Every Friday I share a photo and a story. A lighter touch. An easier read for the end of the week. Friday Photo + Words is my best way to end the work week.
Last week I had the privilege of coaching a friend who is in the process of developing a blog to expand her existing business. It was one of those conversations where we both had lots of “ah-ha!” moments and it was exactly what I needed to start the next stage of this career that I’m slowly building for myself.
You see, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately. To be honest, it feels like I’ve been in this “what do I want to be when I grow up?” line of thinking for just about ever. And with each opportunity and project that I take on, I feel like I get closer to it – but never quite there.
For a long time I was limited by financial obligations. I financed my own undergraduate education and, even with grants, scholarships, awards, and some employer support, there was still a large financial commitment to cover the rest. Add to that a random and very costly medical issue mid-way though my senior year and the high cost of living in the city where I worked, and – as you can imagine – it starts to add up.
So I put on my blinders and worked and paid my debts and focused on building the career I selected. I worked hard. I traveled often. I was flexible. I volunteered a substantial amount of time to professional organizations. I networked the hell out of my choice industry (environmental engineering consulting). And I had a built a budding and very successful career in the field that I thought I wanted.
But in the back of my mind, as I envisioned my future career on Boards of Directors, leading industry change and progress, and working on the projects I chose, and slowly working my way up to the leadership positions I dreamed of, a small part of me always thought “is this really what I want?” And, truly, the answer to that question was “no.”
In my spare moments, in the moments where work and other obligations were slowed, and I had the time and space to consider what my next move would be, I inevitably looked at traditional jobs (in my own industry and other major industries) and, as the second step, looked into the educational plan I would need to make that move. Because that’s how it works, right? If you don’t like what you do, just get another degree? I think that’s the blind academic in me. And it’s completely blind to acknowledging who I am and the strengths in my skill set.
Learn to Pivot.
Yesterday I listened to the Smart Creative Women podcast interview entitled “Claudine Hellmuth breaks up with her career.” Her story is yet another example of someone whose personal and professional life simultaneous collapse gave her the space to cultivate a career – and business – that she LOVES. And she’s really, really good at it – just look at her website.
It’s my favorite kind of story.
And I think you can easily gather why. Last night I tweeted my favorite quote from the podcast: “through the work, the inspiration will come.” And, man, did I need to hear it.
There is a phrase I’ve heard people say about building dream careers out of a set of seemingly random and unconnected experiences. It’s called the through line.
The through line.
I like to believe that the sinuous function of my a-little-of-a-lot-of-things career path is nearing its through line. I can’t see it yet, but I feel like I’m approaching it. And I think this Friday story is a perfect example of that: what started out as a story about meeting a friend at a coffee shop for a brunch-and-play unexpectedly pivoted my career path in the direction of my through line.
And I’m determined to get myself there.
For months my brightest lightbulb moments have come mid-conversation while I’m working through something with – and for – a friend. And though I have known for a long time that I am far better at advising others than I am at advising myself, I didn’t piece this one thing together: I am really good at advising others.
It’s obvious isn’t it?
If there is one thing I have learned in all of the advice and success stories that I’ve heard (and I’ve heard A LOT of them!), there is one underlying common theme that nearly everyone says: what I missed, in all of my searching, was right in front of me. Always.
As I developed this post I kept asking myself the same question: what is my message today? What am I trying to get at? And I think, in this case, I think it’s best to leave it open. Because I don’t have a conclusion. I don’t have an announcement or an action plan or a firm through line. But I am confident on the approach. And I’m confident that it will come. And I’m confident that it will happen through the work.
It’s time to do the work.
Our meeting was at a fantastic bakery in Concord, Massachusetts. After our brunch/meeting, our kids played on this gorgeous footbridge, watched ducks float in icy waters, and played in puddles of melting ice pack. It was muddy. And picturesque. And exciting. And perfect. And I need about 800 more mornings just like it.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s story! Check back next Friday for another edition of Photos & Words.