Given that I’ve had one full career already and have changed my career path in the last 15 years about ten times, maybe it’s time I really answer the question of what it is I want in a career. I mean, women and men tend to spend thoughtful effort in defining a major portion of their life in terms of their life’s work and achieving specific levels of success in their chosen field. So it seems like I should have a career path that I am working on, given that I am nearly forty years old.
But do I? How much time have I really spent considering a career trajectory and answering that interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Honestly, I haven’t spent much time considering this– at least not for a long while. But if you were to look at my working life, you would have a distinct impression of a driven, ambitious fellow who has set priorities and goals and goes after these things with a will.
For starters, I finished a Master’s degree in 18 calendar months. But remember: the first eight and the last ten of those months were separated by about three years. Why? Because I hated school and felt the driving need to make money instead of spending it.
Next up, I had secured full-time employment at a growing company before I defended my Master’s thesis. I have mostly worked hard there, certainly shining in some attention-getting ways so that now, after three years there, I have just been promoted to Manager of Program Development. I am well and truly in management now. Back when I had an offer to go to American Express, I ended up having some discussions with our CEO and COO and they talked a lot about career trajectory and the potential they saw in me and stuff. I said all the right things, being candid and frank and discussing my value-add and my successes.
But I felt that I was, if not faking it, putting on a show that I am very good at putting on. In truth, the core of me wanted to look those good men in the eye and say, “Sorry, fellas. I hate this job. My soul shrinks a size or two every time I think about a career trajectory here or at American Express, particularly when I imagine myself sitting in countless meetings going over countless projects and treating people as leverage and resources.”
The core of me wanted to do that. Why?
I very much dislike my job and have disliked it, bordering on hatred, since not long after I was hired. Don’t get me wrong: I love getting paid and am very deeply grateful for a regular paycheck that has increased of late. It’s satisfying to work hard and to earn the means to support my family in our needs and goals. It’s satisfying to step a little to my side in my mind and see myself helping my team find ways they can add more value to our work and thus become more content in their work and get paid more while feeling like their jobs have meaning.
I’m a darn good manager– both of people and projects. I have learned that I have a very strong professional ethical code that I don’t have any reason to ever break. I work hard and motivate people to work hard somehow– is it by example or something else?
I don’t know.
Frankly, in consideration of my ‘career trajectory,’ I don’t care.
It has come to this.
What is in a career? What is in my career? What brings me the greatest satisfaction?
Truthfully? My family and how great they are to be around. I really adore my wife and kids.
But as for the work I do outside the home, for the purpose of earning money, I don’t care about my career trajectory. I want to do what it takes to ethically earn as much money as I can for my family. I don’t have any ambition for a CEO or COO or even vice-president position– except that it would mean more money for my family.
Now I have to be clear: what this means is NOT that I go around at my workplace resenting the need for me to be there. When I’m there, I’m there. My focus is on the work because I have personal standards of performance that I hold myself to. I happily learn current trends in adult e-learning and people management because that’s part of my job. I want to do an excellent job because not doing an excellent job is not me. I do this of free heart and willing mind.
What this all means is that I am not emotionally attached to any of the tasks associated with my job. I have no trouble not getting riled up at people doing incompetent things or borking a system or process. I don’t get heartburn about things there. I try hard because of who I am, but when I leave there at the end of the day, the door closes– literally and figuratively.
So when events in my life push me to consider a career trajectory, such as in relation to this new position, I start feeling a little befuddled and disquieted. Many others will see this new position as an accomplishment. I don’t, because I never wanted it and didn’t work for it– I work hard for other reasons. I suppose it IS an accomplishment that I earned, but it’s not a Rocky moment for me.
Which leads me to where I think I need to go with this thought process about what is in my career and what I want to accomplish with a career. I feel that I really need to start thinking about where I see myself in five years with my career of choice.
But is working in e-learning my career of choice?
No. Absolutely not. It is my day job of choice because I am good at it and it’s less soul-stealing than the other thing I’m good at– sales– and pays more than the other thing I’m better at– teaching.
I’ll continue to work hard at my day job of choice because I want to make the money my family needs and provide for our future security.
But my career of choice is that of a writer. I want to write. This is my fondest dream for my working life, the thing which quickens me and challenges me in so many ways and affects me emotionally and on so many other levels.
I wrote five books in six years– although all of them still need varying amounts of revision. The Cabin is the closest thing I have to a truly finished and ready to publish novel. I have story ideas all the time and spend most of my free mental energy on hashing out in my head the whys and hows of stories and characters.
I want this so much– to write and revise and craft excellent stories and have them read and enjoyed and also to be paid to do this and feel that I’m accomplishing something with my writing career.
I want it so much that I’ve been paralyzed in my writing career for three months. I am using this post to break free of that paralysis. I am using it as a way to say, “Jared, get your @$$ in gear. Writing is your career of choice. It’s what you want the most that isn’t God and family. Now you understand this better and it’s time to sit down and write every day.”
I have tried hard to win contests, particularly the first chapter contest at LDS Storymakers’ conferences, and have written well over a million words in my career, and have expended so much emotional, mental, and physical effort on this career. I have put my all into it.
And I haven’t accomplished what I want to yet. And that hurts. And is heartbreaking, because I want this so much. I see my dear writer friends and rejoice in their success and feel some jealousy but mostly rejoice and think, “I can do it too.”
But I have to treat this like a career. Go to my work station every day and do the work. Learn the craft even better, put the time in, pay ALL of my dues, and accomplish things that will mean more to me than becoming the manager of program development.
What’s in my career?
Where do I see myself in five years with my writing career?
With books on shelves and sitting on a couch or at the desk in our office or in the library, tap-tapping away on my keyboard. Telling stories of Hannah Praetor in Solemn, Tim and Hal in Arden, Joshua in his cult, Nathan as a lamed vavnik, Nik fighting against the New Chapter, and so many more.
This is the career I love. The one that breaks my heart all the time– not because it doesn’t love me but because I haven’t loved it enough. This is the job/career that will probably break my heart continually, but it is also the one that I care the most about.
This is the career that will give me my Rocky moments.
So tell me, my friends, have I been experiencing a mid-life crisis? Do I get to go buy a Dodge Viper now? What is your career of choice? How do you know it’s the one you really want?