Last summer, I called my Aunt for career advise. She suggested I read “What Color is Your Parachute.” I had never heard of the (best-selling ever career) book, which might explain the challenges I was currently facing. I just knew my Mom had called Aunt Mary for career advise when she needed it, and I couldn’t call my Mom (at least not as directly:). First, Aunt Mary reminded me that Mom never took her advise. I reassured her that she still appreciated it. And, I made no promises on my end. I did, however, listen attentively, and ordered the book right away.
When it arrived, I decided to skip the first half of the book about preparing for a job search – I wasn’t actually planning to leave my job, after all. I just wanted to enjoy my work more, to gain clarity about my strengths and weaknesses, and to progress in a more intentional way. The second part of the book is all about identifying what you’re good at, what you actually enjoy doing, and taking steps to pursue work that includes more of the good stuff.
As I worked through each activity, I realized I had become “good at” some things I didn’t enjoy doing. I have a degree in Political Science, but I don’t want to be a politician or a lawyer. I have a Master’s degree in environmental education, but I’ve never really considered myself an environmental educator. I created a statewide environmental education foundation, but I really don’t enjoy fundraising. What I do love is being an advocate for educators and students, promoting educational practices that keep learning fun, and working with cool people to create new things.
In November, just after my ten year mark, I left my really good job without another one. Yes, I know, rule #1 is “don’t leave your job without another one.” And my best-selling book seemed to reinforce this totally smart and logical message. But, my soul seemed to be screaming something like, “live a little” and “Jump, dammit!” Maybe this is rule #2? Since I didn’t really fit the mold of the career track I was on, other jobs in my field never seemed all that appealing. With a job, two babies, and community commitments, I never found the time to sort out what I really wanted. So, one day, I leapt into the unknown.
So far, so good. As long as I can keep my incessant worrying at bay, I feel pretty great about the decision so far. It’s a financial blow for my family, but my husband didn’t hesitate in supporting the decision. He was tired of seeing my face twisted in knots on a Saturday afternoon fretting over what happened last week and chattering on about how I could fix it all on Monday. Eventually, we all felt the weight of my lost-ness at work. And, while we don’t have a ton of wiggle room, we do have some critical safety nets in place, like health insurance, a second (and now sole) income, and relatively low debt. These are no small things. I may not have have found the courage without all of them.
I had a pivotal realization while doing an activity in the Parachute book. I saw a truth in my own story that flew in the face of all that I had believed in the past, and what I thought the book was trying to teach me in this very activity. The assignment was to write several short stories that outlined successes in achieving past goals. I was to identify themes, skills and characteristics that eventually led to the success I experienced. As I wrote each one, every story included a moment in which I found a really great opportunity after lots of preparation and looking. It was focus, perseverance, and hard work that got me where I am today. Or was it?
At the time, I also happened to be reading a lot about the law of attraction. I was particularly puzzled by the assertion that surrender and “chilling out” was really the best way to get what you want. It seemed to fly in the face what popular wisdom had taught me and what I thought I knew from my own life experience. Suddenly, I saw a critically important part of those success stories I had been leaving out all these years. In every single case, I had given up before getting what I really wanted. Huh? What the?
Yes, I asked myself these very discombobulated questions as well. WTF, high school career counselor? You’ve got to be freaking kidding me, me! That job as a rafting photographer back in Colorado? Yes, I did move to Colorado at 19, confidently professing I was going to work as a photographer. But, oh yeah, I got that one after completely giving up and applying for waitress jobs because I just needed something. Only then did that magical one sentence announcement appear in the newspaper I had been scouring for months. Environmental educator at the best University in the Midwest – only after months of searching and resigning myself to a life in retail did a friend email me and suggest I apply for her old job that wasn’t yet advertised. I hadn’t even heard of environmental education, but the job sounded great and I was qualified.
So, no, I haven’t gotten where I am today by all my hard work and struggle; although, I have worked hard and struggled. I am pretty sure my greatest successes have had to sneak in through the cracks in my armor, during my rare moments of clarity and ease. Success came when I knew what I wanted, and on at least some subconscious level, expected to find it; even if I didn’t know how or when or where it would finally come. The critical ingredient wasn’t my hard work, it was my focus, preparation, and surrender. In fact, all that “hard” work, just stressed me and everyone else out. It was always the things I couldn’t not do that propelled me forward. And those things weren’t hard.
So here I am again, focusing my attention on clarifying what I want. But, now, I know more than I did then. I know for me, the truly “hard” work is keeping my cool and trusting that things will work out. My effort is best spent detailing my hopes and dreams and convincing myself to expect and notice when those things happen. I’ve jumped, content and confident in the knowledge there is no parachute and that’s okay. I don’t need one. I appreciate this time and space to think, create, and trust that whatever comes next will be better than I can even imagine; although, it’s still worth imagining. I am prepared, and I expect great things. I don’t know what will come next, but I know it will be good. It always has been.