How Did I Get Here?

How did I get here?

I mean, it’s all good. Life is pretty good. You’d rightfully accuse me of being ungrateful if I said anything different. But I have no idea how I got here. Am I the only forty-something who feels this way? (By the way, describing myself as a forty-something in writing is pretty sobering.)

When I say “here”, I mostly mean my career. I can follow the breadcrumb trail and know how I got to my other “heres”. I can tell you how I came to live in this area in 1998 (funny story). I know the chain of events that led me to meet my husband (fate?). But my profession, my position, and my place of work? That feels much more random. Like I really had nothing to do with it.

After graduating high school, I felt like I was on a path. Then, rather than the proverbial fork in the road, I met a dead-end. Or maybe it was more like a round-about? Regardless, I couldn’t find a map that told me YOU ARE HERE that could show me where to go, because I really didn’t know what the destination was. Sorry for all the bad analogies.

When I started university, I wanted to be a high school teacher. Don’t be led to believe that I had any laser-sharp focus or even a clue, when I say this. I switched from wanting to teach French, to History, to English, flitting around because no subject came easy enough. I even thought maybe I should teach elementary school instead of high school for a moment. All in the space of an academic year. I had the quintessential 18-year-old existential crisis, and it sucked. It didn’t help that I was in a toxic living situation (a topic for another day) and that I wasn’t loving any of my courses. Except linguistics – which I truly loved and exceled at – but what the hell could I do with a linguistics degree?

At the end of that year, when an advisor at my university talked to me about the stark realities of finding a job as a teacher in Canada, the existential crisis became an actual crisis. Would I be willing to come out of university with a big, fat student loan and no job prospects? Would I be willing to live at home or work minimum wage while waiting for a teaching job to materialize, perhaps for many years? The answer as it turns out was no.

Fast forward twenty-four (oh my god) years and I’m a professional accountant. I work in Finance at a major corporation, about to move up the ranks from middle management to senior management. I’m not helping anyone in my work, unless you count making my boss look good, or helping shareholders get richer. There’s lots of stuff I like about my work (the people I work with, mainly), but is it fulfilling and rewarding? Am I doing anything to leave the world a better place? Uh, no.

I’ve come to believe that there are two schools of thought on the topic of fulfillment as it relates to your work. The first is to think of your job as, well, a job. A way to pay the bills, but not something that defines you. The idea is to then find things outside of your job to fulfill you – maybe volunteering, hobbies, or a passion project. This is all well and good if you work 9 to 5. It’s no so easy when your job is demanding and unpredictable. My hours are long and my evenings and weekends are never sacred, plus I travel for business a lot.

The other approach is to find a career or organization to work for that you’re passionate about. This is obviously the harder road to travel. I actually tried this many years ago. I left my current job to work for a nonprofit that I believed in, still working in finance. The organization was very cool and the people who worked there were very passionate about the mission of the organization – so inspiring. The only problem was that my department was a disaster. Disfunctional and toxic to the point of giving me stomach aches on the way to work and putting me in tears on the way home. It made me realize that the only way for work to be tolerable, not to mention enjoyable, is to like and care about the people you work with. The organization itself actually matters less, I believe.

There’s no moral to my story, here. I haven’t figured anything out. I work too much for a company that I really don’t believe in. It isn’t evil, but it isn’t doing anything that aligns with my personal values. Is it okay to have just a job. Especially when it takes so much of your time and energy? Or does this mean that I’m selling my soul a little bit?

1. What is My Hobby, My Job, My Career, and My Vocation?

In January 2016, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, Big Magic, and many other fabulous works of fiction and non-fiction, posed a question on Facebook: WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? This post blew my mind.

She addresses those of us “seeking purpose and meaning and direction in their lives” by differentiating how we spend our time into the buckets: Hobby, Job, Career, and Vocation. Please, please, please go and read her post, but here’s a very summarized definition of these terms.

  1. A hobby is something you do strictly for enjoyment.
  2. A job is how you look after yourself in the world, financially. Says Elizabeth: “Even after I’d already published three books, I still kept a regular job, because I never wanted to burden my creativity with the responsibility of paying for my life.” Cool, right? She also says “Your job does not need to be how you define yourself; you can create your own definitions of your purpose and your meaning, pulled from deep within your imagination.”
  3. A career is a job that you put your energy, passion, and commitment into.
  4. A vocation is a calling, “a summons that comes directly from the universe, and is communicated through the yearnings of your soul.”

Question:

What are these for me? What is my hobby, my job, my career, and my vocation?

Answer:

I have a few hobbies: reading, knitting, writing, drawing, painting, watching Vlogs on YouTube, and fitness. Chris calls me a “dabbler” because I rotate through these depending on my whims and my schedule – pretty appropriate, I’d say.

When I think about job and career, I get caught up in a feedback loop. I work in finance and I’ve risen the ranks into a senior position in my field, mostly at one company. I’ve put my energy and commitment into this, but it’s most definitely not out of a sense of passion, but out of my damned need to please others. In this regard, it’s a job: there’s no passion, there’s no sense of purpose or meaning for me. But, it some ways it feels a lot like a career. I’ve dedicated a lot of time getting my accounting designation and a lot of overtime hours getting to my current position. I’m good at what I do, I like most of the people I work with, but I don’t love it. It doesn’t feed my soul. In fact, it probably sucks a little bit of the life out if it.

When I think about vocation and read and re-read Elizabeth’s essay, I realize that this is the scariest prospect of all. WHAT IF DON’T HAVE A VOCATION? WHAT IF I WASTE MY ENTIRE LIFE MISSING THE SIGNS OF WHAT MY CALLING REALLY IS? She advocates paying attention to your senses, and considering your talents, tastes, passions, and curiosities. She urges everyone to seek. In my case, I look to my hobbies (which represent my talents, tastes, passions, and curiosities) and wonder if my vocation lies amongst the dabbles. I also think about what I gravitated to as a child: drawing, reading, and writing, for sure, but also teaching – my favorite game was to play teacher. I would create syllabuses for the younger children in my mother’s home daycare – I taught everything from math to science to gymnastics. There are also other things I’m passionate about that are currently hobbies, or that I’m not actively dedicating any productive time to: animal rights advocacy, sustainable transportation, the environment.

Follow-Up:

Elizabeth reminds us that we don’t need a career. If this is true, can I ditch mine? Or, more realistically, can I convert my career into a job? That is, can I pull back the time and energy I currently put into it so that I can focus on a vocation and get the sense of purpose and meaning in my life? For me, this is going to take a lot of courage and assertiveness. Hell, it might even take some planning and accountability.

What the heck is my vocation? Dabbling is good for hobbies, but if I’m trying to find meaning and purpose in my life, I think I need to focus on something. What should that be? My gut tells me that if I dedicate myself to this blog, focus the content to something meaningful, I could reach a lot of people, satisfying the writing and teaching urges that I have. Maybe I’m onto something here. Also, what Elizabeth says about not burdening creativity with the responsibility for paying for life is so profound. I feel like I would really start to hate drawing and painting if I had to force it.

Interaction is Fun!

If there’s anyone out there reading this, and if you’re inclined, I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic and your answers to the questions.