Once, stuck in a crazy-making role early in my career, my best work friend and I invented a game I called the “margarita clock.”
We sat down at our desks at 8 am sharp every morning, and we’d see how long we could make it before we felt the intense urge to drink a margarita to distract from the frustration and insanity of our jobs. When the feeling hit, we’d email each other with the time stamp and enjoy a moment of laughter and commiseration. (No, we did not actually indulge.)
One day, I made it to just 8:07 am. What had started off as a silly way to maintain our sanity became a damning indicator that something was very wrong. I knew I had to get out of that job and try something else.
The possibilities were overwhelming and I spent a lot of time in analysis paralysis, silently cursing my peers who had known what they wanted to be since kindergarten and had successfully stuck the landing, with the PhDs and pre-IPO shares to show for it.
Thus began my yearslong struggle to “find my passion” and identify a clear direction for myself – ideally in a professional environment that wouldn’t leave me routinely feeling like I’d been hit by a truck by 8:07.
Along the way, I tried a lot of different things but started to become self-conscious about the diversity of roles I’d accrued. I feared they’d make no coherent sense to anyone looking at my resume, and had the deep, pit-in-my-stomach foreboding that I’d never find that mystical sense of purpose everyone kept talking about.
Then I had an aha moment, in two parts.
You see, if you spend enough time staring at your resume through the lens of how it’ll perform in an automated recruitment screening database, and design your career path accordingly – as every pragmatic career counselor tells us to do – your life gets reduced to a handful of SEO terms. (Pro tip: sprinkle the terms “data” and “governance” in there enough and you’ll get hired for pretty much anything.)
This process felt cramped and disjointed and inauthentic, just like my previous jobs this process had produced.
It was certainly not conducive to identifying what would get me out of cramped, disjointed, and inauthentic mode and into a role that would provide that elusive sense of fulfillment and passion.
From aha #2, I realized what I needed was another resume – another, richer story line to integrate and make sense of where I’d been.
I was missing every part of my personal story that wasn’t captured in my job history.
I’d been so frantically focused on my exterior professional life I’d neglected to pay attention to my actual lived experiences, interests, and personal growth.
Once I took the time to really explore where I’d been personally and the many challenges and lessons I’d lived through, a very different picture emerged.
I could easily rattle off the skills I’d gained from my corporate resume, but there was a lot to add from the personal resume. I had learned how to cope with long-term depression and anxiety, heal my chronic health problems, recover from codependency, navigate trauma and infertility and divorce.
I knew what it was like to be highly sensitive, empathic, and introverted in a world not engineered for those traits. I knew what it was like to navigate all this in secret, thinking maybe I was just crazy, second-guessing myself and not asking for support.
I knew I loved learning about these topics. I knew finding and supporting other people who were navigating similar challenges brought me unparalleled joy.
While these initially seemed like two very different categories – the professional and personal skills I’d accrued, at odds with each other, this brought me back to aha #1: both of these buckets were actually in service to each other. They were, together, preparing me to be able to offer something unique to the world.
The ability to keep it together professionally, while feeling like a completely different person on the inside, was not unique to me. Feeling like I didn’t have my life figured out yet, and beating myself up for it, was not unique to me. Losing track of my own story because I was so caught up chasing the next thing was not unique to me. Being unable to ask for help – also not unique to me.
Having come out the other side, though, was somewhat unique and was the gift I could offer back to others on a similar journey.
All the mishmashed plot points that felt like missteps and liabilities were, themselves, the point.
Once I took the time to understand and integrate the holistic picture of where I’d been, the way forward became a hell of a lot more obvious.
If you’re struggling to find clarity on where you’re going next and why, make sure you’re giving yourself credit for the full story of where you’ve already been.
If you’d like some support in that process, I’m here.