Wednesday, January 06, 2010

What I Would Tell Any Recent College Graduate

I will tell you what happens (happened) next, but until or unless I start writing about everything that happened between the ages of 22 and 29 (when I started this blog - divorced, in a new city, with a totally different job and life from where I'd been 5 years before), I don't think it would be very useful to anyone looking for an "answer."

Hmm. And even then I'm not so sure.

But I think you can go in two directions from where I was.

Direction #1: If you are pretty sure you want to get on and stay on the corporate track, there are jobs out there that aren't 100% soul-crushing. I did find one. And while I have a LOT to say on the subject, I think it's critical to understand the difference between a stupid job and a job that includes stupid work.

Every job I quit in the beginning -- and I quit FIVE of them -- was evidently a stupid job in itself. One I had for exactly one day. In that day, I learned the lay of the land, discovered that my job as "marketing trafficker" was basically the job of glorified mailman. The company was inefficient, my team was full of really cute, really dumb girls, and I just didn't care ONE IOTA what the company did. If I HAD cared, I would have considered sticking it out. (Hey, how hard would it have been to work my way up?) But I couldn't see how being a manager there would get me any further to doing something I wanted to be doing...so I didn't stay.

[Sidebar: You might be wondering why I even took that job in the first place(?). I didn't know the job was as stupid as it was -- it wasn't described that way at all. I also had no idea that the cool woman who interviewed me was my boss's boss's boss, and someone I'd never come in contact with again.]

That is NOT the same as liking what a company does, seeing a company that has lots of potential and potentially cool jobs, and just not liking some aspects of your current job there. Every job -- especially in the beginning, good lord -- comes with some "shit work": dumb things that just have to get done, and that you just have to do.

Oh, I could write a manual about Success in the Workplace at the Entry-to-Mid Level.

My point, really, is that every corporate job is going to suck to some degree. If it sucks and you totally can't see any reason to stay except for the paycheck, look for something else. If aspects of it suck but the long-term (1-3 year) potential is evident, don't screw up a good thing by focusing on the stupid.

But that's if you know you want to be on the corporate track. What if you don't know? What if you don't feel like you're clear about anything?

Direction #2: When you aren't sure you have any idea what you want to do at all. My first response is that you do actually, to some degree, know what you want to do. Even if it's just one thing. It doesn't have to be work-related, either. My best advice is that you focus on the one aspect of your life in which your feelings/goals/sentiments are clear, and let the rest fall into place. Identify ONE priority that feels right, and work on that.

At least, that's what I did. Eventually.

The short version of what happened after that, from that, because of that, whatever, is that I found a job that didn't make me want to run away and join the circus. It was good and aspects of it were actually challenging, and it felt like it would be a tremendous stepping-stone if I stayed with that firm OR if I wanted to take my experience elsewhere. I got busy. Time passed. I felt a little more like, "Okay, I guess this IS what people do every day."

And then a lot of things happened that weren't what one might consider "average." Dave and I ended up on some super accelerated life track. We got on a crazy shortcut, one that put our marriage and careers and life through ten years' worth of experiences in a very short amount of time. And at the end of it, I believe we landed exactly where we would have without the shortcut.

I realized, quite clearly and painfully, that I was married to the wrong person, that I wasn't passionate about the industry I was in, that I didn't like living where I was living.

[Have you read my divorce story over there --->? It's not syrupy or long-winded, I don't think. It's not edited, either, so don't hate. It's just a concise-as-possible synopsis of what the hell happened to me, when I went from being a married lady with a mortgage and dogs and all that comes with it, to being single and living in San Francisco.]

So I picked one thing. I dug deep, and the only thing I knew for sure was that I was not happy in Connecticut. I didn't feel like I fit there, and I didn't want to stay there. Everything else was secondary. Moving felt right. I didn't know but hoped that the rest -- finding love, work, play, friends -- would follow.

It did.

It's my belief, therefore, that that's a good place to start. Figure out that one thing that does make sense for you. One thing that isn't just making the best of a ho-hum situation. If you're certain about your partner, be with your partner. If you're certain that cooking makes you happy, go to culinary school. If you're certain you want to have a steady income above all else, work your ass off. Hell, if being healthy is your biggest motivator, be healthy. Let the other stuff stay in flux but get your workouts in.

And that's what I got. I don't know if my "advice" (such as it is) is of any use to anyone. But you asked.

Oh, I wish I would have been more honest with myself there, in my apartment, over a decade ago, where everything was "fine" but nothing was great. Because I wasn't honest then, and I would have continued to plod along in a just-fine life until who-knows-when. I would have wasted so much time.

Rather, I was "lucky." Because I was suddenly flying down the life path at a million miles an hour, I wasn't able to manage the road bumps. A more stable version of life would have had me sticking it out, working through the bumps, only coming to a final breakdown eventually. In purely ironic ways, I'm grateful that instead, the road bumps caused my life's fiery explosion.




8 comments:

  1. You're so right on the money with this. When everything in your life feels confused, just find the one thing you know for sure, or the one thing you know you want, and focus on that. I strongly believe in the power of positivity, and that this single positive focus in your life will eventually blossom into every other aspect.

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  2. Oh I SO relate to this post, especially: "Oh, I wish I would have been more honest with myself there, in my apartment, over a decade ago, where everything was "fine" but nothing was great. Because I wasn't honest then, and I would have continued to plod along in a just-fine life until who-knows-when. I would have wasted so much time."

    I just moved to Chicago from NYC, where I wasn't happy. I wasn't miserable but things were just OK and now I'm loving it here and so glad I made the decision NOT to plod along until who-knows-when. Now I feel like I am at least in control of my own life, which since I graduated college 4 years ago, haven't felt one bit.

    Interesting to see your reflection back on those days now that you're settled and have a family. Good to know that these are phases in life that happen to just about everyone.

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  3. This is so true. I love this post. I can relate, which probably isn't surprising since I'm in the middle of my cross-country move. However, since there are many practical reasons not to stay in Portland (uncertain job prospects!) it was nice to have a reminder!

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  4. What a kick ass post. Life is about listening to your gut -- even when you don't want to. Wishing I had done this years ago. Again, what a really lovely post, K.

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  5. Thank you so much for this. I really feel like I read this at just the right time.

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  6. You really have an uncanny ability to write feelings that so many of us have had at one time or another. I also grew up in Fairfield County- Stamford- and now HATE it. When I moved back to the area to be close to family after a divorce and had to live in Norwalk I thought I would die. I ended up 30 miles farther up the coast in Milford and my life changed. I now am happy, married, and live the simple life and still hate Fairfield county and love West Haven! You don't have to move far, just far enough. Zoloft helps too!

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  7. love this post. i especially love the closing para. everything does happen for a reason. we may not know it when it happens but eventually we'll come around to making sense of it (hopefully) and then be able to move on.
    u're obviously amongst those who have. well done! :)

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