March 15, 2007
The unlikely candidate
I've always admired investment banker/doctor/accountant/lawyer/teacher/artist-types those who'd set their paths out early on and pursued their objectives outright
I, on the other hand, have had a seemingly somewhat ... unexpected career path.
Since graduating college (with an English degree) I've changed jobs on average every two years. I've worked in media, nonprofit, consulting and even finance. I've considered an MBA, an MSW, the LSATs; I've been a junior this, a senior that, a teammate, a leader, a student, a freelancer, a mentor, a consultant and a peon. I've bookmarked mediabistro.com and hotjobs.com, and my resume is typically updated.
And at each point that I've begun a new job -- and new job search -- I grieve, I deny, I regret, I celebrate, I cling and, eventually, I let go. Then, I chalk it up to life experience.
The process is at once thrilling as it is exhausting. It's also strangely familiar.
See, my love life has followed a somewhat parallel track.
By the time I started dating, most of my peers were also already well into their relationships. So while they were eventually settling down, I was first learning how to be a girlfriend.
I've been exploring my opportunities ever since.
Problem is: Unlike prepping for eventual retirement, at some point, we stop being too green.
Sometimes -- like when I'm juggling too many half-committed plans, and I really just want to go home -- I'll reflect on some peers, and I'll envy their peace of mind and seeming satisfaction.
It's never been intentional, but I've dated assorted beaus for weeks, months even years. I've had heartbreaks and have broken hearts. I could go months alone or date constantly; I'd stay focused for periods, but experience life's inevitable blips, followed by the required recovery period.
To me, mere satisfaction -- in job or life -- has always meant stagnancy. But, as we all know, the interview process is exhausting. Besides being on your best behavior, you're subject to constant judgment. Confidence is imperative, and things are often not as they seem.
Plus, while what's up-front might rock your world, it may be only part of what you're seeking; a person may seem ideal, but the timing isn't right; you might be willing to "compromise" (or sacrifice) some characteristics but not others. You may, simply, not be in love. And so on.
"Mere" satisfaction seems increasingly appealing.
But I wonder if and when the interviews will really end?
True, most candidates eventually land some kind of job. They're typically imperfect, but some just enjoy the steady income/benefits until something better comes along; others will be satisfied -- awaiting vesting and plaques and anniversaries. Many do it for their family. For some candidates, the search concluded years ago. For others, it lasts years.
And the more baby announcements I get, the more I'm reminded that I'm still in the early rounds. For now, my family still consists of ... myself.
I'll admit that as I get older, spending weekends in Home Depot and on play-dates seems less appealing. But that's not to say that spending my time arranging my own play-dates (and writing these articles) are my end-goals.
I still go home not to change diapers, but rather to obsess about my too many plans for the week. I can be lazy or hyper. I can date or be single. I can grab last minute drinks or hit the gym. It's my choice. With this admirable freedom, however, come shackles of the unknown -- from which I may never break free.
Yes, each of my breakups has engendered more self-sufficiency and direction. It's also made me increasingly both selective and open-minded. I can more easily identify what I do and don't want and remain willing to explore.
A few years ago -- after over-working as an underling, I took a position with more reasonable hours. I soon outgrew my position, but the job market bubble had burst. I started stressing about wasting my time, wanting to know exactly where I'd be in five years.
At some point I, too, would like to know the joys of marital spats and family vacations. I'd like to experience why people get wedding-obsessed. I want to use my vacation days for a vacation with someone special.
More than ever, I envied my directed peers.
I wanted a life-plan.
Ultimately, I followed my heart, using my spare time to pursue my hobbies, volunteer and write. I also had my longest relationship to-date.
And when we broke up, I found a job I finally adored, but not before considering moving abroad, joining four sports leagues and tearing a ligament.
Alas, seems to me, my life plan is not having one.
From a romantic standpoint, I have opportune experiences that inspire and educate.
But the blips all too often throw off even my unplanned plan. (Luckily, details like this don't typically show up on resumes.)
So years after my first peon job, and at the wings of an overwhelming yet rewarding new one, I am finally perfectly more-than-merely satisfied.
Sure, I wake up earlier than I'd like, but I get to travel and love what I do. Plus, I finally have my very own office.
The notion of a long-term stint is both thrilling and unnerving, and it's hard to say whether this will be the last place I'll ever work. But while I'm fairly certain I'll always go for the brass ring; it's the platinum one I'm really waiting to be sure about.
D. Lehon is a freelance writer living in New York City. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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