like so many acorns from oak trees.  But, she also has a vast network of friends and professional acquaintances who know and like her and make connections with and for her.  She’s great at networking, without even trying.  That, I think is the secret to her success.  She networks because she loves knowing and meeting people, not because she’s trying to get something out of it, so it works.  I’ve always been a bit more retiring, less extroverted and less adept at following up with professional connections.  So, for me, it’s a slog.  Always.

Until three years ago, I was working at a foundation in New York.  It was a job that lacked challenge.  I learned all there was to know about my job and my organization within 6 months of starting, then kept at it for another two and a half years after it became obvious that there were no more challenges coming and that there was no opportunity for growth.  I went through waves of job searches, but it was exhausting and after months of applying, I’d take some time off and resign myself to my job for however long it was going to take.

Then, my father called and said that an organization in his building was hiring, was doing international something and wanted my resume.  I sent it to him, and three days later, I got a call from their CFO.  We talked for about two hours before I was invited to come to Boston for an interview.  This was a Friday afternoon.  Monday morning, I had my interview, and Tuesday I had a job offer.  Three weeks later, my life moved 250 miles north, and I started work.

When I was hired they said that they wanted a two-year committment, that it could be a springboard into some other work in the field.  After a year and half here, I was promoted, and sent to work interviewing people and running meetings in foreign countries.

Now, like everyone else, my organization is feeling the crunch of the economy.  We just moved into a smaller office this week, we’ve been asked to take temporary pay cuts and now, even though I really don’t want to, I’m thinking again about updating my resume and looking for something else.   I’m going to wait until I absolutely have to start looking though.  I love my job, I like my co-workers and I feel, for the first time in my professional career, like I’m doing something important.  I’m helping contribute to the body of knowledge that will change how people do their work, make them want to do better, to be better, to think more and work harder.  I’ve already felt a personal transformation from my work here.  It’s starting to feel like I’ve found what I want to be doing with my life.

I’ve stopped having a job.  Now I have a career.

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The United Nations, New York, NY

I more or less knew that I always wanted to do something that “mattered” as a career, but after nearly 6 years working for a nonprofit, I’m beginning to re-evaluate my definition of what “matters.” As I mentioned in the last post, I work with emerging nonprofits, both in the US and worldwide, and help them become more effective organizations and increase their ability to serve their communities. While that all sounds very warm and fuzzy, my work has a large administrative component to it. Even though I work for these start-up nonprofits, I have a hard time rationalizing to myself that paying a client’s phone bill or providing a vendor recommendation to them is really making a significant difference in the world. I also have to admit that even though I wanted to work with nonprofits, I didn’t want to personally be nonprofit.

I thought after I got my Masters degree, I would have a wealth of possibilities open to me: the UN would be begging me to work with them, the country’s most prestigious think tanks would be competing with government agencies to capture my expertise and every Foundation with a global focus would want me as their Senior Program Manager. Ok, I wasn’t that naïve, but I certainly didn’t expect to still be working for the same organization that I started working for after I completed my undergraduate degree.

The economic meltdown is certainly having an effect on my job search. Last year, I really didn’t find anything to even apply to, but even though I’m starting to find some interesting opportunities, now I’m competing with more candidates than ever before. It’s frustrating. I know I can do these jobs and do a great at them, but for some reason, I just can’t seem to convince the hiring managers of that.

I’ve considered going to the “big, bad corporate world” and making tons of money and then making lots of donations to charity. This way, I can still make a difference, but I can also support my family better. These thoughts are then challenged by my fears of selling out. It’s complicated, and makes me feel like I don’t really know what I want to do with my life. I’m sure everything will work out eventually and that this is probably not an uncommon experience for people in this age group. I also agree with Isabel – I’m thankful to even have a job right now. I know plenty of people who don’t, and the fact that I’m whining that I don’t like my job makes me feel like a self-indulgent whiner. So…..I’m going to buck up and refocus my energies on finding a job I really want. Thanks for reading. This has been rather cathartic. Hopefully, before too long, I’ll have some positive news to report!

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