I work at a job that I love, doing what I was always meant to do. I’ve been doing it long enough that I’m generally pretty damn good at it. Goddess knows, this wasn’t always the case. I had a really steep learning curve. But if I could say one thing (OK, maybe a FEW things) to my younger, scared, insecure self, I would say:
* Keep, as Jos. Campbell said, following your bliss. Keep going towards what feels fascinating, and difficult, and real. It’s pretty clear what things you weren’t meant to do. Walk away from those and keep seizing every chance to do the stuff that feels right.
* Be a complete and utter bitch about quality. Demand it from yourself and from the people who work for you. You don’t have to be bitchy to do this, but you do have to have a devotion to “doing it right” that goes beyond “normal.” The people who can’t hang with you on this deserve the chance to move on and be part of some other team. And when you find people who can hang with you on this, do everything you can to thank them, reward them, champion their own careers — even when it means that they will soon move on and get teams of their own. Sleep is over-rated. (No, it’s not. Sleep is exquisite and you need sleep. But you know what I mean.)
* Second careers rock. I spent almost two decades as a teacher before becoming a lawyer. I wasn’t a bad teacher, but I’m a far better lawyer than I ever was teacher. A first career can help you to hone some skills and can show you what you’d be better at. There isn’t a day that I don’t use skills that I learned in education: managing emotional “children” (lawyers, ahem), making complex issues simple, getting support staff to work together, saying things in a way that will be appealing rather than scary. But there isn’t a single day I regret leaving education for the law. Don’t be afraid to follow your bliss into a second career.
* You are so competitive enough. Maybe (I hope) it’s only women of my generation who worry that being competitive is “bad” or “too difficult.” But I do know that when I was thinking about going to law school, one thing that really worried me was whether I was “competitive enough” to do law. Which was INSANE because I LOVE to win. No, I mean that all my life I have always been willing to sacrifice sleep, love, fun, friendship, whatever to win. But I grew up thinking that “nice” women weren’t competitive and that I was more “supportive” than “competitive.” What a crock. Law school was worth every penny I paid and every minute of sleep I lost if for no other reason than that it made me realize this truth about myself: I am VERY competitive and I will do WHATEVER I can to win. I haven’t won every single case, but I have won nearly all of them. (And, now that I think about it, I haven’t won every case at first, but, by the time we get to appeal, I do have a pretty sterling record. Because I’m “competitive enough” to keep on attacking and trying to win.)
* There’s a craft associated with almost every job. For my job, it’s writing. I often joke that what I do is to produce prose for pay, but, really, that’s what I do. I show up every day and try to craft the very best prose that I can craft. If I were a smith, I’d show up every day and try to hammer molten metal into the very best shapes I could craft. Learn your craft. Respect your craft. Pay attention to the details. I’ve spent years learning (and I’m still working to learn) how to craft perfect sentences that simply cannot be misunderstood or refuted. Craft matters. Honor it.
* Have fun. Celebrate what you do and who you are and why you do what you do. Life is short. Livelihood should be fun.
Picture found here.