Championing the Unpredictable Career Constellation

It took me years to embrace that my career path wouldn’t be linear or predictable.

Last week, I was invited to speak to junior high students at my daughter’s school on Career Day.

As you can see from the sign, I obviously still struggle to communicate what it is I actually do — and people have a hard time understanding it.

What the heck is a social worker/blogger?

After sharing my non-linear career path six times in a row, I realized just what a struggle career planning can be for creative, multi-passionate people, or “multipotentialites” as Emilie Wapnick calls us in her popular TED Talk, Why some of us don’t have one true calling.

Emilie clarifies a concept we often don’t talk about on career days around the country: Some of us are specialists. Others of us are not.

My career path started when I finished my master’s degree in social work and started working in addiction treatment.

After bugging the CEO to learn grant writing, I found myself with a newly created position and office in the administrative building. Less than a year after that, I moved up to the Chief Operating Officer role.

I loved the COO role.

For a creative obsessed with spreadsheets, turning crazy big ideas that would benefit thousands of lives into reality was my own personal McDonald’s play place.

I went back to school to get an MBA and fell in love with business operations.

After several years at the “top” of the career ladder, I hit a wall: the realization that I’d been defining career success based on salary and bonuses and titles…and that this isn’t actually the key to happiness.

I no longer had the tolerance to work 60+ hours a week, attend boring meetings, or submit vacation requests six months in advance.

I had come, conquered, and found my career to be wanting.

I left my job without a plan and spent a solid thirty days sitting in my bonus-funded hot tub questioning career paths and what success really looks like.

During that same month, I was contacted by one of the largest companies in the world. I jumped through a series of interviews and I will forever remember getting the call with the offer around 4 PM while I was waiting to pick up my daughter from school.

This timing was not lost on me.

I was NEVER able to drop off or pick up my daughter from school in my prior job.

The offer should have been a dream. The baseline salary was way more than the job I had just left with a bonus structure that could buy three hot tubs at a time, plus loads of upward mobility given the sheer size of the company…

…and loads of bureaucracy, pointless meetings, office drama and politics.

I turned the job, and the entire notion of a job, down, surprising even myself.

I spent the next year obsessed with finding a way to make my own money with the freedom of being my own boss.

I volunteered for a local author, a startup angel investment network, and a variety of other ventures that interested me. I returned to old hobbies. Played with my kids.

I made less than $5,000 that first year, but kept following every intriguing opportunity.

I loved the COO role, and that’s what I ended up gravitating back to, just with entrepreneurs who couldn’t afford a full-time COO. I became their Virtual COO.

Being in operations requires many hats. I adore the crash courses in random topics that I now consider greater compensation than the checks that come in the mail:

  • Book launches
  • Functional medicine and nutrition
  • Disaster preparedness
  • Healthcare accreditation…and so much more.

Every experience along the way impacted my business or my life in unforeseen ways, opening doors that I never would have considered.

Last year, I launched two new projects, and finally embraced that I will have many pivots over the course of my career. And it’s okay to not have a cookie cutter answer to spout off when someone asks that loaded question, “What do you do?”

Therapist / Virtual COO / Writer / Diabetes Nerd…

I was so obsessed with whether I was being scattered and uncommitted, or if I should follow these new pursuits, I interviewed three of my role models.

Here’s the thing that I discovered when I stood back and looked at my career…and my life:

It was as if there was a grand design the entire time, a constellation of stars that only formed the bigger picture after the fact.

I never made a mistake.

Every experience, every choice, every life experience has directly led to the opportunities that are now in front of me.

My background as a therapist and my business experience in online marketing is coming together to allow me to pursue new projects with a wider reach.

The book that is in the works is being made possible because of the experience and connections I made while working on book launches.

The struggle and self-doubt that have come with each pivot continue to reinforce my resiliency, a competitive edge that lets me take bigger risks and adapt faster.

What if I hadn’t taken that big career risk?

I think about the five years that have passed and everything I would have missed out on if I had stayed on the more logical career path.

Those experiences have dramatically shaped my life and my future trajectory.

I like how my stars have aligned, and I plan to continue to follow the new points of light in the distance to see where they take me.

I hope a few of those kids in that classroom, or at least my own kids, can get to that point sooner, where they embrace the unpredictable and fantastic road ahead and stop trying to find the most socially acceptable answer to, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

For some of us, the answer is a beautiful mouthful with an open ending.

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