Monday, September 10, 2012
the careening career
A few months ago a writer friend asked me what my plans were for my career.
I didn't have an answer because I haven't planned for my career since I was in middle school, deciding I wanted to train wild animals. After that I wanted to be a photographer because apparently all girls at some point a) want a horse and b) want to be photographers.
I had exactly one exhibit of my photography, which was so awful it still makes me wince.
It's safe to say that I haven't planned my career so much as my career planned me. After college I took a job as a photographer at a ski resort because if you answer an ad in a ski town and arrive at twilight, as all the twinkly lights are coming on and the mountains start to turn blue, you will say yes to working for $6/hour and decide you have always wanted to live on malt-o-meal.
Likewise my move to the beach: Move first, juggle livelihood later.
Between the "oh look! I have no money!" moments of career-panic, there have been other breeds of panic. These lead to a career that careens.
If you look up the word "careen" (because you've looked at it so long it starts to look weird and you want to make sure you're spelling it right) you find:
1. To lurch or swerve while in motion.
2. To rush headlong or carelessly; career:
That completely describes my career.
Career-panic has led to changes big and small. The latest was quitting a full-time job because it made my soul hurt and gave me a rash.* I didn't cite those reasons specifically in my letter of resignation, but only because I didn't realize the work and the rash were related until they went away simultaneously.
I think (and hope) that was the last lurch in my path. It's time to stop careening and start careering.
1a. A chosen pursuit; a profession or occupation.
1b. The general course or progression of one's working life or one's professional achievements: an officer with a distinguished career; a teacher in the midst of a long career.
2. A path or course, as of the sun through the heavens.
You know I'm going with #2, right?
Because that's what I think it should feel like. We find our careers by fine-tuning the direction we're going until we discover what we can contribute that makes us and the universe happiest.
It's that simple. Are you contributing? Are you happy doing it?
When we choose our career paths, we're choosing what we're good at - except that's not something many of us choose. It's something we discover.
The problem is that "career" is a noun, but it works best as a verb. Unless you do something about it, a career is either wishful thinking or a careening series of paychecks.
When people say things like this, I want to punch them, but here it is: listen, trust, do. You can't have a career if you don't do your career.
To figure out what that is you're supposed to be doing, listen to people who tell you when you're on the right track (including yourself). Listen to the message until you know it's true, and then start practicing whatever it is.
A lot of us have to have a day job while we practice. Some of us have two or three day jobs while we practice. (I like two or three day jobs, because then when the work you're aiming for starts to take hold, you can peel off the extras. It's like shedding floatation devices when you're learning to swim.) Do whatever you need to do to make it possible to fulfill your job on this planet.
Meanwhile, I can't help but go back to "as of the sun through the heavens."
Maybe our careers aren't a path at all. Maybe they're already exactly where they're supposed to be.
*I understand that leaving a job is not always an option. I also understand that when you do things for the right reasons, doors open.