I was presented with an interesting question on two separate occasions recently which really made me stop and think about my perception of myself. “What do you want?” In the context of jobs, deals or my career, it’s not exactly a question that I get asked since it’s usually about the needs of the client or the project. Usually it’s something along the lines of “what can you bring to the table? What can you do for this project?” But what do I want? It’s such a simple question, but a deceptively hard one to answer.
My particular issue has always been that I don’t really know what I want (well I kind of do in a big dream sort of way, but that involves some serious random luck with a lottery ticket. Yeah I know, happiness isn’t about money, but I wouldn’t object if it started there). While it’s been a painfully slow process, I’m finally getting closer to focusing in on what I want by identifying what I don’t want to do. More importantly, however, I’ve come to realize that I’m not allowing myself to acknowledge the things that I want because I don’t believe in myself enough.
Yeah. That’s a big one. It’s really easy to brush things off by saying, “oh, I’m not an artist, I’m not a writer, I don’t feel like an entrepreneur.” I do it all the time. I did it just an hour ago on a phone conversation I was having with a friend. I have no idea why it’s easier to discredit myself than it is to own up to my skills and accomplishments, but it is. It’s been pointed out enough times in articles that this can be a gender thing, that women aren’t confident enough, but I also keep having conversations with people about the difference between my generation (I guess that would be X) and the generations younger than us. I believe we might be the last generation to have this mentality that accomplishments and accolades are earned and the only way to get there is to work your way up and “pay your dues”. I’m certainly old enough to have earned confidence in my field, but it’s been hard for some reason to shake off the grips of perpetual self doubt. It gets even further complicated when you’re raising girls and trying to nurture their own self confidence. The irony at play here isn’t lost on me.
As you know, a career change has been on my mind for a long time (are you tired of hearing about it? Because sometimes I am). My own mom did it around this age, partially to leave a demanding physical job and partially because she didn’t know how she was going to send 2 kids to college on a nurse’s salary. It worked out really well for her and she tapped into a business side of herself that she never even knew existed. Even though I have a great role model in her, a career change is daunting for a lot of reasons. Logistically, the process of getting there can be challenging and time consuming and this is *after* you figure out what you want to do. But it’s also daunting because our identity is so tied to our jobs and careers (at least here in the US) and for me, personally, my sense of self worth is often tied to my ability to bring in a paycheck. We always get asked the question, “what do you do?”, so if we strip ourselves from our jobs, what’s left? A lot, obviously; we aren’t one dimensional, but sometimes it’s hard to see who we are without the filter of our careers.
This year feels different though. Entertaining a few recent opportunities has made me take a look at what I’ve done and what I can do. Not surprisingly, it’s more than I give myself credit for. It’s long overdue, but it’s time take ownership of what I’ve done with my career in the past so that I can define what I want in the future. It’s not validation from others that I need, it’s validation from myself. And if you’ve gone through a career change and reinvented yourself, I would love to hear your experiences too.