The Myth of “Career:” Go Boldly

If you’re anything like me at all, and not supposing you are but IF you are, THEN your “career” is killing you. I tend to prefer writing “career” in quotes because it, like almost everything else, is a social construct. We determine in everyday life what this means through a series of negotiations and interactions: conversations, activities, expectations, and behavior around meeting those expectations. This is sociology 101; I know because I just taught it Tuesday. Unlike, sociology 101, I’m not going to get into the structure vs. agency debate today but I will say that in my life “career” is a structure…a real bullshit one.

I can only speak for myself on this (and everything unless designated to do otherwise) because I know some people, many people the majority of people who discuss their career as something they covet and they can and maybe should. They’ve put hours into curating it, strategically playing the game of “always be looking,” spending hours writing multiple resume and cover letter templates, hunting down that next opportunity. Others have leaned in to being at the right place at the right time and turned pennies into gold. Good for them, I say. Way to be flexible and seize the moment. But for me, work has always been something I did to be able to do my wide breadth of hobbies later. Looking back, this was a cost-benefit ratio gone bad: I now spend most of my life doing something that’s fine, something I can do, and realizing I’m too tired or distracted to do the stuff I love. Worse, because of my “career,” I now feel the pressure of expectations for growth that I just don’t care about. Do I ever want to be management? No. Do I want to be an “analyst” because my “career” has reinforced the fact that I can analyze? No. Not at all. Does the “career” culture allow me to make a u-turn? Not really.

Do you start to feel the limitations build up? I know I do. I’m like backed into a corner so far all I can do right now is self-destruct. To stay here is not tenable. To leave is not tenable. What the hell?

Since the day I knew what “career” meant, sorta, I fought against it. I’ve said for as long as I can remember that I never wanted a career, that I always wanted to do interesting jobs. What I did not anticipate is how little anyone else, especially those with jobs to give, want you to do that. It’s so much easier if everyone is vying for the same finite pool of power or wealth–it keeps the little guys in line, ya know. It makes them suffer like you did to get where you are. Well, bullshit, I say. How much does any of that foster the very risk-taking, innovative, problem-solving type of experiences that, ironically, are looked for first on resumes? It doesn’t? Where does that leave us, really? Spin. We learn how to “contextualize” our stories or create a “narrative” about our experiences. It’s becoming smoke and mirrors. Maybe it always has been.

I speak from a place of disillusionment, sure. What I want to be is a university professor but find myself asking in my most rational mind, “How can I even choose to go there?” I cannot. I will not. I cannot choose to allow a broken system of patriarchy, nepotism, back-biting, and frankly, psychosis, too close to that which is most precious to me: my intellect. I learned the hard way that that is game I am not interested in playing. It’s why they say you really don’t want to meet your idols. Disappointment and sometimes despair will surely follow. But that is what I was trained to do. That is what I take joy in doing. It is what I excel at. So now what?

Maybe my greatest challenge will be how to meet this particular problem without playing the game as everyone else does. I don’t want to spin my abilities. I will not lose anything of their value in transfer into another industry. I will show up as who I am. I will ask what jobs have to offer me and not the other way around.

We –I– need a new paradigm for how work/life unfold. Maybe that’s a worthy structure to start socially reconstructing.

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