Have patience with your career, you impatient psycho: A letter to myself
I am not a patient person. When I took the StrengthsFinder assessment and got “Activator” as my top strength, there was zero surprise on my end. (The first line describing this trait is, “When can we start?” This is a recurring question in your life. You are impatient for action.”) When I make up my mind to do something, I prefer to leap into action, immediately making plans and telling the whole world my next move. Shout out to all of my impatient people out there!
Impatience mostly serves you well throughout life, allowing you to learn quickly and adapt to new and unknown situations easily. I live my life with haste, not wanting to waste a moment on anything not worth doing. The upside of that is I don’t settle for anything that’s less than pretty great, living each day with intention and enthusiasm. The downside is that I have a tendency to drive those around me absolutely nutty with my need for speed. I can pretty much guarantee that any former teacher, boss, or boyfriend of mine would agree.
The major drawback is that, for better or worse, we don’t live in a vacuum, and not all of our decisions involve only us. In fact, most of our circumstances rely on external forces to move forward, regardless of whether we’re ready or not.
Whether or not you generally consider yourself impatient, I can promise that at some point, you’ve felt utterly and completely stuck, most likely in your career. This comes up a lot in my Career Experiment workshops - people come in feeling totally frustrated that despite their best efforts to propel themselves forward toward a new role, industry, or company, they just can’t seem to gain momentum.
They’ve done the hard work of researching and applying for open positions, shining up the old resume, and deleting all (well, almost all) embarrassing college photos from their social profiles. If they’re not actively looking for a new job but are trying to move up in their current role, they’ve gone above and beyond on projects, put in extra hours at the office, and made sure their boss knows they’re ready and willing to take the next step at the company.
Regardless of all the right moves being made, it can sometimes feel like it all adds up to a big pile of inactive nothing. So what are you supposed to do? Stop pushing forward? Deal with it? Wait for the clouds to part and shine down upon a glistening path of “next steps”? Yes. Well, and no.
The key is to do what you can do, work as hard as you can work, dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’, and then let it go. Do as those ice princesses (I’ve somehow managed to avoid seeing “Frozen” but think I get the gist) do and LET IT GOOOOOOO.
There’s something freeing about giving it your all and then letting go of the wheel, trusting in the timing and hoping for the best. This is, of course, WAY easier said than done. I’m repeating it to myself on a loop I write this very post. Being ready to move forward but not being able to is one of the more frustrating situations in life, and even though I’ve been through this exact scenario more than a couple of times, it still feels just as defeating each round.
Whatever your personal situation is that is testing your patience, think of it as being stuck in traffic. Imagine that you’re eyeballs deep in horrific traffic (or what we Los Angelenos like to call “driving”), and there is no exit in sight. Sure, you can get pissed and lose it in the car, laying on the horn and using words that would make a sailor blush. OR, you can crank up the AC, throw on a great podcast or playlist, and use the downtime to your advantage. Being angry isn’t going to get you to your destination any faster, it’ll only give you a headache and the people in the cars next to you a good laugh.
When you feel the frustration boil up inside of you over your career not progressing as quickly as you’d like, put on your proverbial playlist and enjoy the inactivity. In my first job out of undergrad, I finished my daily duties within the first 45 minutes of the 8-hour workday. I was so aggravated at my boredom that I begged my boss for more to do, to which he replied, “Well, there are games on your computer, have you tried playing those to pass the time?” True story. Once I realized that this job would be short-lived and started applying for new positions at other companies, I was able to use that boredom to my advantage. I started picking different topics to learn about each day (Product Management, astrology, and photography to name a few), and began to enjoy the fact that I felt absolutely no pressure to kick ass in this role, knowing that it’d go unnoticed anyway.
Once you’ve learned to find comfort in being uncomfortable, it’s usually in that moment that the next door opens. I’m sure there’s some beautifully zen Buddhist quote that backs this up, but you get it. When you know that you’re able to withstand being frustrated, impatient, and discontent in your job, suddenly things seem a lot more manageable. Even the worst job will have a hard time getting under your skin, and when all of the seeds you’ve planted finally start sprouting, you’ll be able to appreciate it rather than being annoyed that they took so long to grow.
In my experience it’s typically right after the times of greatest discomfort that an amazing opportunity shows up, reminding me that maybe patience really is a virtue. Which, for an impatient person like myself, is really f*cking annoying.