I’ve been living in San Francisco for 9 months. I genuinely like San Francisco now (no one say, ‘I told you so!’). I realized a few months ago that I like the city. At the time, I’d add the caveat: “But, I’m not sure about the people.” Now I just like it. No, it’s not the city I knew it to be when I first visited over a decade ago. Yes, as a new friend lamented “Strangers don’t talk to strangers here” and “Men [seem] too afraid to approach women.” I’m adapting to the culture and the norms. I even trained myself not to make eye contact with people on the street.
I appreciate that San Franciscans are generally polite, willing to stand up for things they believe in, love their pampered pooches and have a great fondness for whimsy, celebrations and dressing up in costume with or without reason. It helps that my new friendships are settling comfortably. I still don’t have last-minute “join me at the bar” buddies or “Hey, its Saturday. What are you up to?” level friends. But, I feel less lack in that realm now. I’ve started dating and am pleased to say there are many ambitious, accomplished and interesting men here. I am more comfortable and settled now. I am intensely happy that I made the decision to leave L.A. I needed to. This is the right place for me right now. This is home.
Unfortunately, the past few months have been really challenging for me. I really grew to hate my job. Hate. Like “I don’t want to go, please don’t make me!” or “I wonder if I can get a doctor to write me a note declaring that the job is bad for my health and I need disability,” or even worse “Drinking before work wouldn’t be so bad, right?” Before work many mornings, I’d begin with a pep talk, “You will have a good day. You are lucky to be employed. This is only temporary.” Some days out of sheer silliness and desperation, I’d borrow a line from The Help, “You is smart. You is kind. You is important.” Usually within minutes of walking into the office, all that sunshine, roses and ponies, would fly right out the window. Or more appropriately, absorbed into the walls of my boring brown cubicle in a part of the office that received no direct sunlight due to the view being blocked by a neighboring office building.
I knew two months in that I was dissatisfied with my job. I spoke to my boss and few peers about it, but, unfortunately, that didn’t really help. I tried several things to improve the situation, but ultimately as each day passed, I grew to dislike it more and more. I even called my dad and asked for his advice and that almost never happens. I didn’t know what to do. This is real life. It’s not like when I got a job in high school at Bed Bath & Beyond, knew I hated it after a weekend of work and said, “Deuces, BBB! Keep your cookware and your bedding!”
My spirit was slowly dying in the eight months I spent in the job. I was bored; I felt unchallenged; I didn’t see much room for growth or learning opportunities. The culture felt staid and isolating. Most of all, I didn’t feel like my position was seen as valued or that people recognized my skill set. An astute co-worker (who internally transferred out of a similar position months earlier) even commented “You are so smart and so underutilized here.” Who you tellin’? I felt like an overpaid admin. I respect the hard job admins have especially having worked as one for a bit (and being highly allergic to the position), but I didn’t sign on to be an admin and I didn’t spend years developing a career to be an admin. I lost interest in my interests.
I didn’t read. I didn’t write (sorry blog readers). I didn’t take photos. I lost the energy to continue my friending frenzy. I was cranky and solemn. Even my guilty pleasure Housewives shows were less entertaining (although the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills were on some seriously boring BS. No one gives a shit whether or not Adrienne and her frozen plastic face tried to sue Malibu Barbie Brandi. Show us the riches: beautiful clothing, fancy cars and real estate porn).
I began to doubt my skills and self-efficacy for the first time in a long, long while. It’s akin to being an ‘A’ student and getting your first ‘D’. Your view of yourself cracks and may even be shattered depending on how closely tied your academic success is to your self-identity.
In May, I flew to a conference for a work. For three days I was in sessions learning new things from peers and leaders in my field and most importantly I was using my brain, which had become a novelty. It was noticeably different from my normal work day. How deflating. I had the rest of the week off to be a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding in Los Angeles, which was beautiful and a ton of fun. Returning to work after a week away was intensely painful. I had hoped to stick it out with the company for at least a year. However, when I returned after a week away, and the dark cloud that’d been amassing around me was right there waiting where I left it and seemed even more consuming, I knew I had to get out for the sake of my sanity. I was sinking into a depression.
I felt guilty complaining about my job knowing how many people are unemployed and wish not to be. It wasn’t like I was being abused, harassed or overworked. When I told a friend that I felt bored and unchallenged and wasn’t interested in having a job where I could surf the net all day she said with some amusement, “Um, so what you’re telling me is you’re getting paid not to do much and not really think? This is a problem?” I know.
HELP IS ON THE WAY
On a first date with a guy named, let’s say, Sam, he inevitably asked the questions I’d grown to dread answering, “What do you do? Do you like it?” By then, I’d given up trying to be positive about my job and would readily tell people that I didn’t like it when asked. He shared with me that he’d gone through something similar in the past couple of years and realized he hated his career as a TV sports reporter. After seeing a career counselor he decided to work toward becoming an elementary school teacher. Talk about a career change! It was clear how happy this career switch made him, despite the drastic difference in income. He recommend his career center to me and I made an appointment with a counselor immediately the next day. The date was fun and Sam was cool, but he didn’t ask me out again and I didn’t feel strongly enough to pursue it.
My career counselor was a breath of fresh air. She immediately became my favorite person. I wanted to pocket her and carry her around like a lucky rabbit’s foot. She is brilliant, encouraging, supportive, sharp and has an impressive and varied career background of her own. She is amazing.
Career counseling feels a lot like therapy (er…not like I would know what that’s like): there’s self-reflection, talking about your childhood, discussion about how your parents influenced your choices and maybe even some tears. While I thought I knew why I hated my job, seeing a career counselor helped me better understand the underlying reasons and allowed me to articulate my thoughts and feelings better. After taking several assessments she remarked me to me with wonder, “It’s amazing how you’ve been able to work this long in a job that is practically the antithesis of who you are.”
HOW DID I GET HERE
I fell into my career. Yes, it is in line with my business degree. But, I didn’t deliberately choose it. When I graduated from college, I wanted nothing to do with business. I wanted to be an actress. I missed expressing my creative side and acting always made me feel awake and alive. Ultimately that wasn’t the right path for me though. Thus, I fell back on my degree and my career chose me based on that degree and my skills. I didn’t spend much time nurturing it or thinking about what success would mean to me because I always figured I’d do something else. I assumed I’d eventually discover my passion and it would all be smooth sailing from there. Time sped by and before I knew it, due to a confluence of my need to be a high-achiever and to progress. I accidentally developed a career.
I cared about promotions because I value being rewarded for my efforts. But, it’s never been “exciting” for me. I’ve long been envious of people who speak of “loving their jobs.” Or people who eat, sleep and breathe their careers for one reason or another. I wonder what that’s like. Why couldn’t I just have a burning desire to be a teacher or an architect or a doctor? But, as I discovered during my sessions with my career counselor, it’s in my nature to have varied interests. For me, it’s not so much about what I do as it is for me to have variety and feel like I’m learning and experiencing life anew.
I learned so much in the sessions I had with my career counselor / saintly woman sent from the heavens, and it’s not over. Three of the most important lessons for me:
1. Don’t get good at things you don’t want to do.
If you’re the person who’s great at picking weeds and no one else is around to do it, guess who’s getting asked to pick weeds? You. And the more weeds you pick, the better you get at it. I don’t want to become an expert weed-picker, so I need to stop picking these damn weeds! Let someone else do it. There are people out there who looove maintaining gardens. I am not one of them.
2. Take charge of your career.
This isn’t news. People say this, but I didn’t really get it. I let things happen to me without realizing I was doing it. I didn’t stand up for myself enough. I didn’t push hard enough for that promotion or the raise or ask to do the work I would have preferred to do. As professional and assertive as I learned to be, I realized I was still guilty of employing some of the behaviors that do a disservice to women. I don’t toot my own horn; I find it tacky. I don’t ask for gobs of money because I don’t want to be greedy. Still, you best believe someone else is doing these things and making much more than I am and doing work they want to be doing.
3. Take time to nurture your natural interests and skills.
Almost all the assessments I took during career counseling pointed to my creative skills and interests. Growing up, I was really creative. Aside from business, my other interests were all artistic. I wanted to be an actor, a writer, a dancer, a comedian (don’t laugh), an artist. As each year of my life goes by, I take on fewer and fewer creative endeavors. I used to love doing arts & crafts! No wonder my spirit was dying. I was focusing all of my attention on things that do not generally interest me and not doing the things that feed my soul. (I hate that phrase, but it’s very much applicable in this case.) Creativity, much like other skills, needs to be nurtured to grow and flourish. But, somehow I convinced myself that because I wasn’t great at it, I shouldn’t be doing it. I need to be doing it though. I may never be a top photographer, but if taking photos and capturing images of the world as I see it brings me joy, I should do more of it. It doesn’t have to be a career, it just has to make me feel happy.
I started a new job on last week. It’s not a career change, but it is a role change (and a career advancement). Thanks to my career counselor, I know better now to focus on honing the skills and strengths that interest me most and that may be transferable to other roles. I feel optimistic that this position will allow me to do that. The company itself could not be more opposite the place I just left. I’ve been welcomed by my new co-workers with excitement and genuine interest. I feel like I’ve joined a family.
I wish I didn’t have to go through the frustration of my previous job. I’m sure I’ll look back on that time with the same derision I do the year I lived in San Jose. Nevertheless, in some ways, I am grateful for the experience because it propelled me to take action to make serious changes in my professional life and do some intense self-reflection. I even rediscovered what appealed to me about business in the first place. Additionally, I have an even greater appreciation for the great jobs, managers and mentors I’ve had in the past.
I don’t know what the future holds and what my next career may be. It could be in business after all, just in a different role. After all, as I remembered in career counseling, at 6-years old I was starting my own businesses in my bedroom, building storefronts out of construction paper (creativity) and “selling” products to my mom. I look forward to approaching my new job with a renewed fervor. That dark cloud is dissipating and I’m seeing larger and larger slivers of the sun each day.