What Happened to My Career Path?

Liz Ryan

CEO and Founder, Human Workplace

Dear Liz,

I'm very frustrated and confused in my career. I worked the worst combination of jobs ever to get through community college first and then to earn my four-year degree.

I don't mean to praise myself but it was a huge effort. I graduated with my BA when I was 27, eleven years ago.

My full-time post-college career started out fine. I got a good job at an investment firm near my house that has investments in gold mines and other businesses.

I learned everything about that office and got really good at handling the customer calls, understanding the systems and basically keeping the office running. I did all the purchasing and supervised our front desk receptionist.

I was just starting to get involved in the finances when I got what seemed like a better job opportunity. It dropped in my lap.

I guess I didn't appreciate how good I had it in my investment-firm job. I left there after five years, when I was 32. 

I took a Client Services Manager job at a temporary staffing firm. The opportunity was sold to me as a step up from my office manager job, but I guess I had rose-colored glasses on.

My job at the temp firm was to work directly with the employers who hired our temporary workers. That was tough duty. 

The job looked glamorous from the outside but it wasn't. It was grueling, there was way too much work and some of the clients were horrible to work with. 

Also, the energy in the temp firm (part of a national chain) wasn't good. I quit that job without having another job.

I took a part-time bookkeeper job which is funny because I'm no bookkeeper. After that I went to work for the Workforce Development Center in town. I liked working with the job applicants but I didn't like the bureaucracy or the culture in that job (and the horrible pay didn't help).

I tried to hang on to the job anyway because my resume was so spotty already by then, but then they had a layoff at the Workforce Development Center, and I'm not surprised I was one of the people who got let go.

Now I'm back to doing contract work for the same gold-mining investment firm I used to work for. They are so nice to me and it does feel comfortable but I am also sure that this is not my destiny or my dream career.

When someone asks me "What do you want to do?" I have no answer.

I don't have ideas, I don't have any insights and I don't have any mojo left in me.

I hang on to "I know that I can do a lot of things in a lot of professional situations -- things that people need to have done" but the practical application of that abstract thought is not showing up for me.

I remember feeling successful but it's been ages since I felt that way.

I am feeling hopeless and almost out of the mainstream of working people because of my up-and-down career history, especially recently. I feel like I've been squeezed out of the working world despite my efforts to stay in it.

I don't feel like I'm good at anything right now. What am I doing wrong? What am I missing?

I am thirty-eight. Shouldn't I have a clear career path by now, a series of better jobs with at least a little more decision-making latitude and hopefully a little more money in each job, or am I stuck in the past?

I feel like a failure. I've fallen and I can't get up! I would love your insights.
Thanks so much Liz,

Pauline 

Dear Pauline,

Let's back up and look at your path from a neutral perspective. You've been alive for 38 years and you've had many experiences. You've overcome some big obstacles in your life already.

You may be worrying over the question "How legitimate or worthy is my career path likely to look to an outsider -- someone who doesn't already know me?"

When we are contemplating or preparing for a job search, that is often one of the first questions we ask ourselves.

The more important question to explore is "How do I feel about my path and my learning in life so far -- and what do those experiences and my instincts tell me about my next, best career move?"

As for the first question ("Will my resume look satisfactory to employers?"), it is impossible to answer as well as pointless to ponder.

There is no such audience as "all employers." There are only individual, human hiring managers with problems (many of which you could solve).

You are not here on earth to please everyone, but rather to find the people who resonate at the same frequency you do. They are out there, I promise you!

The minute you see the power in your story, other people will see it too.

You've survived ups and downs and you've and gotten through tough times by using your wits and your instincts.

Don't worry about impressing anyone or measuring up based on what you think a mythical hiring authority might want to see on your resume.

You are impressive, Pauline -- but your flame won't shine such that anyone else can see it until you feel it yourself!

Let all your worries about your career history go. Anybody who doesn't see your pluck and fortitude isn't anybody you have time for, anyway.

What do you feel called to do next? Rather than focusing on the question "What other jobs might someone stoop to hire me for?" you can ask "What am I interested in, curious about and/or motivated to explore in my career?" and let your passions guide you, rather than random help-wanted ads. 

You get to design your career, but it takes energy and commitment to do it. If you let the four winds guide your steps you won't be in control of anything. That's no way to live your life! 

The number one thing that will energize your job search is the clarity of your career direction -- one you've chosen versus stumbled into.

Figuring out what you want to do next is a reflective process. You won't find the answer "What's my next career move?" in a book or an online quiz.

Your first move is to retrace your steps. You have to go back to your path -- the twisty, complicated path you may feel embarrassed to claim right now. 

Look how you've surfed the waves, even gigantic waves that threatened to knock you down!

You have nothing to apologize for. It's just the opposite -- but you have to see the power in your story before anyone else will.

Nearly every living person has something they'd like to hide.

We all have our insecurities -- aspects of ourselves that we're embarrassed about and would rather keep to ourselves.

For some people it's a zig-zag career history. For other people it's their age or their weight or their looks or their family background or their financial situation or their teeth or their less than perfect educational credentials.

Everybody has doubts about their own worth in the eyes of others.

Your job is to stop worrying about what a hiring manager might think of you and zero in on your chosen direction and mission in life, instead.

You are 38. That is the perfect age to decide what to do with the rest of your life and career. The exploration is the point!

Your exploration will grow the muscles and mojo your next big adventure will require of you.

When you take the steps to decide your own future, the right people will show up to help you along. You're in reinvention -- a scary but exhilarating place! 

We'll be cheering you on from the sidelines, Pauline.

Congratulations on shedding your old skin and slipping into your next chapter.

Best,
Liz 

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