The following article is from Melanie, our staff writer. Melanie is in the beginning phase of her journey to Financial Freedom and she’ll bring a refreshing point of view for us. I’m on a short trip to Boise this week so there will be 2 articles instead of the usual 3.
For earlier generations, the definition of a successful career typically meant working in a single profession at perhaps one or two companies throughout their careers. Perhaps along the way there were salary increases and promotions but for the most part they worked at the same job and often the same company year after year. It wasn’t unusual to start at a company right out of college and work at the same company until retirement. For many years, the yardstick that I used to measure my career success followed this model.
But the workforce is rapidly changing in ways that affect just about everyone. Younger people no longer follow this model and are changing jobs roughly every two years, moving towards entrepreneurship or still struggling to figure out ”The Thing” they want to do. For me, I’ve started to question the idea of traditional work; working at the same job or same profession day in and day out for the next forty years. What if I don’t want to do the same job twice? What if I like change or learning new skills and trying different things? I find that I resonate most with entrepreneurship and the desire to continue exploring my options and redefining my definition of success.
My career history has been a hopscotch of activity, which might not look ideal to potential employers. I’ve had several diverse jobs in the past few years and have lived in three different cities during that time. I started my career in Los Angeles managing an arts program for a nonprofit and it was a great first career job. It was rewarding, challenging, and I learned so much in the three years I was there. But then I received another opportunity that felt right at the time, so I left that job to pursue graduate school. During grad school I taught theater in Harlem, among other jobs. Despite my experience and 20 interviews, upon graduation I had a tough time finding another job. As a result, I changed my focus; relocated across country and did other things; I taught in schools; I advised students studying abroad; and now I’m working in events and communications for another nonprofit.
The common denominator with all my jobs is that they are all nonprofit based with a mission to serve the greater good. However, these jobs have varied greatly. I have not had the same job title, or even been in the same subsector within all of my nonprofit jobs.
My initial job in the arts came with a fancy title; responsibilities that included supervising employees; managing budgets and having input into large scale decisions. It also came with relatively low pay. Now I sometimes miss the career status I had. I question if I’ve lost my career credibility. If I’m not working in the arts any longer and my last experience doing so was several years ago, is it still relevant? Part of me questions my path and wonders where I’m going. While part of me is thrilled at now having less responsibilities (and therefore less stress), sometimes my ego feels like I used to be much more important.
It’s weird that a job title and duties can make you feel important. While I definitely resonate more on the side of work should be your passion, I have succumb to the fact that a job is still a job. It does not define who you are as a person. It’s one aspect of what you do. A few days ago I read Joe’s post about “Are You Living the Life You Want?” He recalled people’s reaction when he said he was going to leave his fancy job at Intel. Most reactions were unsupportive and most people couldn’t wrap their brains around it.
What might look like success on the outside, appeared to be a deep, troubled water on the inside. A job is not a life. Your life is your job! Live it the way you want.
In this country we have a very rigid, defined idea of success and most of it revolves around a 9-5 job, a family, and a house. I used to buy into it, too until I realized it was making me unhappy and that wasn’t my version of success.
As I continue working, freelancing, and trying new things I find myself having to continually re-define my measure of success. Redefining success on your own terms is tough, especially when everyone else’s version of success is different. For example, when I was in New York, I was teaching, performing and felt like I had a great work-life balance. I was just barely getting by, but from a career standpoint and a life standpoint, I felt successful. People on the outside, seeing me hustle for other work probably thought otherwise.
We’re taught that success needs to be externally validated, not internally validated and that just screws up the whole system doesn’t it? If we are, as Joe said, to live the life we want, we need to live on our own terms, and come up with a version of success by us, and for us. Sometimes that means going against the grain of what people traditionally call “success.”
Opportunities are out there
Imagine what opportunities can arise when living the life you want, and defining success on your own terms.
- Stop making yourself miserable
- Try out new things
- Have conviction in what you are doing
- Open yourself up to making even more money
In the scheme of life, careers, and passion, I realize it’s a delicate balance. Not everyone can quit their job and try something else. Most people can’t, actually. But that shouldn’t mean that you should relegate your life to someone else’s standards and feel stuck. Being stuck is the worst. Motion equals progress in my opinion.
I’m curious — how have your thoughts about careers or success changed over the years?
photo credit: epsos.de