Sometimes, the fact that I have some valuable life experience smacks me in the face like a rubber chicken. Often, when asked how I ended up with my career, which happens way more often than I would have expected.
Let’s go back about fifteen years. I was in my late twenties. I had always dreamed of working in a creative job, preferably as a writer. I knew I had the talent and skills for it. For ten years, I’d ended up doing marketing, writing and design tasks in every job I held. My supervisors quickly learned I was good at it, and it was a lot cheaper to have a “secretary” do it than to hire a “real” marketing person.
I’d taken as many workshops, classes and seminars as I could to build my skills. I was basically Tess from Working Girl, without the big hair. But after ten years, I was frustrated and stuck in a toxic workplace. The management cared more about office gossip than the work I did. I got called a “snob” (and a lot worse) because I didn’t share what happened in confidential board meetings. A coworker literally printed off one of my blog posts in an attempt to get me fired.
My mom said it was the best job I would ever get.
She said I’d be crazy to leave. But working for a company where nobody valued me was making me crazy. Something had to change. I was done with that company, but I was also done with jobs that were a poor fit for my personality and strengths.
So I started looking into becoming a massage therapist.
You weren’t expecting that, were you? You probably figured this was the point in the story where I really committed to a creative job or writing full-time. Where I dug my heels in, hustled and “made it happen.” But that’s not how it all played out. Real life is rarely that neat and linear.
Pursuing my dream was making me miserable.
I’d beaten my brains out trying to crack open the door to working as a creative professional. Managers were happy to let me do creative work, but they balked at giving me a job title to match. So I gave up. I stepped back. I radically expanded the number of career directions I was willing to consider. And I was instantly happier and more hopeful.
My personality is tailor-made to be a writer, but you know what? It’s a pretty good fit for lots of things. I made a list of jobs that seemed more interesting and fun than what I was doing. I dug out my vocational assessments from 7th grade. My top three matches were ballerina, private investigator and freaking lumberjack. (What can I say? I’m limber, nosy, and I like the outdoors.)
I realized almost any job would be a better fit.
I had just gone through a tough period where I had learned to appreciate self-care and wellness. Being a massage therapist would let me set my own hours and run my own business. It had a low barrier to entry – six months of night classes. It was a “helping” profession, but not medical. The idea of getting paid to get a good workout helping people relax, while listening to zen music and nature sounds was pretty damn appealing. There were a lot of reasons it could have worked out.
But before I got a chance to enroll in those night classes, people started asking me to build websites. Nobody wanted to write the copy for those websites, so I ended up doing it. My boss was asked to join a marketing task force for the local chamber of commerce and their re-branding project. He thought it was a waste of time, and sent me instead. I had some good ideas which impressed the head of the task force – the owner of a local ad agency.
Within six months, I had a job with that ad agency. Just like that, the door I’d been cracking my skull on flew open. Six months later, I was working at a bigger agency as a web copywriter. And I’ve gone on to have a really fun, interesting and rewarding career over the past fifteen years.
If that hadn’t happened, I would have been fine.
My life didn’t get better because I got my “big break.” It got better because I stopped breaking myself. I stopped shoving myself into jobs that might as well have been meat grinders. It got better because I realized my mom’s idea of “a great job” was based on her fears, not my strengths. I gave up on one dream, opened myself up to infinite possibilities, and ended up achieving the dream anyway.
But any of those possibilities could have lead to a great, fulfilling, amazing life.