|Career Thoughts for Young and Old
||[Nov. 11th, 2007|05:31 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
I originally wrote this for folzgold, but it's ridiculously long. I hope I didn't utterly overwhelm him with it. I also forgot to add URLs for the people I mention within - just did that.
I'm putting it here because I need to think about some of this stuff harder. BUT I've been meaning to write an article for a while about those of us who have many interests and feel stifled by the requirement society seems to have for us to engage in just one job/career, and this is the closest I've come so far. Maybe it'll encourage me to explore some of these topics in more detail. Or at least remind me that I've been meaning to do so.
This also harks back to my thoughts on being The Modern Factotum, unvisited in almost exactly a year (originally here, then here).
This idea, that we can do many things, either have many jobs or have a passionate interest in many things, is growing in form and garnering attention. There are now three books (that I know of) covering the topic and while I've only completed two of them (haven't finished Alboher's), I'm a big fan of all three.
Anyway, this is a random, unorganized pile of advice directed at one person who's thinking about what to do after finishing college, but much of it can be applied to almost anyone who feels like he or she has too many interests to pursue or is trapped by his/her job.
One of the things I'm working on is becoming a career coach, so let me share some stuff with you.
1. There are pressures and expectations on you that you haven't even begun to figure out. Don't let hidden assumptions trick you into panicking.
(Some examples of hidden assumptions: you have to pick a career RIGHT NOW, you have to find one thing that you're good at and stick with it, you have to plan things out several years in advance, etc.)
2. You're NOT alone in this strange way you see the world as full of options, with your interests wildly diverging.
Barbara Sher calls us "Scanners" while Margaret Lobenstine calls us "Renaissance Souls" and Susan Henderson calls us "Successful Dilettantes."
What they're talking about is the idea that a person can have many interests. In fact, there are different types of people - some who pursue a one-career track all their lives, some who pursue sequential career tracks (programmer for five years, lawyer for five years, teacher for ten years), and some who feel the need to switch constantly - and there is no one-size-fits-all way of pursuing a career. (And there are many more types than the ones I mention here.)
Both Sher & Lobenstine have books that help people like us to accept ourselves as legitimate (and not indecisive nutters who just need to buckle down and focus on one thing and we would be fine) and make suggestions on adding structure to our interests while learning how to make a living at the same time.
Marci Alboher wrote a whole book (One Person/Multiple Careers) on what she calls "the slash effect" in which she discusses people like a high school teacher/model, lawyer/theater director, pilates instructor/art buyer, police officer/personal trainer, grade school teacher/real estate investor, etc. Some of her examples have three, four, five different careers going on at the same time, some in ascendancy while others are in decline. Some careers are seasonal (like ski instructors or teachers who get summers off), some just reflect our shifting passions.
Barbara Sher's book Refuse to Choose and Margaret Lobenstine's The Renaissance Soul have suggestions on how to handle your multiple interests, whether you want some to be jobs, some to be hobbies, and some to just be interests.
I might suggest that you start with Lobenstine, since she has a whole chapter (chapter 8) on "Strategies for Young People" which includes recent graduates from high school or college. You should be able to find the book at the library, but if not, I'll loan you my copy.
3. You may have some underlying motivations to some of your interests, even ones that look completely unrelated.
For instance, in working through Sher's book, I came to realize that the root of many of my interests is HELPING PEOPLE. When I examined my motivations for doing Internet Security work, for editing, for coaching, for many of the things that I like to do, the core value that I'm fulfilling is my urge to help others. So I keep that in mind when I'm looking at a new opportunity. I ask myself, "is this job gonna help me help someone?" because if it's not going to do that, of fulfill my creative urges or teach me a new and interesting thing, it's not really going to make me happy.
4. Don't freak out.
Maybe this should've been number 1?
You might get a job just to make enough money to afford an apartment, food, and amusements while you explore the world, seeking your next step. This is called a "good enough" job, one that doesn't tax you or make you miserable, it just provides money for you to pursue other interests.
You might also get a job that teaches you about some element of another interest, like a would-be reporter working in the mail room of a newspaper. If she keeps her eyes open, she's going to learn a lot about how a newspaper works, and that can only help her pursue her interest in journalism (or help her realize that she really hates daily news and wants to pursue longer articles, like features for magazines).
5. Seeing your job as a means to an end can keep you from getting wrapped up in the politics of the work place, since you've got other interests.
You have a lot of friends and acquaintances who've been in the workplace for years, several decades even, and you've probably heard a lot of moaning and groaning and observed a great deal of misery on their parts.
This is in part because there's not a lot of career counseling that focuses on living a balanced life, following your passions, and saving your energy for things that are really important: friends, food, fun, love, etc. It's not an easy thing to learn, especially when you have a lot of years of bad habits following you around.
But you'll get to circumvent a lot of that by starting out with energy, purpose, and creativity.
6. Some practical junk.
6a. You have a lot of friends who can help you figure stuff out. In fact, you probably have too many friends, each with their own very loud opinions. Give yourself time to think things through. Listen to your heart.
6b. Invest while you're young. For instance, you can put aside $20 or $25 every month into a savings account that you never touch. (If you put it in a different bank from your regular bank, this will keep you from messing with the money unless you REALLY need to.)
Every few years, when it hits $1K, turn it into a long-term CD. That money could help you launch future projects, or it could be part of your retirement. (I really wish I'd started investing when I was young.)
6c. A budget will help you figure out how much money you really need to make.
To determine a budget, keep your receipts for a few weeks (or months, however long you want) or write everything down. Just dump every single receipt you get from everything you do into a box, along with any bills you pay and notes to yourself ("chipped in $15 for a present for our advisor" or "gave homeless $7 in change this week"), then pull them all out on a cold and rainy Sunday and put them into an Excel spreadsheet. Try to remember miscellaneous stuff you've had to pay for in the past few years (shoes, climbing harness, presents for your brother and sister) and give that its own column.
How much do you spend on groceries? Eating out? Art supplies? Gas? Entertainment (movies, books, magazines, condoms, etc.)? Cell phone?
Try an extrapolate from your sample. So, each week for three weeks you spend $23, $37, and $41 on groceries. Your average is $34/week. But maybe you didn't buy staples any of those weeks, just extras. Make sure you include a week where you had to get pasta, milk, bread, a case of ramen, etc.
Rent is easy, because it's the same every month. Heating bills, gas, electricity, water/sewer, all go up in the winter so this is the perfect time to figure those out and take an average. If you budget for the high end, you'll definitely have enough for the milder weather in the late spring through early fall.
You figure out a budget, by just looking at bills and receipts, and then you figure out how much money you need to make (a little more than your budget to include periodic expenses like new clothes, getting your computer fixed, buying an upgrade to your cell phone, etc.).
I'll bet you could survive on as little as $10,000 to $20,000 a year, especially if you're sharing apartment expenses with friends. If you know your art will bring in around $2,000/year, then you might take a nonprofit job for $18,000/year over the soul-sucking corporate job for $20,000/year.
7. Nothing is permanent, no job is forever, no choice will plunge you into a permanent pit of despair.
If you make a mistake or just realize that you want something different, you can change jobs, change careers, change directions, whatever you need to do.
I guess a lot of this could be summed up as, give yourself permission to make mistakes and enjoy the experience.