“Is this the age,” I asked my boss on Friday, “when people have a midlife crisis?”
She is 43 and very smart, but she didn’t know.
I was talking to her because I’ve been feeling uneasy lately about my work life. I don’t dislike what I do to pay the bills. I work for the same little non-profit I’ve been at for seven years, dealing almost exclusively with the creative work that drew me to my job in the first place, and not at all, any more, with the administrative stuff that I always hated. I’m as pleased as I’ve ever been with the way the organization is run, and delighted with the aforementioned awesome boss. And I have a couple of clients who call me pretty regularly for a little extra writing and design work.
This is all what I was shooting for when I left grad school and decided to try to find a job working with words in a non-profit setting. And I’m happy with it.
But what I want to be, in the recent words of someone who’s full of audacious goals these days, is Happy. And I started thinking that meant setting some new career goals, making a new five-year plan. I like what I’m doing now. But I don’t think I want to still be doing it five years from now, and going with the status quo isn’t going to take me anywhere except exactly where I am.
So I met on Friday with a career advisor who I hoped would ask me lots of thought-provoking questions to help me figure out what I want to do next. Instead, he … God, I don’t know what he did, but he had the biggest eyebrows I’ve ever seen, one swept up and the other down almost to the bottom of his eye, and he seemed at a loss for what to say during our hour-long meeting (which I’d paid for) and ended up spending most of it pulling books down from the shelves and directing me to write down the page numbers of the chapters he found interesting.
He also gave me a worksheet entitled “Transitional Spiral” with a diagram showing a career path: plateau, trigger point, reaction period, decision making, and Go for it! The illustration was a thick black line looping up along the page, with jagged arrows showing the direction of travel. It looked like a coil of barbed wire.
I couldn’t quite communicate to the guy (nor can I here, really, I guess) what I was after. “What’s unsatisfying about your current job?” he prompted. I couldn’t and can’t think of anything. I just find myself wondering what’s next. There’s a lot I like about what I do, but it seems like there should be more. Maybe Happy is just a few little adjustments away.
And then I think maybe this is Happy, for me, as far as paid work goes. I got some good poetry news last week—a small but big-to-me honor and a poem accepted for publication—and each of those things was about three hundred times more exciting than anything that’s happened in my work life, ever. And I did sort of decide, when I left academia, that I wanted my paid work to take up less of my identity and energy. But then, I’m going to need to work more in the years to come, if we want these two little smarties to be able to go to college, and on top of that our ability to move west (where and whether is a whole other discussion) might very well depend on my ability and willingness to get a job that brings home a lot more bacon, and probably good health insurance as well. If my work is going to get so big, I want to love it. But I don’t want it to take away from the poems, the writing that I really think is my vocation.
Anyone out there looking to hire a poet?
I’m not going back to the guy with the eyebrows, but I’m going to keep working on this, figuring out what comes next. Do you make career plans? How?