When The Message Hits You: My Career Is Up To Me

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I was not yet in the working world when I heard my first story of job-related tragedy.  A lady my parents knew had lost her long-term job very suddenly. The experience messed with her in a big way. My parents were worried about their friend.

At the time my parents’ friend lost her long-term job, I had only had kid-type jobs that I didn’t care about much. I loved the kids I babysat for and liked some of their parents. The post-babysitting jobs had mostly been boring and borderline insulting retail and fast food jobs.

I knew both my parents had a higher-level attachment to their jobs than I had ever had. I could hear it in their conversations over dinner.

Once I started working full-time myself I saw how a good job can grab hold of you and suck you in emotionally and intellectually. That’s a good thing, I believe. It’s good for us, our employees, our customers and our families and friends when our jobs mean more than just a way to pay the rent.

It’s fun to dive into your  work and love it. It’s empowering and makes you feel triumphant, knowing that you’re doing what you should be doing not only for your employer but for yourself. It’s a great feeling. When a job like that disappears or turns sour, it’s a devastating event.

There’s a different kind of job-related pain that hits you when you have a job but you know it’s not the right job for you. There’s a third flavor of career pain that strikes when you work your tail off for years chasing a promotion and it doesn’t come through. You feel bilked.

One day it hits you that your career is in your own hands and no one else’s. You may have the world’s greatest manager, a terrific person you admire and respect. That’s a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t mean you can lose sight of your career. It’s still your career. It’s still your journey.

Over time the message sinks in that it’s up to you to take charge of the rest of your  working life as well as your goals, your dreams and your income. Every bit of that weight rests on your shoulders, but when you get the message “It’s really up to me” the rest of your career may feel less like a weight, and more like an opportunity.

It can be scary to step into the unknown. It can be scary to change jobs, change careers or step out of the full-time-employment world altogether and start your own business.

I was one of the most dyed-in-the-wool corporate people I knew, for my entire full-time career. I laughed at the idea of working for myself. “Not me, honey!” I said to anyone who suggested that I strike out on my own. “I’m not interested.”

It took time for me to see that it wasn’t that I wasn’t interested, but rather than I was too scared of the prospect of self-employment to even have a conversation about it.

I thought self-employment would be too hard, and too frustrating.

I didn’t want to have to answer the question, “Can I make it on my own, without a corporate structure to support and guide me?” I realized I’d have to answer the question one day, or always wonder.

It finally hit me that I had skills and talents I wasn’t using because no one had invented a job that called for them. Why would I want to be limited to performing jobs that had already been invented? Maybe that universe was too small.

I had to invent the job I wanted to do and that I saw a need for.

You may be in the same situation. You may decide to start consulting full-time or part-time and take control of your own career. It might be a little scary, the way every cool and exciting adventure is scary at first. You take a step, and the fear abates every so slightly. You say,  “You know what? I can do this!” and then you take another step.

Is this the right time to take a step for yourself?


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