Every day I go to work and sit at my desk for at least 10 hours. I sit down at 9am and leave when the last person in the office starts locking up. I’m trying to prove something — to whom? I’m not exactly sure. During those hours of getting things done, I’m not alone. Sure, I’ve got coworkers, but I’ve also got something more important: a picture of a surfer riding an incredible wave.
The water in the picture is dark and the sky is cloudy, but the surfer stands in place focused and determined, grateful for the challenge.
As I knock on the door of 30, I look back and dissect a little bit and it seems throughout my life I’ve been up for a challenge. As soon as I feel comfortable somewhere, I decide it’s time to leave. Yet the minute I leave, I’m confused as to what the hell I was thinking. But I never quit. I can tell you that I hated high school, but that I’m proud of the school I attended. I’d always wanted to go there and I got in. Would I have been happier someplace else? Maybe. But I was challenged and I struggled and I learned. And I survived. So when those quarterly donation requests come through the mail, I do something I swore I’d never do — I write a check to the school.
I’m not sure if I set myself up to fail or to get disappointed or if I truly believe I can do just about anything I want to. Three years ago, I left a secure job for another challenge (what we in business call a “better opportunity”). I was discontent at the status quo and it was time to shake things up. And boy did things get shaken. I lost my new job, I went back to freelancing and found myself at a place in my career I thought I’d never return — knocking on doors to get back in. But I kept going back out there.
Putting yourself out there is not unlike a surfer paddling beyond the shore to hunt for waves. The way I look at it, I got another new job (another challenge) and I’m going to ride this new wave whether I think I can make it or not. My 10+ hours per day is the equivalent of standing in place, focused and determined to ride it out.
You know that feeling when you look at an up-escalator that isn’t working? Those silver metal stairs staring at you, mocking your laziness, leaving you with no choice but to climb them. Then you know how I’m feeling right now. I start (yet another) new job next week. (I write this with little more enthusiasm than that dude from the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial who says: “time to make the donuts.”) I swear to you I have more experience on my resume than someone who’s at a senior level in their career despite the fact that I don’t yet have a senior title or salary.
When I graduated from college, I was ready to take on the magazine world. It took me two to three years before I landed my first full-time editorial assistant position at a magazine–a coveted entry-level job for which there are as many openings in New York as there are UFO sightings. In that three-year span, I witnessed some friends get lucky and some friends change careers. I considered myself one of the strong who survived and had a career that matched my $500,000 diploma. The reason why I survived can be found on my resume–I took as many freelance assistant, writing and research magazine jobs as I could get. This journey included calling hotels in Zimbabwe to confirm that Angelina Jolie had stayed there and checking the spelling of luxury golf courses. I even interviewed the rapper Jadakiss in person. (“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”) My resume became a patchwork of one-year stints here and six-months there. It’s certainly not how I pictured it would be. (“I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living“…)
Despite the arduous climb, there was a moment in time ever so briefly when I felt like I was soaring. When that editorial assistant job led to my first ever promotion, I felt more than a tinge of confidence. Finally my ship had set sail. And it was wonderful. Another year later, I landed an even better job for more money at a new place. Enter Career Ladder Phase Two and we’re off. I felt like I imagine Celine Dion felt when Ceasars Palace gave her her own performance venue in Vegas, except, like, I was in a cubicle. This company wanted me for the long haul and I was game. My days calling Zimbabwe were definitely long gone.
After six months at Career Ladder Phase Two I was laid-off and it was back to square one. So I did what I know best–I freelanced. I took stints here and there all the while trying to get back to where I felt…important and talented. The star of my own show. A cubicle with my name on it, a business card–all without an expiration date.
Alas, after multiple edit tests–(for those of you not in publishing, an edit test is given to a job applicant by a publication to test the applicant’s editing, writing and creativity as it pertains to that publication’s needs)–and rounds of interviews (and lots of tears) I got a real job offer (a.k.a. a staff position). It took exactly a year and a half, but I climbed my way back. So I should be excited, right? Relieved? Well, not really. I have the same feeling about this new job as someone who’s been recently divorced–I’m in no rush to remarry and go down THAT road again.
The office manager at my most recent permalance (another word for full-time freelance) gig used to make fun of me for never ordering office supplies while I worked there. For a year, I got by on what I could borrow. I didn’t want to get comfortable ’cause I never knew when I’d have to leave. It’s like moving in with someone and not bringing any of your stuff except maybe a pillow and a toothbrush. Pens, paper clips and Post-Its–these are the things that make a cube a home. But hey, play it as it lays.
The people at my new job have made it clear that they trust in my ability to meet their expectations as much as they’ve made it clear I still have a lot to learn. I’m nervous about this learning part. I hope it entails becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be and staying there awhile.
Whenever I start a new job, I listen to this song:
“I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I been a runnin’ ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming but I know
A change gon’ come oh yes it will” – Sam Cooke