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When anxiety catches up to the career dabbler


What do you do when you feel like all you’ve done hasn’t gotten you to where you want to be?

That’s a tough question. But I feel it is applicable to me right now. Where I am is in an unstable career pattern of seven jobs in seven years, and only one (the latest) for long than seven months. And this job ends at the end of the year, and is only part-time with no benefits and lower pay than I would like. But I took it because I needed something.

That’s part of the problem.

I’ve taken every job I have ever had because I needed something. I got a job at McDonalds because I need to pay for a car. I joined the Army because I couldn’t afford college and it seemed like a good idea. I moved to Tampa to take a job at on a military base because I needed a job and I had the qualifications. I went to Afghanistan because I couldn’t find anything stateside and I was running out of money.

On and on it goes.

Years ago, I had a friend who is a doctor. She knew she wanted to be a doctor since she was five years old. Everything she did was in that direction. I find that impressive and incredible. Also completely foreign.

I’m not saying everyone should know what they want to do for the rest of their lives when they are in Kindergarten. That’s super rare. But to be a mid-career professional with no career direction, but with diplomas and acclaim and a resume full of accomplishments is equally odd. At least I think it is.

Now that I am settled in my living situation and it has been seven months since my MBA graduation, I have the time now to take stock in what is important to me. What is it that I want? What is it that will make me happy? Is it in marketing? Is it in administration? Is it in something else? Is it trying to start my own business? Is what makes me happy here in Tampa?

I have determined I need responsibility. I need to be responsible for something. I need to be The Guy in charge of something people want. Someone someone goes to when they need something.

This is even lacking in my personal life.

Maybe I need a dog.

I would say maybe I need to have kids, but that brings up a whole other can of worms that is also probably affected by my lack of career focus.

It is incredibly hard to be motivated to date when you can’t sell stability. My mind is too focused on the future than on trying to build a strong present relationship.

“This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm? What he was doing. Hmm. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.” – Yoda

Having your mind on the future is ok to a point, but constantly re-evaluating your five year plan isn’t the most stable way to go. Bringing back the Yoda quote, once Luke Skywalker committed, he became the most sought after Jedi in the galaxy.

My problem is that I am not confident in where I am. I am Luke Sywalker in the beginning of Empire Strikes Back – a guy who did some awesome stuff, but hasn’t figured out where he fits in the overall picture. Like Luke, I am confident in what I have done, definitely. I am confident that I will do something in the future. But right now is a bit unstable. That’s not easy to sell to a member of the opposite sex, especially combined with the lack of being responsible for anything – not even a dog.

So I have to find focus. I have to find a direction and run that way. If that means shedding non-productive ventures, so be it. I’ll still have my fun and still work on creative projects, but the focus needs to be on building a base, the roots of a strong tree that I can hinge every other career decision on. Without that strong career base, my future will be blowing in the wind.

A few days ago, I read an article in Fast Company entitled “The Most Common Career Advice that Graduates Should Ignore (and what to do instead)“. Instead of “Keeping Your Options Open”, the article suggests “Commit to Something”.

Commitment is tough. Whether in a career or a relationship, you have to decide beforehand what you find important. As I mentioned earlier, some people know what they want in a career very early. Some people also marry their high school sweetheart and stay committed forever. They found what they wanted and stuck with it through thick and thin.

While sticking with jobs hasn’t always been an option for me, thanks to contracting, lay offs, and part-time/internships, here are a few things I have decided are important to me:

  • I need to be part of a bigger something. This is why the Tampa Bay Seminole Club is so important to me.
  • I need to be in a fast-pace place where information comes quickly and thinking on my feet is valued.
  • I would like to be somewhere where international issues are discussed.
  • I would like to be somewhere where analysis and possibly pattern recognition is important and valued.
  • I would like to know what is going on behind a headline.

And I want a dog.

Based on these qualifications, I am narrowing my career paths. I am reaching to people in different fields to learn what it is like in that field. Sometimes how I think a field might be is nothing like how it is.

I am also shedding different ideas, even if I am qualified to do something. If I can’t see myself doing that job 9-5 for the next three to five years, I will turn it down. That’s tough to do when I am still trying to make ends meet. It’s like hooking up with someone just because you are lonely or because it’s been a while. Both sides have to be honest, or it might end up awkward.

I still have a lot of work to do until I’m where I want to be. I need to be open to still learning and growing. But at the same time, I need to focus on what I want to do, or at least the two or three major options that interest me the most.

I’m a little worried, but a lot excited. Instability can be scary and sometimes I do feel like I am falling behind my peers, but I have to remember, I’m in a lot better shape than I was last year.