I think career progress is overrated. Many bad decisions are committed in the name of “advancement.” When I moved up to an editor position after being a writer for years, I was initially thrilled. I earned enough to afford my own apartment, finally. I bought my first piece of new furniture, a red couch with no stains, no weird patterns. Living the life! But soon reality set in. I was desk-bound, and I managed people, two things that I don’t really like all that much, it turns out. And those roommates? They were kind of great, actually, and I missed them and their smelly leftovers.
So here’s the deal: What if we give ourselves permission to stagnate, to regress even? Take Shalini Sharan, for instance, She wrote yesterday (in one of my favorite series the Wall Street Journal does on job hunting) about her decision to search for an internship if she doesn’t get a dream job she has her eye on. She admits that “it may seem like I am regressing in terms of professional growth…for now I feel confident in my decision. My parents, on the other hand, are not too thrilled about the uncertainty that I have invited into my life.”
I love that phrase: inviting uncertaintly. How many of us can still do that? How many of us have the guts in this economy to do something that appears to be a setback to others, even if it makes us happy. And are we willing to stand up for our decision, to defend our lack of progress in an ambitious world?
Maybe we can just start by sending out one small invitation. Sometimes, I think that means just giving ourselves permission to imagine life without relentless progress, where we take a detour that looks like failure but feels like success in some intangible way. And with it, I think we have to take the time to start assessing what success means to us… not just what it’s called… the job title or the award, but what it tastes like, what it feels like. Will we know it when we see it?
I remember the moment I knew I had succeeded in career change. I had left an editing job where I sat at a desk every day, one of those drab gray plastic-like desks attached to a gray cubicle maze, and that desk was literally bent under the weight of all the reading and edits I had to do. One day I sat down, put my coffee down, and it started to slide ever so slightly toward the middle. That was the last straw. I needed a less flimsy life, one where my coffee didn’t slide away from me.
After I left journalism, went to grad school for counseling, I remember finally sitting down for my first job career counseling at Georgetown. And bless that Jesuit, historic institution… they had real wood desks! I could pile all the work I wanted onto it, and it wouldn’t cave. It was seriously three inches thick, my desk. And the beauty was, I didn’t have piles of paperwork. I could manage to keep it clear for students, who dropped their heavy loads of books on it when they came in for advice. And maybe I was imagining it, but they looked relieved to see that solid desk too.
So, I’ve added solid desks to my definition of success, and I’m continuing to build on my own personal definition. Maybe this is the week you look for a few things to add to your definition to success.
And don’t forget to send out that invitation to uncertainty.