When you’re 21 and still have that ‘new car’ college smell about you, the world is yours. There is no ceiling on your future, your wool suits are a scratchy size 4 and you only need 5 hours of sleep a night. You are a missile on a path to success.
Entry level positions suck no matter what school you went to, or who your father is. However your enthusiasm is fed by the excitement of learning how things work, who ‘you’ are at work and feeling like you’re achieving something. As the years pass, you’re promoted alongside your peers (male and female) and the notion that people just have ‘a job’ is something you internally look down upon. Why have a job when you can have a ‘career’? People with jobs have given up. They don’t care and simply seem content to ‘do work’ and go home.
Myself, I was my job.
From 7 in the morning until 9 most nights, throughout the weekend and even on my birthday eve, I worked. Striving for approval, acceptance and the next rung up. I knew I wasn’t going to be a NASA employee, but I did think that the term VP or Partner wasn’t excluded from my future. I was as good as my peers, sometimes smarter, even if my sense of humor got me into trouble a few times.
A move to the US and I kept on working. Now I was flying every week to churn out my 12-14 hour days in Minneapolis, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas and Miami and loving it. Sure my dating life was whistling in the wind (I once dated a guy who lived in Vancouver – yes Canada- because it was on my way home from a project). No reasonable guy wants to date someone who’s gone 5 days a week and mentally distant the other 2.
On the eve of my 30th birthday I realized that I knew no one – really- in the city in which I owned an apartment, and that nothing would change unless I de-prioritized work. Guys seemed to be able to make it work, but then women always seemed to be more flexible and I wasn’t about to embrace lesbianism just for professional ease. No, I needed to actually put down roots and slow down. Put my career on hold. Grow some friends. Maybe find a mate.
So I refused to fly.
And was summarily fired.
Nothing like losing your job – your life and whole identity- to make you reconsider the role of work in your life. I felt invisible. Embarrassed. A loser.
I returned to work but without my fire or any real passion. After being kicked to the curb so easily by the only company I’d ever worked for, I didn’t really take the next step that seriously. I couldn’t give of myself like that again – I couldn’t give my heart away a second time. Sure I worked hard, I delivered every day and was praised for my efforts, but my drive was gone and my days ended promptly at 6pm. I moved jobs a few times, increasing my responsibility with every increase in salary, but the look I saw in my bosses eyes wasn’t one of recognition – a fellow road warrior, a herculean slavish worker bear- but one of dismissal. I was just someone in a job. Someone who left at 6pm.
‘Good, but you know, not really committed’
I once tried to get back in the game, moving to Seattle and handing over my soul for a PC and a corporate t shirt. Soldiering with the very big wigs and back on the 24/7 schedule. My smartphone never stopped beeping, day or night. But this time my body wouldn’t cooperate. Anxiety attacks, allergic reactions, thyroid and gastrointestinal issues all signaled that we wanted out, even if mentally I was never more challenged or excited. However once my blood pressure hit the 260’s and I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking, I decided had to leave.. or consider my own personal longevity.
I don’t recall ever saying to anyone that I didn’t care about my career, that I didn’t take my work seriously. I love what I do, and I’ve been told I’m good at it. I will work weekends when asked, and I’ll sit on email at 8 or 9pm if I need to. But will I do it willingly and consistently? No. My days of coming into work on a Sunday morning, to ‘get ahead’, or staying late to make something perfect? No – life is too short and I am, when it comes down to it, just a number. The impact on my life of those hours is far greater than they would be on any company’s bottom line.
As a result my career has stalled, permanently it seems. I’ve not been promoted in title for over 5 years. My responsibilities have increased three fold and I’ve the trust of senior level executives.. but I remain in the same role, doing the same solid job. I watch with a smile as I see my peers and now my juniors promoted three or four times ahead of me. Of course many, if not most, are men. All have families. And all work like dogs. They never lost their drive and as a result, their careers continue to skyrocket.
I never decided to stop progressing and I’ve never lost my ambition. I’ve not stopped trying, growing or learning. I’m eager to take on new challenges and learn new things. I’m thrilled at my small successes and even though I choose life over work, work is still a big part of who I am for 8 or 9 hours every day.
No one told me my career was over. but I guess the decision was made for me based on some intangible assessment of my personality, skills or ability. I will not rage, I will not moan but I will keep trying. The world is still mine. I am still that missile on a path to success. It just might not look like I thought it would. And hopefully the clothes are more comfortable this time around.