Tag Archives: career

Part 2 – What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

I have not followed a predictable or traditional career trajectory, by most people’s standards. Certainly not by the standards of my mother, who, as an immigrant, possessed a starkly different set of expectations for me in this country. But this unique trajectory of mine has always been a source of pride—I’m immensely proud of the places I’ve gone, the experiences I’ve had—and a source of shame.

Can you feel both proud and ashamed of the same thing?

The shame gets triggered when people ask me certain questions or make certain observations:

You move around a lot.

You change jobs a lot.

What were you planning to do with that?

You’re changing jobs/apartments/cities again?

When will you settle down and grow up?

Or, when I tell people that I have degrees in Television & Radio, Spanish, Theology, and International Development, and a perplexed frown settles on their face as they try to find the logic in that. Where’s the pattern? What’s the point?

I can hear the shame in my voice, feel it all over my body—in my lowered eyes, shrugging shoulders, and diminished posture—when I attempt to explain my actions, my unorthodox choices. Somewhere underneath is usually a hidden plea for understanding and affirmation, for someone to tell me, “Don’t worry. You’re okay.”

Okay, you know what? The pity party’s over. It’s time to nix the shame.

My Career Intention for 2014? To reclaim my past and recreate my future.

My life to this point is a reflection of who I am: insatiably curious, always wanting to learn something new. Compassionate. Deeply concerned for the underdog and those who tend to live on the margins of society. Creative. Idealistic. But pragmatic and realistic when the situation calls for it. Always in pursuit of personal growth and development. And truth. Impatient with the status quo.

It’s in my nature to take the less-traveled road. To explore new places and new opportunities. To encounter new people and cultures, to absorb their worldviews and assumptions and allow them to enhance my own. I’m driven to make connections—between people, ideas, movements, opportunities—and bring our vast and deep (and often hidden) interconnectedness to light. I could not do this without a collection of experiences to draw from.

All the places I’ve gone, the jobs I’ve had, the places I’ve lived, the courses of study I’ve pursued, have given me a richness and depth of life experience, captured and recorded in every cell in my body, and beyond my ability to fully articulate. I am very, very grateful for these experiences, and for the person I’ve become as a result.

That’s not to say there isn’t more work to be done.

Even as I reclaim and embrace my past, it’s also time to recreate my future. To take the lessons learned, the successes and failures, triumphs and losses, and use them to reshape and even redirect my career trajectory.

I will make different choices now, choices aligned with who I know myself to be. I will allow myself to be led by my strengths, my inner wisdom, my curiosity, and my limitations. Yes, I look to my limitations with respect and high regard, much as you would look upon a childhood teacher whom you experienced as unbelievably hard-assed and mean, but whose acerbic words contained truth and wisdom only your adult mind could understand and appreciate.

I will take my inklings, instincts, and curiosities seriously, allow them to direct and guide me in my career choices. And I will trust them enough to risk going a little deeper, letting myself put down roots, so to speak, in those career areas I choose. And if I trust my instincts to guide me, I will also trust that I can develop levels of skill I never dared to imagine, and choose not to dash away too quickly for fear that I just won’t be good enough. I will, instead, allow myself to be seen.

There’s a lot more work to be done on this project called Me. Still more of this mountain to scale. But I think I’m off to a pretty good start so far; a good chunk of the work has already been done.

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Love, Actually

I created three New Year’s Intentions for 2013.

The first: to launch my 365 Days of Delight project, reminding myself that each day and moment matters, regardless of what’s going on around me. (See January entries here).

The second: to develop a career plan, a roadmap of sorts, that I can put into action by June 2013 at the latest.

The third—the most elusive and tricky, but encompassing all three Intentions: to fall in love.

041I’ve managed to get this far in life without ever falling in love. Or rather, without ever allowing myself to fall in love. Lust, infatuation, admiration, longing—yes. Love—no.

And I’m not just referring to romantic love.

Well, that was my intention at first. But being of the more inquisitive and probing sort, I of course began to think more deeply about it. Why do you want to fall in love? Why now? Why haven’t you allowed love to touch your life thus far? In what ways do you shut it out? What impact has this avoidance had on your life? What are you committed to doing now to turn this around?

I’ve kind of tiptoed around love, I think. Chosen not to give my whole heart to any deserving person or thing for fear that I would be found lacking and be burned at the stake for it. I see it in action now, when I consider certain career choices: I’m afraid to commit fully, to fall in love with any of these choices because…what if I don’t like it? What if it doesn’t like me? What if I turn out to be an utter failure? And goodness gracious—what if I turn out to be a success?? So I reign in my natural excitement and enthusiasm. Tell myself sternly to settle down, to shackle all love impulses.

But I want love in my life. I really do. In all its manifestations.

Love is passion. Love is risk. Love is commitment. Love is embracing possibility even when satisfaction is not guaranteed. Love is taking a leap of faith. Love is reveling in one moment of joy even when anxiety lurks around the corner. Love is saying, “Why not me?” Love makes room for fear, failure and rejection, and then transforms them into powerful allies. Love is an open heart.

This Intention, then, is about falling in love with my life as it is today (the 365 Days of Delight project).

It’s about falling in love with all the myriad ways my career and calling may manifest (my career roadmap).

And it’s about falling in love in a traditional, romantic sense (maintaining an open heart and mind). I’ll be sure to let you know when this part happens!

What’s Your Weakness?

You can do anything you want to, if you just put your mind to it.

I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase a million times.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t embrace it wholeheartedly.

I understand the message behind it. With a little sweat, grit and passion, we can accomplish much more than we might imagine. If we give up too easily, or fail to take full ownership of our dreams and goals, we may always fall short.

Still, the fact is, none of us can do anything we want to do. We all have limits. Weaknesses.

But in our society, “weakness” is a four-letter word, a distasteful burden we must strive to fix, eliminate or conceal at all cost.

To use the square peg/round hole analogy, our square edges prevent us from fitting into standard round holes, so those square edges become weaknesses to be sheared off and sandpapered down.

I myself spent a good part of my career trying to force my square edges to fit neatly into round holes. I had adopted the belief that, if I wanted to survive, much less succeed, I had to conform to round hole specifications. So I dedicated untold amounts of energy and effort trying to “fix” what was wrong with me.

I had a lot of help, too. In the office, well-meaning supervisors invested extra time and effort to my transformation. Goals and objectives, performance reviews, regular check-ins all became part of the strategy to turn me into a well-oiled, highly productive cog in the organizational machine. They were motivated to do this, at least initially, because of the untapped potential they saw in me. All that talent could be unleashed if we followed the plan to whittle away my square edges.

I welcomed this investment, at least initially, because I, too, believed that the key to my success, the answer to my career struggles and setbacks, involved forcing my weaknesses, my limits, into submission. The longer I failed to accomplish this goal, I feared, the deeper into the pit of mediocrity I would sink.

So I continuously sought after and accepted round hole positions. And with each new position and supervisory intervention, I prayed that this time I would finally conquer those weaknesses, bend them to my will, and thus earn my ticket into the kingdom of round holes where, finally, I could legitimately join the ranks of those whose abilities, skills and accomplishments—whose worth—remained unquestioned.

I always started out with good intentions and great hope, but at some point I would find myself bumping and crashing against my limits. Motivation turned to disappointment, frustration and a deep-seated puzzlement: I obviously had talent and brains—why then could I not consistently perform up to standard? I either could not or would not do what needed to be done to fit into that round hole. Mission failed.

And for me, every failed mission struck with the force of a hit-and-run, leaving me to pick up the broken pieces of my self scattered over the ground, questioning my self-worth and my abilities, and struggling to find the energy to start all over again.

But that’s what happens when you try to build a career that relies too heavily on whittling down square edges, on exorcising weaknesses. It’s like trying to live in a house of cards—collapse is inevitable and debilitating.

Just think: where would I be now if I had known to change course earlier on, if I had chosen not to fear and revile my weaknesses, but to respect and honor them instead? If I had followed the trail of my talents and strengths, and allowed my limits to stand on their own and help guide my journey?

Would I be writing this blog, I wonder?

Fortunately I’m starting to learn these lessons. I can’t even begin to tell you how freeing it is to know that I cannot do everything I put my mind to. My weaknesses exist not to cut me down, but to point the way to my purpose, my calling.

My square edges are mine, and I’m keeping them.

When Common Sense Gives You the Wrong Directions

I want more from my life.

I want more than just a steady job with steady pay and a steady lifestyle.

Don’t get me wrong—steady is good. With the kind of life I’ve lived to date, steady does hold a certain appeal.

But I want more. I want vitality and purpose, I want satisfaction, I want to thrive. I want to get to the end of my life and feel that bone-deep but utterly satisfying exhaustion that comes after you put in a hard day’s work, when you’ve eagerly used every physical, mental and emotional resource given to you to keep the world turning and progressing. And then you get to heave the sigh of the deeply contented.

Common sense dictates that I should go along with the standard operating procedure for achieving this good life: Hard work. Practical, reasonable thinking. Doing the right thing. Being responsible. And if something is broken, fix it. If you have a question, find an answer. If you’re struggling in a job, try harder. If uncertainty strikes anywhere in your life, follow these five steps to total clarity. If there’s a problem, just do something about it.

Common sense would be partially right. But common sense accounts for only half of the picture. It can only get me so far before I start losing my way.

The fact is, the kind of life I want demands a great deal more of me, and not just in terms of hard work and professional striving. It also requires a higher level of trust and faith than I’ve ever known. The kind of faith that makes me quake in my boots because it demands that I go against the tide, that I measure my reality, my progress, even my state of mind by a different set of standards than the norm.

This faith compels me to look beneath the surface of my life, to see with the eyes of my heart and spirit, and not just with the eyes of my mind. Like an ocean current, it nudges me in the right direction, and challenges me—dares me—to push past my fears and reach for what I want. And it urges me to trust, to simply know that I’m in good hands, no matter how choppy things look on the surface.

No easy task, this.

But by faith I will get there.

The Paradox of Progress: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The year was 2003, and after nearly two years of unemployment, I had just gratefully accepted a full-time position with a non-profit organization in Los Angeles. After two years of doubt, confusion and the gripping fear that I would never see the light of a new job again, two years of wondering where I would possibly fit with my newly acquired Master’s degree in Theology, salvation had finally arrived.

Not only did it arrive in the form of a good job with a decent salary, but it was a position I was excited about, with an organization whose mission I heartily embraced. My heart expanded with a depth of gratitude rarely experienced before.

If you’ve been unemployed for any significant stretch of time, you know what I’m talking about.

I dove into the job enthusiastically and earnestly, knowing that I had been given a chance to break out of the cycle of fits-and-starts that had defined so much of my career to that point. During those dark days of joblessness, I had learned a lot about myself. I came to terms with who I was and acknowledged that I had some work to do if I wanted to grow.

The issue standing front and center: responsibility. Yuniya, you have to take responsibility for yourself—your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. You can’t always just pick up and leave when the going gets tough. You can’t just act impulsively without giving any serious thought to the consequences. It’s time for you to grow up and take responsibility for your life. For YOU.

This message lodged itself in my mind and heart even as I set foot into my new office on my first day. No more playing around, I determined. This was real. I would learn to stay put and grow. My life depended on it.

But six months into the new job, that message began to lose its zing. I had crested the learning curve and was starting to feel the threat of boredom. Not a good sign. For me, boredom often became a portent of doom, gradually unleashing the demons of restlessness, distraction, decreased productivity on the job, and ultimately, the impulse to leave the old behind and find something new. To my dismay and frustration, six months after my enthusiastic start, I found myself poring over job advertisements for hours on end, looking for yet another new beginning.

But the new grown-up voice spoke up: Yuniya, it’s not time for you to move on yet. If you quit now and take another job, you’ll only stifle your growth; you’ll just drag the same issues with you. You’ll never get past Go if you don’t stay. I felt the truth of this admonition; I had to stay on.

Months later, however, I found myself putting as much effort into daydreaming about new experiences as I put into the daily tasks of my job. When my boss noticed my performance had diminished and subsequently put me on a performance improvement plan, the impulse to run consumed me. The pain of failing tore me apart, and proved that a) I didn’t belong there, b) I was doomed to a life of mediocrity and underperformance, because c) I was a deeply flawed human being. How could I be expected to stay with this job when faced with these self-evident truths? I just didn’t fit. I had to escape!

But the voice spoke again: Yuniya, it’s not time for you to move on yet. This pain is a good pain. You have to stay with it. The worst thing you could do at this point is run from it. You must stay with it. Work through it. Then when you get to the other side of it, you will truly know satisfaction. What you’re looking for isn’t out there in another job. It’s right here, on the other side of this pain and discomfort.

In my mind’s eye I saw an image of a small plant, barely a shoot, struggling to push itself up through the soil. That shoot was me. If I chose to obey my impulse to run, I would effectively rip that shoot out of the ground before it even had a chance to grow some roots. I had to stay on.

I buckled down and tried as much as possible to set aside the impulse to run. I focused on embracing my here-and-now, uncomfortable as it sometimes felt. Months later, I looked up and looked around and was taken aback by what I saw. That little shoot had grown and sprouted some leaves without me even realizing.

To begin with, I acquired my first car ever, and overcame a multitude of fears about driving in Los Angeles. I bought my first laptop computer and started writing again. I finally, finally, realized a dream I had held since high school: I traveled to Mexico to immerse myself in Spanish for 16 days. I visited London, another dream destination I had ceased to believe was possible, and vacationed in Mazatlan. I drove through the streets of Manhattan for the first time, in the middle of a drenching downpour, in a mini-van packed with high school students (not a task for the faint of heart!).  I met my father for the first time.

And guess what else?

I stayed at the same job for well over two years—a record for me—despite my occasional tantrums.

All experiences I would have missed out on, had I turned tail and run.

And when it was time to move on, I felt it. I knew it to the tips of my toes. Everything in me and around me seemed to jangle in a chorus of victory. When I turned in my letter of resignation, my boss looked at me with such pride that it brought tears to my eyes. She knew how I had struggled to push through all that pain and discomfort. “Doesn’t it feel good,” she asked me, “to know that you worked hard to overcome so much, and that you succeeded? To know that you’re leaving on a victorious note?”

Indeed. Talk about satisfaction.

What I couldn’t see clearly then, I see clearly now: this season redefined and redirected my life more than any others that had come before it. It set me on a different track and gave me back my sense of hope and purpose. It helped me believe in myself again.

Good thing I stayed.

Living the Imperatives

“There is a force in me that is determined to honor the imperatives of my life.”

Ladies and gentlemen, there it is: the twists and turns of my life summed up in a few short words.

I read this statement in Gregg Levoy’s book, Callings (which, by the way, is a fantastic read), and felt its impact like a clanging bell.

Even as I stumbled through life searching for my place, I always felt–or perhaps hoped–that somewhere, on some mysterious and invisible plane, all of my experiences made sense. God knows that to the average onlooker, and even myself, the shape and pattern of my experiences induced perplexed head-scratching at best, and stern reprimanding at worst. But this statement offered another perspective, one that rang true for me and brought substance to a hopeful hunch.

Let me show you what I mean.

I am female, Black, 41 years old, a first-generation immigrant from a developing country. When we moved to the US, my first friends were Hispanic, Chinese and Indian. In fact, I didn’t have any close Black friends until college. I taught myself Spanish when I was about 13 years old and birthed a lifelong love of foreign languages in the process. I even attempted to teach myself Chinese, Greek and Korean, though with far less success. I learned to play the electric bass while in my church’s youth group band, and bought my own second-hand Ibanez bass, which I still have. I fell in love with baseball at age 15 and became a diehard New York Mets fan. To this day it remains my favorite sport to watch and discuss, and I love to trash talk about the Yankees. I had my first real kiss at 18, and first real boyfriend at 22. But I only “knew” a man in the full sense of the word at 33. Yes, 33. I got my driver’s license at 24, and my very first car at 32. I have lived in Guyana, New York City, Madison (yes, land of the Cheese-heads), Los Angeles, Monterey, and now Washington, DC. I have a BA in Television and Radio and two Master’s degrees: Theology, and Public Administration.

In my 20 or so years in the workforce, I’ve changed jobs frequently enough to give my mother an ulcer. But despite my grinding efforts to mold myself into a “conventional” career person, with the help of countless well-meaning friends, colleagues and supervisors, it just never seemed to take. I often chose to follow the beat of my own drum, to let my instinct and impulse guide me, for better or for worse.

I have embraced the fact that I will never fit into the “conventional” category when it comes to career matters. My path has always veered off the beaten track, and probably always will. But my meanderings have pushed me and challenged me to honor the imperatives of my life, to avoid taking the easy way out or accepting the status quo as the only available option. They have created and honed certain gifts and strengths of value that could not have developed in any other way. What I have to offer the world, then, is no less valid or meaningful for having gained it in an unconventional fashion.

There is a force in me that is determined to honor the imperatives of my life, carving out my place and my unique contribution to the world all the while.

The Life of a Career Misfit

My name is Yuniya, and I am, without a doubt, a career misfit.

Like many other career misfits, I have always felt compelled to make a difference in the world, to make a mark in some tangible and meaningful way through my career. And yet the means to do so has remained frustratingly elusive over the years.

For a while there I thought it was all me. I fought against the fear that my lack of success was due to a fatal flaw in me, that I would never be able to rise above my shortcomings and live a life according to my terms. I harbored a secret but pervasive fear that I would always be confined to the sidelines of life, watching other people succeed and accomplish in ways I would never, could never, experience.

But I learned a few things along the way that have challenged those fears. The most important is, I am who I am, flaws and all. In many ways, it’s those flaws, those weaknesses, that sharpen and define the shape of my life; I can fight against them, or embrace them as co-creators of life. Who I am is a sum of all the parts: the twists and turns, the victories and disappointments, right choices and wrong turns, good fits and bad fits. And who I am is GOOD.

This blog is an exploration and exposition of this and many other truths I’ve learned along the way via my own struggles with being a career misfit. I don’t profess to have all the answers, however. I still have a lot of questions and uncertainties, and I will share some of my thoughts on these as well. Ultimately, I hope to encourage, empower and enlighten those who choose to read these posts, and to speak up for career misfits all over the world.