November 18, 2013
On Growing Within Your Career
As I’ve written about, these first few months out on my own have been tough. I feel like I’ve grown in leaps and bounds as a designer, as a business owner, as a person. But it’s been a really difficult transition and not one without bumps in the road. I was telling a friend recently that the hardest part of this process for me has been the personal transition. Going from someone who wants to please everyone, say yes to everything, avoid confrontation and make everyone else happy (often at a cost to her own personal well-being) to a person who knows when and how to stand up for herself, charges a rate that she knows she’s worth, reads an angry client email and doesn’t burst into tears, has been really hard. I’d love to talk more about personal growth within our careers (and not just the freelance ones) this morning with you and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Since I was young, I’ve been able to imagine pretty vividly the woman I wanted to be once I was a grown-up, down to what I would be wearing. But I also always saw such a giant leap in getting there; how do you go from a wide-eyed girl to a confident woman in charge? I’ve always been able to imagine the end product, but not the actual journey. I feel like over this last year I’ve become about 100% more confident personally and professionally, and so much of that has come from my experiences at work and some really really tough situations. I’ve learned to trust my gut, believe in myself even at times when it would’ve been much more comfortable to just quit, accept responsibility and hold others accountable for their end of the bargain (often way easier for me to take all the blame when we hit a roadbump, but that’s really so much worse in the long run).
I never sought out to run my own business. In fact when I realized I would need to find a new position somewhere, I wanted a creative office job with benefits, PTO, 9-5 schedule. But then a flurry of great opportunities landed in my lap and here I am. And to be honest, even though there are days that are tough, I really love it. And I think that’s how you know that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Every job is still a job, and no matter how wonderful it is, real life will always be way more fun (or at least I hope this is the case!). But if there’s a job where, even after a totally crappy week where you just feel awful and the confidence is running low and you sort of want to just crawl in a hole, even after a week like that if you can wake up on Monday and think “Yea, I’m still in” or even just “Yea, I mean I can keep doing this I guess; that wasn’t too terrible” then I think you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.
I was talking to a friend recently and she is facing similar challenges at an office job: how to be assertive, how to find your niche and excel, how to be diplomatic with co-workers. It made me realize that, although I often talk about a lot of these things from a freelancer’s point of view, we’re all dealing with them, no matter what our field. Of course we have different specific challenges, but I would argue that one of the toughest parts of your late 20’s/early 30’s is not just figuring out what you want to do, but then how to do it really well, and how to create a sustainable career.
When you first get into the workforce, you hop around a bit from job to job, maybe go to grad school or move cities. But then you get it at some point: this is long-term. This is the real deal. And I think finding a job that makes you feel successful is the key to being as happy as you can be in your job. And I don’t just mean in terms of the passion. I was talking to another friend recently who is kind of stumped right now because she’s not sure what to do; she feels no pull towards anything particularly, no real passion. And she asked me if there was something wrong with that. Like, if she should only do something that she really loves. And I said: HECK NO.
Granted, there are some people, I’m one of them, who does feel intensely passionate about what they do and it really drives them everyday. But there are also people who work to live; who’s ego isn’t tied up in their work, their creations, their business. Those people who work a job that pays them well, that’s semi-enjoyable and mostly, that allows them to live the life they want to lead outside of work. They’re content. And I think that’s really cool. I often wonder if those people have some sort of internal sense of peace that I look for in my work; some sense of contentment that the passionate people are trying to find through success.
I guess what I’m saying is that success looks like a lot of different things to everyone. And I think this part of our careers, this middle stage when we’re really buckling down, is about finding out what success through work means to us personally, and going and getting it. It’s so easy to frame success the way our friends do or our parents have or colleagues and society tells us to, but I think it’s important to take time and decide what professional success means to you. Maybe it just means a great paycheck that lets you travel and cook and have the home you want. Maybe it means landing a crazy great client or simply being able to sustain yourself doing what you really love.
I’d love to know: what are your experiences with work right now? Do you find yourself in a similar situation to any of these? What does professional success mean to you? Feel free to comment anonymously!
And thanks for taking the time to read this:-)