I’m working my way through Kerry Clare’s blog school, and the assignment for today’s module is to write about something that’s beautiful because it’s imperfect. I’m not a perfectionist, so almost everything in my life is imperfect, but mostly my life itself is imperfect. Or more specifically, my career.
And to be honest, I struggle with seeing the beauty in it.
It’s mid-May and the first really warm day this year. The sun is shining hard, the birds are chirping, Ontario is starting to talk about opening up the COVID-19 lockdown — the world itself is full of energy. And my energy is directed towards my life.
I’ve been riding the midlife crisis rollercoaster since my mother died the day before my 40th birthday, so it’s coming on five years now. (It takes a long time to redirect an entire life, especially one with as many relationships, obligations, and possessions as mine.)
As usual, this most useless question comes up: Where did I go wrong? Subquestions: How did someone as brilliant and charismatic and beloved as me end up so insignificant, so invisible, so deeply unessential? (Modesty is not among my strengths.) Should I have tried harder at Career 1.0? What the hell am I supposed to do with my life? What do I even want? Will I ever get what I want? Doesn’t everyone want to be more important, more interesting? Why should I get that? But then why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t everyone be as important and as interesting as they want to be? What does important even mean? Why isn’t it enough to be really important to my children? Why do I have to be important to just random people?
This can go on for hours.
To be honest, I’m fairly happy with the path I’m on — coaching is a good fit for me for now, and if I put my shoulder behind it it will help me get where I want to go (and also, I trust, help me figure out where the hell that is).
But it’s still hard to look back at my work life and not feel like I screwed it up. Choosing the wrong major in university (based on what was easy in high school), not getting good enough marks (it was really hard and I wasn’t interested), not trying hard enough at my early jobs (I hated them and I didn’t have any support), giving up work to be a stay-at-home mom (my favourite job ever but a career black hole), not being creative or ambitious enough about my copyediting business (I was really lonely) — it’s been a mess.
But was it a beautiful mess?
Studying math and programming in university taught me how to think logically, how to break a problem down and step through it methodically. It also taught me about computers and algorithms, the literal substrate of the modern world. And saying you have a degree in math sounds awesome at parties. (No-one at parties cares what your marks were or that it’s only a three-year degree.)
What was beautiful about not getting good marks and not doing well at my first few jobs in tech? I guess I learned that when I don’t enjoy something I don’t do well at it, which is kind of a beautiful thing: What about those people who invest years and years of time and effort into becoming a engineer or a doctor or something and then decide they hate it? That’s got to sting.
Leaving the paid-work world to become a stay-at-home mom — I can’t even be ambivalent about that. That was awesome. I wouldn’t want to do it again and I wouldn’t raise someone else’s kids even if you paid me, but it was tons of fun to do once, and I learned everything about teamwork, trust, communication, respect, structure, self-care, adventure, challenge, learning. Maybe it makes my resume a hot mess that HR people/bots can’t parse, but I would not change a thing.
And what was beautiful about choosing to pack up my copyediting business and move on instead of doubling down? Because it was the right choice. Copyediting was lovely and rewarding work, but my deepest strengths lie elsewhere. I’m glad I did copyediting — it was a chance to reinvent myself, to pick up a new skill and hang out my shingle, to learn about marketing and running a freelance business. But to stick with it after it had run its course would have been to beat a dead horse; bringing those skills and learnings to coaching was the right choice.
So here I stand, looking behind me and seeing the silver lining to all those clouds. I’m almost 45, on the cusp of a new career that will open up new horizons, and I’m finally starting to understand that all the choices which led me here were not a series of mishaps and missteps, but rather a fascinating and rich succession of trials, adventures, capers and shenanigans, each with their own lessons, relationships, and stories.