As many of you know, I’ve been wrestling with finding a new career path over the past year. I wanted to unpack this process a little as I’m sure there are many people grappling with whether their current job or career is the right one.
At school I excelled at mathematics and languages, particularly French. I loved mathematics because the challenge of problem-solving appeals to me. I also loved the beauty of language and the variety of ways of expressing something. I adored doing the poetry and the literature. We even wrote and acted out a play at school. At an all-girls school I was a very unconvincing man with a puny fake mustache.
So when it came to choosing a career, I felt I had to follow one of two paths. I considered entering the diplomatic corps because that’s what they suggested in those days if you loved languages. I don’t like people all that much so that was out. So I pursued commerce with an IT major as a more practical option.
I ended up with a solid degree and I entered the workplace as an eager graduate. I became a business analyst in software and found the job to be really rewarding. I worked hard on bridging the gap between the technical team and the business team (who don’t always communicate well). I loved the balance between some time with people and some time alone, developing detailed specifications around how the software works. The beauty of software is that it can really help people and it is a blend between creativity (problem solving) and precision.
And then it was time to advance up the ladder. I took on a leadership position and had the most spectacular people working with me. There was a while when the team gelled so well and that we achieved so much together.
Something important happened at that time in that I had a baby. That experience changed me in a few ways. For one, I got postnatal depression that took ten months to diagnose. Also, my values changed. My child was now more important than advancing my career and ticking other people’s boxes.
After a year of average performance, I left to join the family business. This post is not long enough to explain how much that affected me and how the stress made me sick. The short version is that I developed an auto-immune condition of the thyroid. I typically address the root cause of problems so I knew that I needed to alter my life in order to get well. It’s not enough to take the pills and leave the root cause in place.
That meant I needed a new career. What a difficult place to be since my software trade offered me the opportunity of earning good money as a consultant. But it brought me no joy. And after the extreme stress, I needed more joy. I went through a long and difficult process of reshaping my identity and figuring out what and who I was without being a managing director, business owner and IT professional.
I needed to find more flow in my life. I read a lot of books on how to be happy and I did a lot of soul searching. I identified my strengths, my brain profile and the things I love doing. I made a list, yes, an actual list and I looked at the things that make me happy. I worked through a book called Design the Life you Love and that helped me to understand that freedom and flexibility are key to my new work. No more cubicles!
I decided to do more of what brought me flow and that’s how this blog was started. Writing is a way for me to express myself and to speak my truth. I knew that I had been swallowing my opinions and feelings for a long time and I thought it no coincidence that my illness originates in the throat.
I sought out a lot of alternative healers in order to address any emotional issues that might have caused my illness. I didn’t want anything to stand in the way of getting better and of finding a new path.
People also told me to think about what I wanted to do as a child. I wanted to be a choreographer. I loved the aspect of designing the steps and coming up with something amazing. But my parents didn’t encourage that line of thinking. Something practical would be better. Mark Manson encourages readers in this blog post to just get on with it and stop making excuses (not for sensitive readers though): http://markmanson.net/passion.
My favourite part of the post above is how he says “every job sucks sometimes.” You have to figure out the disadvantages of the job and whether you’re willing to put up with them. Writing content is wonderful. The pay is awful and the editing process is sheer torture. But in the end it’s worth it and you end up with a product that you’re so proud of.
Some parts of changing path have been difficult. My identity needed to shift and I think that has happened already. I’m happy being me, the writer. It is hard to embrace a career in the creative field as it’s not really taken very seriously by many. But I think it takes a great deal of courage to expose your work to people, especially my story which is painful and personal.
If I look at the options I had, I’m convinced that this is the only logical path I could have followed. I could have tried to get back into the corporate world but I don’t belong there anymore. The stress of deadlines is not what I needed when recovering from a stress-induced illness. I think I would have ended up here regardless. Certainly, it’s not ideal that I don’t have income as I have bills to pay and I wouldn’t recommend simply quitting your job to follow your passion blindly. But I’m certain that the money will follow as long as I am doing what I love. I feel energised by the work I do now and that sits well with me.
If you’re feeling torn and concerned that your job or career no longer fits, perhaps it’s time to investigate alternatives. Try doing something you have always wanted to do, even if it’s in your spare time.