Thursday, February 25, 2010

How do you know when to "Just say no"?

I just wanted an excuse to put up a picture of these lively business-dames. Photo credit

A few weeks ago I was being considered for a position that was, on the surface, probably as close to a dream job as I could hope for right now. Out of hundreds of applicants, I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to interview. Of course, I did my research on the job and the organization, making calls to people in my network to get more information. I spoke with the individual I would be interviewing with, and he described the parameters of the position in detail to me. I may be slightly above entry-level, but I quickly assessed in this five minute phone call that this position was for an established professional. And while I met all the requirements listed on the job posting, they were obviously needing someone with extensive experience. Experience that I didn't have. I fought back the quiet 'no's' in my head at first, telling myself I'd find out more at the interview and perhaps my lack of experience wasn't that important. Because after all, they had decided to interview me. When it came time for the interview, I was prepared and enthusiastic. I channeled my inner young professional like I never knew I could (see Bette Midler's Sadie in Big Business, minus the flip phone and shoulder pads, although that would have been awesome). But still, that feeling that this would be too much, that I wasn't ready, persisted; and in the days following, I started carrying the heaviest of heavyweight feelings: Guilt. I was Guilty for not being grateful enough for all the connections that had helped me land that interview, Guilty for not being ambitious enough to take a risk, Guilty for not being more forthcoming in the interview, miming Bette's cucumber cool self-assurance like my life depended on it, Guilty for lying to myself and the Director about my readiness to take on such a huge responsibility (I won't go into details, but trust me, it was huge). Just about everyone I had the guts to confide my doubts to basically told me I'd be crazy to say no. I didn't even ask my Dad because I knew the force of his response over the phone would propel me backwards into the nearest wall. When I finally consulted my most-trusted former colleages, their advice was to simply wait and see what the Director would decide. Two weeks passed as I twiddled my thumbs, anxiously wondering what I would decide to do if I was in fact, offered the job. And well, as you can imagine with all this guilty, greasy build-up, I never had to make that decision because they went with a different candidate.

The thing is, from a very young age, we are taught how to 'just say no'. Say no to drugs, say no to peer pressure and toxic friends and bad relationships. We've finally allowed ourselves to say "no" to our co-workers, to our families and our closest friends when their demands become too much. Its even becoming culturally acceptable to turn down promotions in the notoriously ultra competitive Japanese business world . Basically, the logic follows that if the proposal in question is not the right fit - Will you work more hours? Will you watch my dog? Will you marry me? - we can and should say no. And even though I didn't have to say no to this job (someone else said it for me), I wondered if our ability to say no isn't inversely proportionate to our age.

It seems there is some widely accepted rule that says college grads have to hungrily lap up anything and everything that is offered up to us, and gone are the days when it gets offered on a silver platter (were there ever days like that?). And as we get older, it seems we flex our 'nixing' muscles more and more. But should we really be saying 'yes' to anything - even if its eons away from the field we want to be in or requires much more time/experience/whatever than we are currently able to give it? For those who know their talents and capacities, their passions and areas of interest, I'd like to shout a big fat, "NO"! But this is something I hear very little discussion about; even thinking about writing this post caused my guilt to come creeping back.  So I would love to hear what others think...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I'll raise a glass to that

I've been doing a lot of reflecting lately, letting my mind settle on events and periods of the past which it normally only skims, like to recall the address of my first job in high school for a job application (so unnecessary, by the way). Lately the image in my rearview mirror is Drake University, my would-be alma mater. The memory of this place which I entered so full of unbridled hope and innocent dreams as an 18-year-old Girl from the North Country is a complicated one for me; one that I have not spent much time looking back on, because, well, I was busy moving forward. But in fact, now I'm beginning to see what it represents in my life: my ambition to strike out into unknown territory and seek a world and life of my own making. I did not know a single person at Drake, I'd never even been to Iowa. Rather than feeling unnerved, I was thrilled. In my mind, this was where my journalist-self would establish her roots, and blossom. I imagined it as a short pit stop on my way to bigger things in bigger cities.

Instead, what it wound up being was an even shorter pit stop on my way to bigger universities (in bigger cities). The decision to leave Drake was relatively easy (my friendships there were, by and large, the biggest loss), yet in the wake of my undergraduate education, I have often caught myself thinking about this place; what it means now, and what it might have meant had I stayed. I'm aware; this is a dangerous and some might say pointless game  to play, so I limit my "What If's" to just a few. And really, its only through observing the progress and achievements of my fellow classmates and friends that naturally, I've begun to wonder if my path might have been similar. I've been tracking their progress via Facebook which I'll admit is kind of weird but not so weird that I won't admit I'm doing it. Many of the folks with whom I sat through David Wright's Journalism 101 class are now doing pretty amazing things and I can't help but feel in awe of the fact that they're doing it. It, meaning the exact thing they (and I) set out to do when we set our wobbly feet on Drake's campus four years ago. Maybe my admiration is simply caused by the twisty, prickly path I ending up following, but I believe its more than that. Because how many college grads out there are doing anything that even slighltly resembles what they intended to do six months, a year, even two years out of school? Even nursing and engineering students are having a tough time making that happen. So, I raise my glass to those Drake grads, and fondly remember all the glasses we raised together during that funny, fumbling, freshman year.

One other note to make about Drake. During our freshman invocation, the University President gave us one piece of advice: Be really adaptable. It's simple. Not too impressive-sounding. Yet, even though I never would adapt to life at Drake, I carried that lesson with me to the next two universities and believe that now more than ever, there has never been a greater need for adaptability. The successes - and failures - of Gen Y will be measured almost entirely by our capacity to act as chameleons in our professional lives, to not only adapt to change, but most usefully, to anticipate it. (Please read the terrific article on job-hopping by Rebecca Modite, particularly if you're feeling down in the unemployed-dumps. Did you read it? Good, now grab your swords and fight the nay-saying hordes!)

So looking back, good ol' Drake and I weren't the failure I once imagined us to be. There's a lot to be pulled from that time, and I will no longer be so quick to simply skim the surface of those memories and lessons, including how to adapt to situations and surroundings. And life. Yes, I'd say that's certainly something to toast.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

and the train it keeps on moving

Oh my dear, few readers (Mom), I regret allowing so much time to pass before writing. Mostly, I am regretful for my own sake, that I let this blog and all the ideas I had for it wither away at the exact moment it began to take off (yes, having four reader comments by complete strangers meant "taking off" for me). I got a job and so the unemployed moniker became irrelevant. I dabbled over the past few months of how I might re-name this blog and what I might turn its focus to. But mostly, I became comfortable with my 8-5 gig and writing about careers, and job-hunting, and a new college grad who encounters those things no longer occupied a large space in my brain. Not to say that I wasn't thinking about all of it. Especially because the job was temporary and now, is quickly approaching its expiration date. Once again, I will be unemployed.

This time will be different, and thats not just a statement of defiance. I've learned so much in the past months: the subtle yet significant differences between work, jobs, and careers; the styles in which others approach work and working, and the ways they approach unemployment and not working; the infinite possibilities that exist once you begin to think outside of the cubicle box.. I'm headed toward my second period of unemployment with the understanding that it will be temporary but probably, not the last. Its with a calm sense of awareness that I again climb aboard that moving train. I've got some ideas of where I might go, but I won't be disappointed if I don't get there for awhile.

This blog will be changing along with my views of unemployment, employment, and conscious living. I hope to bridge many of the divisions that are placed between these few ideas, and explore their synthesis. I'll still share my ideas and thoughts on the career-pursuit, while keeping in mind that work in 21st century America (and beyond) is changing at an immeasurably rapid pace. Part of this change is in the individual as a worker, and how she can create and determine her own market value. I am working on imagining my self not within the confines of a business or organization, but rather, as a business/organization in itself. I will write more about me, in hopes of discovering how I can go about creating a career that I am passionate about. Once again, I've got-a lot-a ideas...and soon again, I'll have a lot-a-time.

For right now, here's a list of the people I'm most enamored with on the blogosphere, for their abilities to innovatively pursue (and bridge) life and work in this new day-and-age:
Sloane Barrent (the epitome of work/life/philanthropy, I bow down): http://www.thecausemopolitan.com/
Chris Guillebeau (by no means an ordinary guy; but inspiring nonetheless): http://chrisguillebeau.com/3x5/

Stay tuned, ya'll..