My Career as a Marathon, Not a Race

28Nov10

It’s been a while since I’ve written and I feel bad about it.  I started this blog to provide hope to people while gaining some clarity for myself.   Those goals haven’t changed.  I still need to write, and maybe others still need to read about what I’m going through.  So here I am.

But why the long time?  Because I don’t know what to say anymore.  Because I am afraid that if I see my newest plan in black and white, I won’t feel as good about it.   Because my meds have allowed me to live in the moment, and I dread the thought of reawakening my obsession with the future.

I remember this inconvenient moment of clarity that I had in law school.  It was during on-campus interviewing season, which, by the way, is grueling.  If you earn yourself a spot in the top x% of your class, you get the privilege of going on 20-50 interviews in one or two week’s time.   Going through that process teaches you a lot about a lot of things.  For me, the sheer exhaustion led to a moment of clarity, which unfortunately came in the middle of an interview.

Interviewer: What is the biggest obstacle you’ve been faced with in law school.

Me: Hmmm … (overcoming my tendency to be a perfectionist?  no, too canned … shit, shit ) … OVERCOMING MY SOMETIMES CRIPPLING SELF-DOUBT.

Interviewer: (blank stare)

I didn’t get a second interview.

But lately, I haven’t had self-doubt.  I haven’t felt crippled.  I haven’t felt exhausted from treading water, too afraid to choose a direction in which to swim.  I may as well tell you now — I’ve decided to stop resisting my current job and make the most of the opportunities it affords me.   Before you write me off as a coward or a sell-out, hear my reasons.

A couple of events planted the seeds for this plan.  The first was a job listing for a Bloomberg policy analyst whose responsibilities would be to keep up on federal, state and academic discourse relating to my clients’ industry, as well as recent legislation and regulation and their commercial effects, and then write about it.  I REALLY liked this job.  Unfortunately, it was geographically undesirable.  Just the same, it got me thinking:  the fact that I don’t like the practice of law doesn’t mean that I can’t use this opportunity to gain first-hand expertise in what I really do like:  the industry in which my clients work, and the government policies behind the laws that shape their business practices. As boring as it may sound, if I could give more detail, you’d see that it really is pretty cool.

Second meaningful event:  Cara (hat tip to you) turned me on to this guy named Cal Newport, who has a blog named Study Hacks.  Study Hacks is a career-focused blog that Cal writes primarily with college kids in mind, but which also contains some pearls for us older folks.  This post on passion was especially illuminating.  I was always uncomfortable with the “chase my passions” option.  I can’t say that it’s wrong for everyone, but I can say that it’s wrong for me.  As a kid, I would always quit things once they moved to a level beyond my natural talents.  It was the same story every time: piano, swimming, Aikido, horseback riding.  I think the truth about me is that I want the lifestyle of someone who has put the work in to become an expert in something, but I don’t actually want to put any work in.  And I get easily frustrated and down on myself when my performance isn’t preternaturally perfect.  That is both immature of me and a recipe for professional disaster.  I am a grown woman with a very intellectually challenging interest, which I believe can become a passion with mastery (or at least a high level of competence).  In addition, it is a lucrative interest, a globally relevant interest, and I am lucky enough that my current position has everything to do with my interest, and that I have great mentors, who I believe will help me get where I want to go.

That said, I’m still not sure where I ultimately want to go.  I’m still thinking writer, or maybe professor — or, since it’s a “publish or perish” world for academics, maybe both.  But it does feel good to commit to where I am for the next few years.  Now that I see my job as an on-the-job PhD. program (I credit Judith with that analogy), working late or on weekends isn’t so bad.  The commercial issues behind the contract provisions really are interesting (even if the contract provisions still make me want to shove a sharp object in my eye), and the faster and the more thoroughly I learn the stuff, the more opportunities I’ll have later on.

Through this whole process I’ve learned a ton about myself, but also about networking and self-marketing.  Sadly, attractive, slender women really do make it further in the corporate world.  I’ve seen it a number of times in my own workplace.  That said, this unfortunate reality, when paired with my new-found career commitment, has been a great reason to invest in myself and my appearance, which feels good.  I’ve been going to the gym, loving up my husband, and doing a ton of shopping.  What a novelty, this self-assuredness!

I would like very much for this clarity/euphoria/mania to last.  I would like to believe in something, keep it in focus, work for it, achieve it and have the outcome be as good as expected.  I hope that this time, because I’m focusing on an interest instead of an outcome, my self-awareness and honesty will work with serendipity to open unexpected doors.  I hope my path will unfold before me as a result of many small decisions that I make along the way and that, as a result, the life I end up with will be one that I’ve tailored for myself, that will reflect my core values of family, friendship, leisure, learning and mastery.  I choose leave this dream unhindered by cost-benefit analyses and “realistic”, pessimistic or cynical hedging.  I choose to just let it be and expect the best.

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6 Responses to “My Career as a Marathon, Not a Race”

  1. 1 mk

    Very well written. You’ve got all the ingredients for success. Just believe in yourself and you’ll be fine. You’re an inspiration.

  2. You’re awesome!

  3. 3 Nina

    I was wondering where you were! I’m glad you wrote an update and I’m really happy that you’re in a better place now with this newfound clarity and self-assuredness. I hope it lasts and if it doesn’t, I hope you are able to conjure the feeling up and remind yourself of it if you ever start to doubt yourself or have an overwhelming day. You’re a great writer and really intelligent. I think you’re plan of taking in the best aspects about the career you have and using it for all you can to benefit yourself and learn more about yourself and your goals is a very sound one and one more people should try to think about. 🙂

  4. Glad to help! And I like to hear you sounding happy with things. What you say makes a lot of sense–go you for finding a way to turn your current situation into a path to get where you want to go!

  5. 5 bro

    Mom always used to say, and now regrets that she ever did, that, “you should do what you love and the rest will take care of itself”. Seemingly simplistic, but let’s think about it a moment, shall we? You do what you love, and it is not work that you hate, so you enjoy doing it, get better at it, and then you reach a high level of facility with it, and SHAZAM!… you’re happy – possibly even proficient and well paid as an added bonus. Or, you get bored and move on to something else, which is fine too. But “success” and “happiness” is largely self driven, so what motivates you is not a neurotic fear of not being good enough, or meeting other people’s standards, but rather…joy for joy’s sake, excellence for your own gratification and personal growth. Your challenge is to go outside the main well known professional categories and find out what that is for you, and to listen to yourself when unhappy and “if you don’t like something, then quit complaining and do something about it” – another Mom-ism from her radical feminist Zionist pre-Fox Republican days. This is where pills are bad. The unhappiness should be a motivator. But that’s an aside, and I’m not gonna ride that tangent right now because I’m procrastinating too much already.

    Cheers!

  6. Sometimes happiness means finding joy in where you are at currently and seeing how it can lead to something better. I hope it is working out for you.


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