Tuesday, August 13, 2019

In Which I Wonder if I'll Ever Know What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

I'm just back from a lovely vacation in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, with about a day and a half in Boston tacked on at the end. I'll write up my usual posts over at Adjusted Latitudes soon.

In the whirlwind of activity before the vacation, I didn't get a chance to write a post about something that happened back in June that I've been thinking about off an on ever since.

I won't go into all of the details here, but the short version is: I was contacted by a recruiter friend for a position that I would have jumped at earlier in my career. The job was doing something I think I would be good at, and it would have put me on a path to the sorts of positions that 10 years ago I would have told you were the sort of job I was aiming for.

But I told her not to send my resume in. I think the me of 10 years ago would be shocked to hear that  - which is one reason why the decision has been on my mind ever since I made it.

I turned the opportunity down largely because I couldn't see how to make it work logistically. The company was located in the San Diego area, but far from my home. The commute by car would be at least 45 minutes each way.  The company was located in an area that made a commute by train possible, but since I would be going against the rush hour traffic, there would be exactly one morning train and one evening train that would work.  And as I thought about what it would mean to be ~1 hour away from where my kids would be, I was worried about how we'd handle doctor's appointments, school events, and calls to pick up a sick kid.

We talked about whether we could move a bit closer to the job without making my husband's commute unbearable, and we could probably move somewhere that would cut the commute to about 30 minutes - but that would almost certainly require changing schools, and we don't want to do that.

In short, as much as the job would have been good for my career, it would have created a lot of problems to solve for our family. I decided it wasn't worth it. This is the first time I've turned away from a career opportunity because of family considerations, and that feels... weird.

It is also true that none of those problems would have been insoluble. If I'd really wanted the job, we could have made it work. So while the logistics were the main reason for not pursuing the opportunity, it is also true that I didn't really want the job.

I've been thinking a lot about why I didn't really want a job that seemed like a good fit for my skills and a great career move. I don't have a definitive answer about that, but I am starting to think that I need more ownership over what my work produces than I had thought. Back when I last did a career values exercise, it seemed like what mattered most to me was to be useful on projects that I thought were worthwhile. Maybe now I need more. Maybe now I also need to feel like I am creating something myself, not just facilitating other people's creations. I certainly enjoyed running my own business for awhile, even if the only reason I was able to keep it afloat was by taking contracts doing the same sort of "behind the scenes" work I do now as a full time employee.

In my current job, I can get my fix of "work product ownership" with my side projects. If I'd gone for the "bigger" job my recruiter friend was trying to fill, I would have needed to wind down those side projects and I think that would have left a hole that the job on offer couldn't fill.

Maybe I should look for a job that better fits my current career values. I need to think more on that, and probably do a full career values exercise to get a better idea of what I actually want now, in my current stage of life. I last did the exercise when Petunia was a baby. But there's also something to be said for arranging things such that my job doesn't have to be the sole source of work satisfaction. I need to think more about that, too.

While we were on vacation, I found myself fantasizing about a very different sort of life. I was struck by how short the tourist season is in Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton - really just July and August, with perhaps an additional month or so of shoulder season on either side. I wondered if you could find something to do during a short tourist season that would make enough money to carry you through the entire year, and then spend significant chunks of the off season traveling. I built an elaborate daydream around having a little artist's studio/shop somewhere - perhaps with a small cafe attached - but only for four months out of the year.

Of course, one serious problem with this daydream is that I do not have any artistic skill that would support such an endeavor. I am still pretty terrible at crochet, I can barely draw stick figures, and I have no artistic training whatsoever. So this was just an idle daydream, really. But it planted a more serious thought in my head, about how to fund the travel I'd love to do in retirement even though my husband and I will also need to fund all of our living expenses out of our savings (neither of us has a pension) - and I was surprised by how attractive the idea seemed, since it is a radical departure from anything else I've ever thought about doing for a living.

All in all, there's a lot for me to think about. It feels a bit ridiculous to be 47 and still not know what I want to be when I grow up, but ignoring these thoughts and daydreams won't make them go away - and in my past experience, time invested in better understanding what you want out of your work and your life is never wasted. I'm going to try to make the time to do some career values exercises once the kids are back in school, and then I'll probably need some long beach walks to sort this all out. I'll no doubt keep you all posted on my progress, because writing about these things helps clarify my thinking!


  1. Anonymous8:04 AM

    At 75 I can promise you we can continue to grow and change so the plans and dreams of once upon a past time no longer would fit. This is actually good as it it means we are becoming ever more our own singular gift to the world, less hive mind, more independent thinker and creator of our own values. This is a gift to our children because we model hearing our inner drummer, marching to our own tunes and changing the music for ourselves and others across time.
    Joy to you.

  2. I'm looking forward to hearing about career values exercises. I love my current job, but I'm not exactly on a career "path" and the job will go away when my current boss either runs out of funding or retires and I don't really have any idea of what I'm looking for

  3. A side effect of curing my workaholism is not quite knowing what I want to be when I grow up, either. I do know that I'll want to keep doing SOMETHING that produces income because it makes me feel good to know that things produce income since we are not ultra wealthy but outside of that, my early notions of what I wanted my life to look like in the future are no longer applicable. I have zero intention of going back to school to get a professional or advanced degree, we are paying off our home, but I have this feeling of time running out in an hourglass (health) so I am more selective about the things I'm willing to spend time and energy on. I've got a handful of hobbies to pursue but what I'll do for money is still a big question mark.


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