Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What DO I Want to Be When I Grow Up?

A friend emailed me, asking about how the hunt was going and asking about what my ideal position would be.

That's a toughie, actually.

I thought long and hard about it and responded thusly:

Gah, to be almost 50 and still grappling with "What do I want to be when I grow up?"

What a long, strange trip this is turning out to be (thank you, Grateful Dead).

Well, I'll tell you that I was happiest professionally when I was:
  • Challenged. Let me be comfortable in some of my tasks, but also let me stretch. Let me figure things out on my own. Let's try something new and different, even just for a while, even if we abandon it later for the tried-and-true method. 
  • Valued/engaged. And not just monetarily. My voice needs to mean something. My opinions need to be valued and considered as worthwhile input and not just useless commentary. 
  • Excited/enthused about what I'm doing. Sure, there are going to be pockets of less-than-desirable tasks, but the overall picture has to charge me up. I need to know that in the great scheme of things, what I'm writing about or researching or reporting has to matter. It's got to make some kind of difference. And that's some of where my last employer completely jumped the tracks for me. We were being charged with the mantra of "growth and prosperity," but the only growth and prosperity I seemed to be contributing to were the senior officers'. That's not enough for me. The satisfaction that I'm seeking needs to go way beyond what comes in a direct deposit slip 52 times a year. 
  • Kept busy. I've developed a lot of skill at a lot of different styles of communications, and I seemed to be happiest when I was juggling all of them. Short-term projects. Long-term projects. Bring it on! I have learned this about myself over the years: I seem to have a very short attention span, and when I'm bored, I just die inside. Any enthusiasm just dries up and I become a shambling drone. 
  • Creative. I enjoy finding more than one way up a mountain. I may not even choose the easiest way if it turns out to be the more interesting way. 
  • Artistic. Yes I can write. But I've also got talents and interests in music and photography and art and literature and teaching and learning and interacting. And a job that can encompass more of those facets stands a better chance of keeping me tuned in.
  • Balanced. Dad of three. Husband of 24 years (just May 21st). Owner/handler of a faithful dog. Church musician and composer. There are lots of me wrapped up in this me. I need that balance. I don't want to log 80 hours a week behind the desk or travel weekly to Zimbabwe, even if I sometimes feel I would enjoy the cash that would go along with it. 
  • Surrounded by smartness. Wit. Intelligence. Insight. I also have learned this about myself: I do not seem to suffer fools gladly. Put me in a situation where I'm told to do something -- without any real explanation why -- and I'm going to wither on the vine if I see no value in it (other than "because I said so" or "because I'm paying you to do so"). I like an environment where I bring skills A,B, and C to the table, and the colleague to my left brings skills 5, 6, and 7, and the colleague to my right brings skills Groucho, Harpo, and Chico. I do well what they cannot, and vice-versa. And we all learn from each other. 
  • The beneficiary of loyalty and the builder of trust. This is something I lost along the way at my last employer's, and I believe it was a huge contributor to my downfall there 
  • In an environment of useful, helpful, insightful feedback. The response to my work at toward the end was all negative and not conducive at all to improvement: "I don't like this. It's off-message." "Well, how is it off-message?" "I don't know, but it's not what we want to say or how we want to say it." It's too long. It's too short. It's too negative. It's not what this piece is designed to do (despite the fact that beforehand, they had no idea what the piece was supposed to do). I was zapped for using the word slog. As in: "Personal investment choices will be guided by whether you think the overall economy is on the upswing or that it will continue to slog along." My direct superior was convinced -- because she didn't know the meaning of the word -- that nobody else would, either. See note above about my inability to suffer fools gladly. This also happened with the words converge and demonstrable, which was mangled in its pronunciation into "deh-mon-STRAIGHT-a-bull." But then again, this was from a person who blithely and repeatedly mispronounced especially as "exspecially." 
  • Able to interact 1:1 with folks. One of my most favorite tasks was interviewing staff for the features in the various company newsletters I've headed. Tell me your story. Everybody has one. Everybody loves a good one. Tell me yours, that I may faithfully bring it to everyone else. I've enjoyed this over the course of my career all the way from interviewing the most basic entry-level employee all the way up to CEOs and COOs and even a few celebs along the way (I had a newspaper internship back in college where I got to interview the actress who, as a child, played Bonnie Blue Butler in Gone with the Wind. Talk about being jazzed up by an assignment!). 
I'm not sure if all of the above is possible in a job. Or if even any of the above is possible in a job. I did touch it once. At a life insurance company. I was given a ton of leeway and freedom and had a ball. My colleagues were bright and smart. My director gave us enormously long leashes -- in fact, to put it in dog parlance, he installed an invisible fence and let us freely wander all over the yard. He also backed us to senior management 100%, even if we had to have a come-to-Jesus meeting privately later. He cheered our successes, helped us post-mortem our failures, and became a trusted friend along the way.

If I could find that best of all possible worlds (thank you, Dr. Pangloss) again, I would be tempted to work there for no compensation at all.

Of course, Eileen and the girls (and even the dog) might have something to say about that, but you know what I mean.

They say that if you find a job you love, you'll never work a day in your life. I've been living the exact converse of that: Endure a job you despise, and you'll slog your way to the grave. I can define /slog/ if you need me to! I will say that this blog is proving to be a fun exercise in some/all of the above. It is no work at all, the stories just flow effortlessly, which must prove that it represents aspects of a job I could love.

But professional bloggers that aren't writing someone else's best-practice this or trusted-advisor that are as scarce as hen's teeth, arent' they?

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