Saturday, July 4, 2015

Work History

When I was a kid, I didn't really have an answer to that classic kid question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" For a while, I had a variety of disingenuous fake comebacks like political analyst, but to be honest, I didn't know what a political analyst did when I was ten, and I still don't really know now.

When I went to university (which I did because literally every adult in my life told me university would be a pre-requisite for any success in the workforce), I had some limited self-knowledge. I knew that I liked reading, and that I had received good feedback on writing assignments in high school. I signed up for English courses, mostly, and did okay, mostly. In the years when I was depressed and uninspired, I tended to skip classes in favour of eating hot chocolate mix directly out of the jar, which didn't really do much for my GPA (or my mental health) (or my blood sugar), and when I failed or nearly failed those courses, I began to feel like even English literature was no longer a place where I could thrive.

While I was still chipping away at my interminable degree, I joined the board of the housing co-op where I lived. Those meetings were both some of the dullest, most bureaucracy-heaven hours of my life, but they were also a training ground for me. I learned a lot, including skills in long-term planning, communication, managing and working with people (which, for a 24-year-old idiot, is pretty valuable), and just dealing with dull bureaucracy as a function of work. I felt like I was working on things that mattered in a way that, when I was reading Daisy Miller, did not really come up.

In any case, when I graduated, I took my co-op experience and my degree and began to gravitate towards administrative jobs in the non-profit sector. I worked for a non-profit condo developer, for a housing co-op, for a social justice documentary maker, for a food-security charity. On paper, these jobs sound more prestigious and amazing than they really were: a lot of my roles were secretarial or PA-based. I continued to write, I continued to read. I sometimes joined the co-op board as an alumni member, and sometimes I didn't.

And all the while, I floated on. I knew that, at some point, I was going to have to get serious about what I wanted to do with my life. But I still hear no calling, and I still have the same job title at 31 as I did at 25. I took vague stabs at figuring it all out—maybe I would be a therapist! Maybe I would be a HR whiz! Maybe I would be a writer!—but I never followed through. The reasons are complicated: university sucked up thousands of dollars and left me gun-shy about investing any more money in post-secondary education; I am risk-averse and not particularly pro-active, so launching myself into new and unproven work or school territory is legitimately scary; without a serious call to action, I feel like a fraud when I investigate other types of work.

Ironically, I write an interview column called I Want Your Job. Most of the people I talk to have one of two things in common: they love the work they do, or they love the people they work with. The word "community" comes up a lot in those conversations. So does the word "passion." Over the last couple years, I've transcribed interviews in tears because I felt like I didn't have either.

Also ironically, I have great role models in my own life. My parents weren't great at this, to be honest: my mom didn't work outside the home, and my dad's job was an impenetrable mash of long hours and esoteric job function (I was 30 before I knew—like, really knew—what a project manager actually does). But my friends; oh, my friends! I know no fewer than five people who went back to school after their undergrad to refine and further their professional selves. From public policy to nursing, from teaching to graphic design, from photography to pottery classes, from library sciences to a PhD in political science. It's an amazing gamut of education, made possible by self-knowledge and drive.

But it feels like there's something lacking in me. I have a vague sense of what I like, but they're often conflicting checkboxes, not the final answer. For example: I like working alone, and with a peer group. I tend to chafe under authority, and I tend to like clear direction from higher-ups. I like creativity (writing, cooking, working with my hands), and I like problem-solving. I'm smart, but probably not as I smart as I think I am. I want time with my friends and family. I get bored easily, and that is accelerated if I don't feel like my work makes a difference. I think the reason I've stuck it out in low-level admin jobs is because working for non-profits let me think my work matters...but I'm actually not sure that that part of the equation carries as much weight as it used to.

(And before someone says, "But you're a writer!" let me say this: I love writing. I do not currently make my living at it. Becoming a full-time, paying-my-bills-at-it writer would probably mean becoming a journalist; if you refer back to the paragraph about being risk-averse and not pro-active, you might see that making a living by chasing stories and putting myself out there might not be so appealing, although to my credit, I am getting better.)

Okay, so anyway, what does this long rambling history and half-assed therapy session have to do with anything? Basically, I'm tired. I'm tired of feeling like I'm in a rut. I'm tired of not knowing who I am, what my destiny is. Many, many people never feel "a calling" or "a vocation," but most of those people don't suffer angst for it. It's normal to work a job, have no strong feelings about it, and enjoy the other parts of your life enough that those 9-5 hours aren't what define you. But I'm chafing in my little box, and I don't know how to upgrade to a better, roomier, more Kaitlyn-ish box. Or to get out of the box altogether.

I feel like I should know, like I want to know. I want more than what I have set myself up for. I want to feel fearlessly forward-moving. But right now, I don't.

So I'm at a loss as to what to do. In the next year, three years, five years, I want to be doing something different. I want more challenges, and bigger payoffs. I want mentors, and a community. And I know that putting it out there doesn't magically make it happen, but I certainly know that I'm not alone in this. All those friends who went back to school must have had a come-to-Jesus moment where they said "That could be my life." And I want to start talking about how those moments are shaped, how they happen. They could even happen to me one day, if I let them.

Image via Enkel Dika