Sick of Your Job? Don’t Quit Just Yet

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I have a lot of friends who are in the midst of career crises, and I have always been one to try and help with that. In my early 20’s I had a boyfriend who had a hard time holding down a job, and 3 times I found work for him. Yes he lost all 3 and no that didn’t annoy me at all…

I get emails from LinkedIn, Monster, SDSU, and all kinds of other organizations who tell me what jobs are available, and I don’t let one pass me without forwarding it to a job seeker I know. Often I am asked if my company is hiring because someone is unhappy with their current position.

I get it. Work sucks. I have an uncle who used to tell me, “Find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life.” As dear as that sounds, I think for most of us it’s kind of crap. No matter how much you love your job, there will be days that you love your bed much more. But as a professional and a being who prefers food and a roof to leaves and newspaper, you have to get your ass up. You need to work, it’s good for you, and the sooner you face that the better off you’ll be.

I think we all get that, and I’ll operate with the assumption that we agree up to that point. Now on to what we do. I don’t know about you but I had about 9 existential crises in my 20’s. My entrance essay to undergrad was a heartfelt plea to let me in so that I could become a teacher. I think the actual reasons I wanted to was for the 3 months off in the summer and to get to write a on a white board every day.

Then I realized that America doesn’t care about education so I’d never make much money as a teacher, and white boards aren’t all that great, so I became interested in mass media studies. I thought that I wanted to be a producer at a television station. I wanted to be the one coming up with the topics that people see on TV rather than the Jerry Springer/Real Housewives/Honey Boo Boo smut that comprises current programming.

Well for my senior internship I worked at a local TV station and had a pretty bad experience – this particular group was more cut throat than your average crew, and on top of that they too don’t make squat for cash. Then at one point I was asked if I wanted to audition for a weather person….I asked “Why me?” given that I had no meteorology training nor expressed any interest. They laughed and said because I was cute and that’s where I should go. I, and my fully functioning brain, moved on to the next.

And so my “career” evolved that way, hopping from job to job in hopes of finding my one true love. I was chasing the sort of hokey dream my uncle spoke about, but grasping that perhaps he could be right. In the 3 years between college and grad school, I held more than 8 different jobs, and none of them were really very close to what I wanted to do.

Apparently I’m not the only one whose employment history looks this way. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,  US worker’s median tenure in their current job is 4.4 years, thus effectively killing the days of 20+ year careers and gold watches at retirement.

It’s worse for my generation, as 91% of millennials expect to stay at a job less than three years as “job hopping is the new normal”.

Now is this necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think so when you are first starting out. While I had a lot of different jobs and my resume could be 6 pages long, I learned a lot along the way. But now that I’m a little older in the ripe old age of 29, it’s important to be much more wise when considering jumping ship.

You see, a lot of times when we are mad at our boss, irritated with low pay, tired of the hours or annoyed with our colleagues, it’s easy to dream that just about anywhere else will be better than here. “If I don’t have to sit through ONE MORE of these moronic meetings then I’ll die happy,” we think in the conference room stirring our coffee.

OK fine. You are ready to jump with the faith of a grasshopper. What’s going to be next? You’re going to accept $1.50 more an hour, have to relearn a new position, and start all over. Fantastic! But what often happens is the next job is eerily similar to the last. You still have a boss to answer to, pay still ain’t that great, hours are the same, and now instead of sitting next to a guy who smells like smoke, you sit next to a girl who chews her gum with her mouth open.

My point is, a lot of times we are hopping jobs, but they are mostly lateral moves. We are destroying our resumes because we are the generation of instant gratification who were told that the world is our oyster. Be who you want to be, do what you want to do, if you settle for anything less then you are living a life half lived!

You mean if I’m not at my dream job right now I’m not fully living my life?? Shit, that’s a lot of pressure! And it’s ridiculous and we all just need to calm down for a minute. The truth is, yes, you can be all you want to be and your professional dreams can come true, but to get there it is going to take some serious planning. And I don’t mean a weekend Monster.com, picking something that mildly engages your interest, and poof, your dream job will fall into your lap. I mean it’s going to take some creativity and some serious soul searching, rather than swimming down the river with everyone else on to the next job at American-Work-Shmoes.Com.

I think is a good example of someone to look up to is Richard Branson. At least I do because he’s living my dream. You may not agree with me, but professionally I think he has it figured out. Are all of his ventures successful? Nope. But as a serial entrepreneur, he’s on to the next and ostensibly keeps a hopeful attitude. “Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.”

What I admire and am after is that Sir Branson seems to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He is the captain of his ship and in fact the captain of his own airline. I’ve personally never met the guy so I can’t speak with much authority on his character, but he seems to have a positive attitude, a love for life and the dedication to have fun at work. “A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts,” says he.

“But I can never become a Richard Branson! I don’t have a billion dollars to start my basket weaving enterprise!” You don’t have to be this guy or share my dream, that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is to think BIGGER.

If your next career move isn’t a huge one, then don’t do it. If you are an entry level sales person and you are moving to another cold calling position, then why change? Again, you are busting up your resume and looking less desirable to employers because of a short, fragmented work history.

Stay put in one job and do not quit until you are quitting for your dream job – THAT is the real goal. Sometimes you have to work a job to finance your future job, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Rather than spending your time hating your current job, find something you like about it, because you won’t be there forever anyway.  Don’t waste the free moments online looking for another job that will only mildly pacify you and for a short time. Spend your time honing in on your real talents and strengths, so that your next career move is your big break.

For me, my dream job is to have my own book deal, or something like that, and I am my own CEO. Anything short of that, I’m not interested in. I have a boss, I don’t need to quit and find a new one. Not everyday is perfect, but my free time isn’t wasted looking for another job that is still not my ultimate goal. My free time is focused on my ultimate dream – to work for me. So until that opportunity happens, I’m going to stay put, give this job everything I have, and have some fun while I’m at it.

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I’m a Barista, But I Want To Be a Ninja

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This weekend I found myself in several situations where I didn’t know every single person in the room/backyard/boat.  As is normative social decorum, I engaged in get-to-know-you small talk.

“Where are you from?”

“Seattle.”

“Oh, I hear it’s nice there. I’ve never been.”  (No one in California has been to Seattle.)

“Yeah, it rains a lot, but the music’s great.”

There is also…

“Where did you go to school?”

“UW and SDSU.”

“What’s UW?”

“The University of Washington.”

“Oh…well SDSU! Go Aztecs!”

Seriously California. There are other states up north you know. Stupid…surf…culture…anyway, those are two conversations I am always having. The third is of course:

“What do you do?”

“I work at a start-up internet company.”

“Oh cool! What is it?”

“We do online reputation management. We’ve only been around for 2 years, and no you haven’t heard of us.”

“How exciting! What do you do there?”

“I do training and development. But it’s a start-up, so I do a lot more than that.”

I think I’ve narrowed it down pretty well and I try to keep it to that. My job is pretty challenging to explain, and I don’t like to go on and on about it, because then I’m the girl talking a lot about herself, and that’s just weird in the small talk get-to-know-you convos.  However, people seem to find what I do interesting.

Does that mean I’ve “made it?” When I first got the job offer a month after I graduated, I was stoked. I’ve been there for a year now and I must say, it is rewarding.  Working at a small company has a lot of great perks, but there is one thing that makes it just like every single job I’ve ever had – I’m working for someone else’s dream.

I was in Trader Joe’s two weeks ago and the ringer-upper guy asked me what I do.  I told him the standard, “I work at a start-up internet company,” answer, and surprisingly he responded, “Oh wow! Your own?”

Sadly I admitted, “No.”

That really got me thinking. Joe there, not knowing one thing about me, had enough faith in me to think that I could possibly be an entrepreneur. That I am so dedicated to my ideas and have enough drive and determination to get an idea off of the ground and start my own company.

After that experience, I’ve really been thinking about this whole, “what do you do,” thing.  I’ve always been the type to resist being put in the box of my profession.  When I worked as a barista for a billion years in every coffee shop in the greater Seattle region, I never really thought of that as my “identity.” I mean sure, I kind of liked it. I was in my teens and early 20’s and it was around the time The Barista was sort of a cool thing to be. So me and my tattoos, dark-rimmed glasses and poetry books would make coffee and use big words to prove I that I was doing this gig just to get through college. “Nope, just making coffee, this is not who I am…but yes you can compliment how well I can make a latte.”

Damn a latte sounds good right now…

Anyway, now that I really think about it, I have never taken a job I would have been ashamed to tell other people about. I worked at a TV station, casting agency, newspaper, university, you can pretty much name any sort of profession that doesn’t happen under a bridge and I’ve done it. And while I genuinely liked each of those jobs to some extent, every single time I always had this bit of a divider like, “This is just what I DO, but it’s not who I AM.” I figured work life would always be that way.

Then I stumbled upon a thought.  When you meet any of your friends who are really doing what they want to do, they are excitedly proud to tell you that what they do is who they are.

“I’m a musician.”

“I’m a photographer.”

“I’m a firefighter.”

“I’m a basketball player.” (OK fine, none of my friends are basketball players)

“I’m a lawyer.”

“I’m an author.”

That last one has a little sting to it, because that’s the one that I want. While I have a pretty rad job, it’s not what I dreamed I would be doing as baby Joni. I was the kid who learned how to read well before any of my peers, and quickly began writing the second I found a sharpened pencil. All throughout school my teachers told me about my “gift,” and I shrugged it off hoping the other kids didn’t hear how big of a nerd I was.

“Ssshhhh!!” I thought, as I tried to drown that talent with cooler ones like sports or music. Those decisions to seek flashier, more lucrative professions, and not be the writer my 2nd grade teacher saw, brought me here. My belief that writing was a silly hobby, and work was adult career life, is to blame. And now when someone asks me what I do, my answer is still not quite what I’m looking for. Jon Acuff, a young writer who is starting to see some success, brings up a good point:

“We end up thinking that we can really have two different versions of ourselves, ‘work me’ and ‘life me.’ …When you think about it, the ‘it’s just a job’ belief is crazy. Imagine telling a friend, ‘I have to go somewhere five days a week, dedicate the majority of my waking hours to it, let it control my vacation and travel plans…but I don’t consider it part of my life.” (Acuff, 2011, p. 230-231)

By the way, this excerpt is from a book called Quitter and I do not recommend brining this book to work, and then getting caught by your boss reading it…that was not a fun week.

Anyway, he is right. We are one, whole person. And I think that this is the big career crisis that my generation faces. We are blessed more than any other generation to have the means to see beyond the “if I don’t work my family will starve to death or wind up eating rocks,” crisis that has plagued most of human existence.  We are the most coddled generation, whose parents have the ability to help us if we fall.  We have always been encouraged to chase our dreams, never give up, and be all you can be.

And I think that’s why so many of us are so bummed out by our jobs. I think I can safely say that most of my friends live for the weekend, and I can’t really exclude myself from that conversation.  As much as I enjoy my work sometimes, I hate Mondays and love Fridays.

The problem with that is, I clearly have a problem with work if I’m saddened by the very thought of 5 whole days of it ahead of me.  Or am thrilled with the thought of 2 whole days that I don’t have to go there.

So that leads me to believe that I in fact haven’t made it yet. Mom told me to be what I wanted to be, and I’m not being it yet, and that bums me out every Monday. When Trader Joe asks me what I do, I want to answer confidently, “I’m an author.”  He will then answer, “Oh! What do you write?” And so on and so forth.

How cool would that be?!?!

For now, I have a pretty good answer. But there’s still a “but” in it. “I work at a startup company in training and development, but I want to be an author.” I’ll bet there’s a lot of you out there that have the same predicament.

So play a game with me. How would you fill in those blanks?  “I’m a ______, but I want to be a ________.”  I have a feeling getting to the second blank is a reality you can make happen.  What are you doing to get there?

As for me, I’m reading like a crazy person, working hard at a job I like (notice, not love), and planning for the next step by saving skrilla and writing early in the morning and late at night. I’m doing it because the opportunity is there if I want it, if I’m willing to fight for it. No one is going to hand me a book deal just because I think I have talent. I’m not going to be walking in the park one day and a man in a beret will shout from across the courtyard, “Hey you! Hey you there! You are clearly a beautiful writer and belong on the New York Times Bestseller list! Come with me and I will make you a star!”  But if that does happen I’ll let you know which park.

We are a generation that has been encouraged to dream, and we easily get depressed when we feel we haven’t “made it” to remarkable fame, wealth, whatever it is that you want. But the opportunity for artists of all kinds is available. Tradesmen/women can get into a technical college when they are willing to do the work. Entrepreneurs have a chance to make that purse-for-cats idea a reality if they try.

The only thing separating us from that, sometimes, is our dichotomous “work me” and “life me” identity crisis.  We tell ourselves that our “life me” can never be our “work me,” so sometimes it can be hard to make the blanks of who we really want to be happen.

But I encourage you to try.  I mean, I really want to see a cat carrying a purse one day, so I’m hoping you’ll go ahead and step it up to make that happen.