I am now in my fifth year of working. While I am no career expert, having lived in Wellington almost all my life, I have also worked in Wellington almost all my life.
While I very much enjoy my job today (which for privacy purposes I will continue to keep vague and simply say I am a policy advisor - a girl has to keep some mystery), and have found a happy balance by blogging on the side, it certainly hasn't always been this way.
Some of you might be wondering whether you are cut out for this working business. Maybe you need a change in career. If so, a truly excellent book called 'How to Find Fulfilling Work' by Roman Krznaric (part of Alain De Botton's 'School of Life' series) really helped me when I was struggling with 'Where-to-from-here' syndrome. Through my time having now interviewed 70 people and counting I have thought a lot about the path people take in work and life. So I thought we would sit down and have a good cup of tea and chin-wag about what all this hoo-ha about money, careers and #girlboss is all about.
How do you work out what you should do?
Like all Wellingtonians, I spent a great deal of the early years of my life at school. From the moment I reached Year 11 at high school, it seemed like from nowhere EVERYONE was asking what do you want to do when you leave school. Do you want to be a doctor (no, zero scientific talent)? An artist (no, zero job security)? Maybe a teacher (ugh, b*tch please - I've just done 13 years of schooling straight)?
The truth is, while you might have a vague notion about what you are good at, I doubt anyone really knows what they want to be FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIFE when you're still working out where your prefrontal cortex is. You might be good at netball but how does that translate into an actual paying job? We know money is important but also from watching out parents that it isn't the key to everlasting happiness.
"There is little increase in happiness for the person who earns $50,000 a year and $500,000"
There is a study that shows the difference between a person earning $5000 dollars and year and $50,000 dollars a year is a marked increase in happiness. However, there is little increase in happiness for the person who earns $50,000 a year and $500,000. After a point, we plateau. So if we are searching for happiness is important to earn money, but beyond a certain point doesn't take us much further.
My Working Gal Story
When I was at school we had fairly typical career advice, which was rather a product of its time (the internet was still more of a novelty than a necessity in 2005). If you were smart and capable of English, you were told you should be a lawyer. If you were good at Maths and Science, you should be a doctor or engineer. Not once did someone consider my zany personality, love of people and highly artistic temperament and go "Hold the phone, Watson. This child looks like she might go stir crazy and possibly cause multiple billing errors if you were to put her in, say, a corporate law firm". No. The insight into the non-academic qualities that would likely be important for me to channel into work was nil.
As a result, for my first few years, I ended up working in a corporate law firm. I found this hard as I felt the need to suppress my personality to fit in with the conservative environment (those of you who knew me then will be able to confirm I failed miserably). It seemed I could be myself at home but the main piece of advice I got from adultier-adults was "Just maybe be less like yourself at work?" While I do understand that for any young professional learning that there are certain customs which need to be learnt and observed in the office is an important step (such as not blurting out before your boss in meetings). But in my opinion, this idea that you somehow should have to change your personality to fit a corporate environment is garbage and terrible for yo self-esteem. If you start to fear going mad, at any stage of your career, maybe you aren't insane/depressed/emotionally-unavailable [delete as appropriate]. Maybe you are working in the wrong job?
What is fulfilling work?
In the midst of this career crisis, I bought the first series of Alain De Botton's series 'The School of Life' one Christmas in 2013 (you can find a copy at Unity Books - which is where I bought it from). The books are written as modern day well-researched self-help books, ones that are actually useful. Alain De Botton noted that the self-help genre is one of the most scoffed at and I have to admit a twenty-something reading self-help is particularly cliche. One of the texts in the compilation really caught my eye, however. 'How to Find Fulfilling Work' by Roman Krznaric draws on stories from people who have changed career paths and traditional philosophy about the purpose of work and working.
"If you start to fear going mad, at any stage of your career, maybe you aren't insane/depressed/emotionally-unavailable [delete as appropriate]. Maybe you are working in the wrong job?"
One story at the start from a man called Rob Archer talks about how he grew up in a housing estate and ended up getting out, going to university and getting a great job as a management consultant in London. It says "I assumed I should be grateful just to have a job, let alone a 'good' one. So I focused harder on trying to fit in and when that didn't work, I lived for the weekends." Rob became chronically stressed and anxious until one day he thought that he was having a panic attack. From here, the book addresses the alternative - changing career and starting over and embracing insecurity.
Krznaric notes that we have high expectations from our work. We expect it to provide a deep sense of purpose and reflect out values, passions and personality (HEY! That sounds like ME!). But he says this is a very MODERN phenomenon. "Open Samuel Johnson's celebrated Dictionary published in 1755, and you will discover that the word fulfilment does not even appear. Krznaric (maybe controversially) doesn't think that we should just have to 'grin and bear it' when it comes to working. But he does recommend doing your homework to find out what type of work might be better suited to your personality.
One suggestion which proved very helpful for me was the idea of going and having coffees with people to find out about what they do. It was through this practice I worked out that while I enjoyed my Art History degree, I probably did not want to switch careers and become a curator. I continued to get into the habit of meeting people I found interesting for coffees (which in retrospect probably helped me get comfortable with the idea of sitting down with strangers and talking for my interviews for The Residents here). I probably needed the security of a day job and development prospects to truly be content.
Act first, react later
Of course, there is no substitute for taking the plunge (or dipping your toe) into a new job. Too often we are trying to think our way out of something when we just need to act. When I applied for my first job as a policy advisor I had no idea what the job would be except for some vague notion of working in Government. But from the moment I started my new job I was instantly happier because the work was far better suited to the way my brain naturally worked. Policy advising was still technically challenging but had a component of creativity when it came to coming up with ideas for new policies. It was much higher level, and less nitty-gritty-in-the-weeds detail orientated than practising as a lawyer and the more relaxed work environment and collegial. From there, I felt more at home. I found it was quite a lot easier to get into what experts call 'Flow' (a state where you lose yourself in your work and time seems not to exist) just because I was more naturally wired for this kind of work. Just like you wouldn't expect an accountant to win an oscar, it was crazy to think that I could have expected myself, even having studied law, to change my skills and personality over night just to fit my old job. But in reverse, I quickly found I was immediately better suited to working with a somewhat analytical and creative bent.
Work your portfolio - cultivate passions and talents
However, there is another missing part I didn't realise until more recently. For people like me who are multi-passionate, it may not be enough just to have a good day job. You might be looking for something slightly more arty-farty or entrepreneurial. You probably have a range of talents and passions, from pottery to tennis. But maybe you just aren't the type to take the plunge and go live back home with your parents while they pull out their hair and you make plans to build an otter sanctuary.
"Find something you are passionate about and just start doing it for fun"
Grow a vocation. Find something you are passionate about and just start doing it for fun. What may happen is that over time you end up doing several jobs, either paid or unpaid as voluntary work, but building a far more complete idea of where your talents and the needs of the world meet. This is known as a portfolio career, where you have a few different jobs and hobbies, giving you a wider set of skills. The wider your set of skills, the more transferable your working ability will be for when that unknown or unexpected opportunity career break.
Pick up some volunteering, dabble in a class and pick up an old hobby. Let your passion take you from there. You might be a photographer on the weekends, a volunteer food sorter on Sundays and a nurse during the week. What is so wrong with that? Why should we have to pick one thing for our entire life? I'm a growing and evolving human and I hope I won't stop doing that until the day I die.
There is no perfect job for all people and there is no perfect structure for all people in how to work. Interviewing so many incredible people for The Residents has taught me that, if nothing else. Some people will thrive as a freelancer and others will crash and burn. I find I am my most creatively productive when I have a warm house and full fridge. If I look back, I can suppose that someone maybe should have suggested advertising or marketing as a career or maybe learning to be a developer/designer. But that is all speculation. I might have been driven mad by advertising or computers in the end (even though they are interests now) and in my parallel universe be setting up shop to study law in my late twenties as I type. Either way, I think it is important to know what you need to be content and then start exploring your passions and discovering that what makes you YOU is vital to finding fulfilling work.