Finding your career purpose can feel like climbing an enchanting, though unpredictable, mountain.
I’m typically not one to ponder the greater meaning of my existence. Life is complex, but the purpose of mine has always seemed simple: be loving, show kindness, create beauty. Of these objectives, I’ve always been sure.
Since graduate school, however, I’ve been trying to parse out my career path, a far less simple task. Initially, I thought I wanted a 9-to-5 administrative job. In my mind, this was a “normal” job full of predictability and structure. I needed a break from the uncertainty of academia—and the ever-present feeling that I couldn’t just “clock out” at the end of the day.
So I got one of these jobs. I arrived at work at the same time every morning. I responded to emails, answered a multi-line telephone, and filed things. Ah, filing—it was my favorite kind of office-y task. After months of doing this, however, I felt that my mind was atrophying at long as I sat in that black leather swivel chair. Rare was the opportunity for creativity. I was, for the most part, a filing robot with a Master’s in English.
Around this time, I started writing for Peaceful Dumpling. There wasn’t much time for blogging, but I developed an efficient, fulfilling routine: I did social media while I ate breakfast, dashed to work, pushed papers around and watched the clock, dashed home, and wrote a post. I loved my work away from work and thought, If only I can do this full time! One day.
Of course, at the time, venturing into working-from-home land wasn’t financially practical. My fiancé and I were lucky enough to have a safety net (our parents) in the event of something dire, but other than that, we were just getting by. My career purpose seemed clear during those months—it was just a matter of hanging in there.
By some academia miracle, my fiancé was hired by a four-year university and would finally receive a real paycheck. (Nothing too grand, but we would no longer be hovering around the poverty line.) We uprooted ourselves from our beloved Oregon and settled in south Texas.
We figured it would be wise if I still worked, so I picked up a freshman composition class at the university and started working half time at the school’s writing center. I initially thought that these were yet more placeholder jobs. With teaching especially, I ready to be done before the semester began.
But despite boughts of classroom anxiety, and that intermittent feeling that I was not just not reaching my students, I couldn’t help but feel that I was somehow in the right place. Having a physical place to go in morning, full of newly familiar faces (who were also English nerds), was what I needed after moving miles away from home. I was also being intellectually challenged in a way that seems distinct to teaching and working with students.
This really scrambled my emotions regarding my career purpose. My mind feels split across the two fields, and it can be jolting to shift gears from one to the other because they feel like different worlds (even considering the extent to which they may inform one another). At times I see myself working exclusively at the university, diving headfirst into lesson plans and showing students the beauty of something called the “quotation sandwich.” At other times, I’m convinced that my future is rooted in the blogasphere, which glitters with fast-paced tweets, witty posts, and pin-worthy images. I’m often impatient to have it all figured out. Wasn’t I supposed to just love blogging?
As it turns out, as far as my career is concerned, maybe not. Perhaps I’m supposed to love multiple things—at least for the moment. Yes, a part of me longs to have this one thing I can put everything into, but another part of me understands that it’s okay to try different things, combine them, juggle them. I just have to remind myself of this daily.
My career journey has thus far felt like a hike up a mountain—a particular mountain, in fact—on that sits by my aunt and uncle’s cabin. It’s about a three-mile jaunt to the top, but it always feels like it’s much longer. At times, it’s very steep, at other times, less so. The geography morphs as you ascend. The ground begins as large rocks, then turns to soft dirt, then back to rocks. About halfway through, you’re sure that the top is just around the corner. It’s not. One minute, you catch a glimpse of the lake below. Another minute, dense trees obscure it. Throughout, you shed then reapply layers of clothing, stuff your hands into your pockets, let your hair down, pull it up, let it down.
In this way, although the path is mostly linear, it’s nonetheless varied and surprising, and no one would want it another way. When I think of my career path from a grounded place, I know that I need to think of the journey as an end in itself. Ultimately, I’m hoping for that gorgeous, clear view at the top—the place were you stop moving for a minute and just stay—but I don’t need to rush there. I will trust that I will arrive if I let myself move through different terrain, different roles, and different, sometimes simultaneous, purposes.
Also see: Why Failure is Good Sometimes
Photo: Mark Stevens via Flickr