Two weeks ago one of my undergraduate students asked me what advice I could give her about building a successful career. It was a broad and flattering questions that made me think about the last eleven years more deeply that I had in a while. I went to college when I was sixteen and then graduate school when I was nineteen and then when I was twenty-one I dropped out of graduate school and got my first job. I was a program manager for a local LGBT People of Color non-profit. We did advocacy work, had a domestic violence hotline, a program for queer parents and other related efforts. We worked all over the region and in fact worked in such rural communities that I had to learn to drive so that I could reach them.
After a year there I learned that what I needed from my workplace was more structure. A lot more structure, systems and processes. This prompted me to go work for the government. The burearcry of local government is a sight to behold - but I found it oddly comforting. And for two years I was a health and human services policy analyst for the county. I discovered my penchant for quantititve analyitics -- and also my distaste for office politics.
These two early career experiences taught me to see each job as an exploration. As an opportunity to understand what makes me tic and what type of work, culture, supervisor I would need to thrive professionally.
The next chapter of my career was all about making a life in New York City. When I moved to NYC in April 2009 I didn't know anyone except for my girlfriend at the time (and we broke up about three months into my move). It was such a hard period of time early on - becuase it was the middle of the great recession. I applied for over 50 jobs and didn't hear back from anyone until I applied for my 59th job. After my interview for that job - my interviewer said that I was overqualified for the position but that she would help me get a job at the United Nations where she knew some people. That act of kindness completely changed my trajectory in New York. And for the next six years I worked in New York City as a fundraiser specializing in individual giving.
Thankfully over those six years I learned (a) be kind to others (b) be persistant and (c) take the time to map out a potential career path because it will help you make better decisions about what to do next.
My current chapter began about two years ago - when I made the decision to leave the comfort of established organizations and branch out as a social entreprenuer. I joined a start-up based on the West Coast -- and fell madly in love with the adrenaline rush that comes from starting something from scratch. The need to be resourceful, thorough and adaptive gave me a sense of purpose that I hadn't felt previously in my career. But it also taught me that even ambitious people need to have boundaries - and a life outside of work. Which I found difficult to do as a remote employee. But truth be told - for years I had been a happy workaholic and at somepoint, that just got old.
Now a days - my work feels balanced, engaging and creative. But it was these early lessons that informed the journey. And I'm thankful for them. Thank goodness for the gift of failure and the opportunity to pivot!
Simone aka The Management Geek