Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Career Path (Part 1): Unexpected Turns and Surprise Satisfaction

Career Path
Photo Cred: Josh age 4.5

Do you remember those career aptitude tests they used to make you take in high school? The ones that were supposed to gauge your interests and personality and skills and help guide you into a career that would be a good fit? I remember getting wildly different results on every test I took. One told me I would make a good clergyman (um, okay), and another told me I should try anthropology (I had no clue what that meant in high school).

But I didn't care what any of those tests told me. I knew exactly what I wanted from my life's work, and I knew what career was going to give that to me. First, I knew I wanted a job that had to do with reading and writing. Second, I knew I wanted a job that needed creativity, that would be interesting and engaging and allow the chance for growth and new changes. And finally (and perhaps most importantly), I wanted a career that was meaningful. I wanted to help other people, make an impact, serve in some way that benefited the world around me.

So logically, there was only one option. I was going to be an English teacher.

I pursued that goal with single minded devotion from middle school all the way through college. I never once wavered in my commitment to becoming a teacher, never changed my major, never changed my mind. I just knew that teaching was the career for me, and so I eagerly signed up for my internship teaching 7th grade English at a local Junior High.

But oh my goodness, was teaching hard! I expected it to be hard, but that first year was just beyond exhausting. I was up early every morning to get to school by 7 to prep for the day, and spent my evenings grading papers late into the night. Unit planning and lesson prep took every ounce of creativity I had (okay, now how on earth am I going to explain this literary concept in a fun and engaging way?). And the classroom management aspect just completely drained me. Every day for 6+ hours I was on my feet talking, entertaining, engaging, trying to keep the presentation going while still paying attention to the shenanigans going on in the back row, making myself available for all the kids who came streaming in after school for make-up work or just to talk. It felt good and hard and meaningful, but also completely soul-sucking (for this introvert, at least).

So, truthfully, when we moved across the country for my husband to attend law school, I wasn't all that disappointed when I was unable to secure a teaching job in Chicago (not through a lack of trying, I submitted so many applications and even had a few interviews, just couldn't land anything). Since I needed something to do (not to mention, an income to live off of), I started looking outside teaching, and eventually landed what I considered to be a nice, safe, temporary position in university administration.

Nothing about this job appealed to me in the "life's-work" kind of way. It was an office job! Pushing papers! This was not meaningful work. I wasn't helping people succeed in life, I was simply filing expense reports and payroll time cards. But, it was a paycheck (with benefits to boot), and it was fine for the mean-time.

So color me surprised when a few months into my job, once I settled in and learned the ropes, I realized that I actually found a certain level of satisfaction in this new position. The job itself started off in a bit of a mess. The kid who'd held the position before me had been let go because, to put it kindly, he'd been rather incompetent, and he'd left a royally epic mess behind him. I spent several months just sorting through the precariously disheveled stacks of paperwork he'd left lying all around the office, trying to figure out just what was going on and where things where supposed to be. And then, after just three months, my boss quit, leaving me and one other co-worker to run the office and handle all of her old responsibilities. We both started working over-time just to get everything done.

But eventually, I found a groove. I was able to organize the chaos, found a system for managing the workflow, the payroll deadlines, the email, the to-do list. Work started feeling less like a scramble and more like a well-oiled machine, plodding along on a regular system where everything got handled in time. I loved checking things off my to-do list. I loved meeting the deadlines. I loved carving the orderly system out of that which had been chaos. It felt so satisfactory.

I eventually left the job after having my first baby, but my subsequent supervisor ended up hiring three people to cover the work I'd been doing all by myself for over a year and a half. I helped with training my replacements, and was floored to realize just how difficult they all found it to manage the deadlines and the workflow. Apparently administration and organization are not skills all people have.

Enter my next major career change to full-time mom. Now, I've always wanted children, and I've always wanted to be a mother, but truth be told I didn't expect to enjoy motherhood a whole lot. Small kids (especially other people's small kids) are not really my thing. And domesticity in general? Well, let's just say I never really took to those home ec subjects.

So color me surprised again when I started to enjoy the stay-at-home-mom gig. It took a few months (years?) to re-orient myself to this new position, to find myself again after the completely life-altering upheaval it is to have a baby, but once again I found that old satisfaction in carving order out of the chaos that is life with small kids. I found contentment in the challenge of getting a routine in place, of managing the day-to-day so things run as smoothly as possible. It's not so much that I enjoy house-work (um, no), but on those days when all the laundry and dishes get done, when the meal planning happens and the beds get made, when we get out of the house for a fun errand but home in time for naps, those are the days that just satisfy me, like I'm totally rocking it.

I've also found a surprising need for creativity and growth in motherhood. Not only does it take a fair amount of creativity to create and implement a routine that works, it takes quite the imagination to manage conflicts with toddlers and preschoolers on a daily basis. And those home-ec subjects I used to disdain so much? Well, I will probably never be that seamstress making her kids Halloween costumes from scratch, but I do find plenty of outlets for creativity in budgeting, meal-planning, cooking, home decorating, and any number of other pursuits that fall under the umbrella of domesticity. Also, motherhood provides plenty of time in the margins for me to pursue my favorite hobbies: reading and writing. And do we need to talk about the meaningfulness of this job? Good, because that should be obvious to everyone.

In short, I've found I could be more than content to continue in the career of stay-at-home mom for the rest of my life. It has, surprisingly, offered me all the satisfaction I was looking for from a career.

But for whatever reason, this does not seem to be the last stop on my career path.

To Be Continued...

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