Tag Archives: career

To my 20-something self: Make a career plan

This post goes out to all the girls … girls who woke up one day in their 30s and realized they hadn’t ended up where they’d expected, girls who were on a career arc then veered off to raise a family, and girls who expected to be married with kids…until they weren’t.

The talk most of us never got

This is the conversation I wish someone had held with me when I was 24 or 28 or even 31, early enough in my life to grab my shoulders and shake me and say, “Don’t just let life happen to you. Make some decisions. Don’t assume it’s not going to matter.”

Because that’s how I did it, and it kind of sucks to realize in the rear view mirror that I should have–and could have–planned ahead.

My experience is not the norm for yours, but maybe this can serve as a starting place for all you lovely ladies out there who are still trying to figure out your place in this world.

1. You need a plan.

This is what no one told me, boiled down to its simplest form: Regardless of your family status (married, kids, cat lady, divorced, whatever), you’re going to live a long time and do a lot of stuff over the course of your life.  You’ve got 40+ years of life – probably more if you’re in your 20s and take relatively good care of yourself.

What are you going to make out of those years? What would you like to build with your life? What problems do you want to solve?

Or play the “Write your own eulogy” game: imagine you’ve just died, and write out what people will recognize as your greatest accomplishments. Don’t laugh – this is a great way to force yourself to imagine what your future might could look like. *

You don’t have to map it all out. But you can start heading in a direction toward something that holds your attention. Whether you turn that passion into your “day job” to earn income is a different set of questions. But you’ll be happier if you can get your work and your interests/skills/talents to align – even a little.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/MeetAnais

2.  Make it a flexible plan – create room for growth and change.

It was really liberating for me to hear someone say, when I was in my 20s, “You won’t hit your [career] peak until you’re in your 50s. That’s when many of this world’s great minds churned out their best work.”

I know a couple people who are in their 40s and are doing the job they set out to train for when they were 18. Some of those folks are still in the same occupation because they are trapped there due to educational debt or the consequences of some career arcs. But a couple really did know at age 12 they were going to be a lawyer or doctor or whatever, and are happy with it.

That’s a few people.  The vast majority of people I’ve encountered fell into their jobs, or stumbled into a career they enjoyed, or realized they weren’t happy doing one thing, and launched out (despite the risk) to do something better. Even approaching their 40s or 50s.

Knowing that life is uncertain (so eat dessert first!), you need to build contingency plans into your career master plan.

  • Acquire new skills constantly. If the job is meh but they’ll pay for you to train in some useful skill, it might be worth a couple years of relative boredom to gain something that opens doors later.  Or take some classes at a tech college for a couple hundred bucks.  Or go hang out at the maker’s collective downtown and see if you can get some hours painting or building furniture or sewing or whatever. Learn to code – classes on Udemy or EdX or Coursera are often on sale for $20 or even free. YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE NOT TO BE LEARNING SOMETHING RIGHT NOW.
  • Education is usually a good investment, except when it isn’t.  :/  Learn all you can about the job market you’re interested in before committing to anything long-term. [If you earn a masters, do NOT pay full price for one.  Get funding, do a grad assistantship, or shop around for other schools.]  Balance the value of the credential (at any level) with what it will cost you to earn it. For the record, pretty much every adult needs at least an associate’s degree.
  • But don’t let the potential consequences of your choices cripple you psychologically, freezing you into a state where you don’t make decisions about your future. If it seems like a good idea and you can legitimately afford it, go for it!
  • Be willing to trade comfort for experience. It’s nice to do a job that’s easy and in your wheelhouse… until you’re bored to tears with it. Then what will you leverage to move up or out?  Will you have gained any experience or skills that will make you marketable? If not,  it’s probably time to look for something that will challenge you, or get some more education in the field.
  • Keep analyzing your interests and strengths, and get people (preferably older, wiser ones) to comment on your options. Do a career inventory every couple years; check out what jobs are developing in your field. Read job ads. Revise your resume. Apply for a couple dream jobs just to keep your interview skills sharp. Don’t assume things will just stay the same.

3. Don’t trade away the real future for a “maybe.”

My critical mistake was to assume the future was going to go a certain way.

In my 20s, I “knew” that eventually we would have kids, and then I’d have to drop out of the work force for at least 5 years because there’s no way we could afford full-time child care, and wasn’t that the best way to raise kids anyway? **

That perspective led me to believe my career choices wouldn’t much matter … until I didn’t have kids, and then my passive not-choices became my choices. It’s a hell of a thing to wake up at 37 and realize you don’t have a plan for this Life speeding along.

To be clear – I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done. I’ve worked as a  teacher, reference librarian, academic coach, graphic designer, and communications/marketing professional. Along the side, I’ve honed my skills in design, writing, cooking, networking, problem-solving and game-playing…. not to mention instructional design, research, and progressive approaches to education.

But if I’d made a plan – an actual plan – when I was in my mid-20s or even my early 30s to target something I’d like to spend the bulk of my time and effort working to fix/make/create, I would have done things differently to prepare myself for the decades to come. I probably would have earned a PhD in my 30s, opening doors in higher education I can only dream of at this point.

I’ve met a lot of women who found themselves single at 30, childless at 35, or divorced/widowed by 40. It happens. If you’re in Evangelical Christianity, you may not even see these women because they’re painted out of the picture in so many churches or sermons. They are seen as the exceptions rather than the norm; yet demographic statistics argue the point that half of us won’t be married by the time we’re in our 40s.

My upbringing within Fundamentalism actively worked against me realizing I needed to plan a career arc for myself; instead, I viewed my work as a subset of my husband’s career (which has been even more patchwork than mine) and didn’t bother planning much for myself. (Not his fault. And he tried to get me to.)

It’s hard to row against the current here – so many forces push women to focus everything on getting married, making babies, and raising them. [If that’s what you want and what you get, great! Enjoy! But eventually, your babies are going to grow up, and you’re going to find yourself an empty-nester.  Then what?]  You need more of a plan than “I’ll figure it out once the kids are older.”

4. Seize the opportunities that appear in front of you.

Serendipity is a central feature of success. Yes, hard work and practice are essential too – your luck doesn’t matter if you don’t have the chops when it comes time to seize the day.

But being “in the right place at the right time” is a thing. Take steps to put yourself in the way of potential opportunities by expanding your skills and networking wth people.

At least a few times in your life, you’ll be staring right in the face of an opportunity, usually one that’s enticing you to take some big risk for an even bigger reward. And I’m here to say, when those opportunities present themselves, don’t be afraid to say YES.  

We girls are notorious for under-rating our own value and abilities, for hedging our bets because we’re risk-averse almost as a genetic trait. We live with imposter syndrome daily on top of suffering the real effects of gender discrimination in the workplace.  There will be 1,000 voices in your head shouting down a new idea. Go get some outside perspective to affirm the benefits of taking an opportunity when it comes. 

My husband and I became teachers because someone we only sort-of knew thanks to the internet called us and asked us to consider helping him start a high school that was unlike anything else in the community. We said yes. It’s still one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had, and it set me on the path of becoming a formal educator.  I was 27 at the time.

In hindsight, we should have probably wrapped things up a few years earlier than we did and moved on to new developments in our teaching careers. We should have looked for the new opportunities that would have stretched us, opened doors, helped us see the bigger picture. Live and learn from my example, young ones. 

5. Do what you must to get mentors in your life. Don’t make career decisions in a vacuum.

This one is hard, because you don’t have a lot of control over whether people further along in life are willing to sit down with you and talk about how they’ve lived their lives to this point, what they’d change, and what wisdom they can share. And you might have grown up in a family that didn’t invest much in you, one that didn’t see you as having potential or much of a future.

But I’ve hardly ever met someone who, when asked with sincere interest, would turn down the offer to talk about themselves. 😉

You can connect to professionals across the globe now using Facebook or LinkedIn.  It’s not weird to write someone in your field an email asking to grab coffee or for a quick paragraph response to a question about how to succeed in that field.  It’s not weird to approach someone a little older than you to see if they have time for a drink and a chat.

It’s not weird to do more than daydream about the things you love doing, and to build the machinery to make that life possible. But it’s going to take a whole lot of work, and there will be times in your life when that work simply won’t be possible (because you won’t have the funds, the time, the energy, or the freedom).

No one can plan your life for you. (If someone is attempting to do so, set some better boundaries or get that person out of your life.)  But you can learn a lot by asking people to share what they learned about #adulting.

Source: Among Friends – A Blog for Women https://hcfwomen.com/2016/07/25/we-the-people/adulting-2/


Not gonna lie:  adulting is 99% making it up as you go and hoping this isn’t going to be a colossal failure.  On the other hand, I’m thrilled to be an age where I’m ok with that. Haven’t died thus far (from my own stupidity) and hopefully won’t die till cancer gets me (it’s in my genes; I’m resigned), this in-between time is mine to play with, and I’m glad to say I finally have some goals in mind to shoot for.

If we know each other IRL and you want to grab coffee and talk about planning your own career (regardless of your gender), please don’t hesitate to reach out.  My door is open. Plus I really like coffee. 

*If I were do this exercise now, because really there’s no reason not to check in on one’s life goals every few years, this is what I’d write:  “Lori left behind a legacy of creating opportunities within education for many who would have otherwise dropped out or given up. A respected instructor at several university centers of teaching and learning, she mentored hundreds of faculty into better teaching practices and ways to support struggling learners. Thanks to her work, thousands of students attained their educational goals and graduated.  She also worked to simplify educational processes, clarify messaging within the educational world, and unite disparate departments into holistic teams working for the best interests of students.”

** I’ve always loved Ursula LeGuin’s assessment of how women can juggle parenting and a career in writing. One person cannot do two full-time jobs and make it work. But two people can effectively juggle three jobs, and that’s how she and her husband made it work:

You can read the full interview at this link from Interview Magazine.



Good read: “Blurred Lines: Professor, Engineer, Mother” – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Worth your time to read today. The question of “work/life balance” ought to occupy the thinking of all of us, but it seems especially thorny for mothers in professional careers. Some good thoughts here, though I’d like to read her suggestions for her specific context:

Sure, the game of life is easier to win when we segregate its facets and write rules for each in isolation. And it’s not that women refuse to segregate their personal and professional lives — though I would argue that no one should have to — it’s that many women simply can’t.

That was a personal realization that I believe is critically lacking in the way we mentor female students, particularly those in STEM fields. Those fields — prized for their logic and analytical approach to problem solving — often attempt to “solve” struggling students in the same way: The immediate mentor, statistically likely to be male, simply isn’t wired to experience the “all” in the same way as a woman. Moreover, the mentor, regardless of gender, has been incubated in an environment that rewards days spent hyper-focused on the technical dimensions of scholarship and student formation. The “all” that values the intersection between work and emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being is rarely confronted.

Frankly, we in higher education must do more to mentor the “all” in all of our students, regardless of gender — though I argue that this is especially critical for women. It is not just a matter of saying we are committed to mentoring the whole person.

Source: Blurred Lines: Professor, Engineer, Mother – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Link: Grace and Mercy in Chicken Fingers: Matt Redmond’s God of the Mundane | Mockingbird

Grace and Mercy in Chicken Fingers: Matt Redmond’s God of the Mundane | Mockingbird.

^ A review of what sounds like an excellent read.

We all want to think of ourselves as special and we deeply wish there were meaning to every task we do at work.

But what about the massive parts of life that are just … mundane? What about the millions of jobs that are honestly kind of boring?

A message of Grace for the everyday is what we need. And Redmond offers that, according to this reviewer.

Slow Journey toward New Paths

I realized last year that I’ve never really put any thought into “designing” my own vocational path. I’ve “fallen into” three interesting jobs thus far, and I’ve enjoyed each of them. But now I’m realizing I intentionally need to identify my strengths, decide what field deserves the next two or three decades of my attention, and lay my foundation to pursue opportunities in that field.

I don’t have a tight direction in mind, but a few more thoughts about work, calling, career have coalesced for me in these opening months of 2015.

  • I would rather work with people than things. I’m handy with organizing details and tasks, but I’m best handling ideas as they relate to people.
  • I would rather work in a team or collaboratively than alone.  While people can wear on me (it’s my introverted streak; yes, I have one) and while I get more done when I’m alone than when I’m around people, I much prefer community of work than individual achievement.  Working near people is a decent start; working with people (both as a team member and in the sense of working “on” people) is my preference.
  • I would like the opportunity to lead my own team (and build it), devise a goal based on an institution or supervisor’s overarching strategy, and develop the plan to meet that goal.  I’ve never really been interested in “management” and that’s not what I’m looking for, but I’m a little tired of being a subordinate.  In the right field (something that ties into my experience), I have the skills needed to lead an initiative and do it well.
  • To this point, I don’t have any interest in striking out on my own as an entrepreneur. Maybe an idea will grip me so forcefully that I’ll find myself trying to make it work, but that impulse doesn’t drive me.  I’m happy to jump on board with someone else’s mission (that aligns with mine) so we can be in it together.
  • I have a generalist’s mindset. It’s hard for me to narrow down my work to one task/skill type; I prefer a flow of different opportunities throughout my day, and the flexibility to switch up what I’m doing. For that reason, I’ve never really wanted to pursue a PhD (for longer than a few months).  I hoover up ideas and store that information for later use. To drink deeply of just one field hasn’t been my thing.  Now, that might have to change – in academia, a PhD is almost a baseline requirement. But PhD’s are essentially research degrees, and “doing research” isn’t the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. (But “answering questions” does….)
  • I like to provoke people and ideas (and by extension, institutions or projects) to become better versions of themselves. That’s way more fulfilling than almost anything I’ve ever done.  Short-term, I can draw great satisfaction from a project well-done (a magazine published, directing a play and seeing the performances, pulling off a big event) but the really deep well in my soul is filled by helping people grow.
  • Issues surrounding education mean the most to me. If I had to choose a primary tribe for membership, I’d go live with the educators. (Sorry, creatives, musicians, gamers, readers, calligraphers, chefs, theologians, researchers, designers, and librarians! Y’all come in a close second, though!)
  • I’m a helladetermined problem solver. (Read: Stubborn.) I hate hearing “we can’t do that….” if that means everyone is going to just give up. Obstacles are opportunities. Problems can be solved, overcome, or pushed aside if the overall goal is valuable enough to everyone involved.  There’s almost always a window open when you think the doors have slammed shut.  If it’s worth doing, it’s going to be hard. Suck it up and find a way forward.

I have more to figure out. I can’t figure out what area of education draws my interest the most. Is it professional development for faculty? Is it curriculum development to implement better active learning and engaging methodologies? And should I focus on higher ed or K-12 ed? My teaching experience is in K-12 but that arena is so locked-down right now because of Common Core and assessment-driven strategies that I can’t imagine being very effective in it. But I don’t know enough about higher education to be effective there…


The End of a Thing

Why is starting so much more fun than finishing?

If I’m brutally honest with myself, I can look around my house and identify unfinished things – projects, organizational systems, art, video games, books.

It’s not always so; I do enjoy the thrill of checking off a task once it’s done.  Seeing well-laid plans (or just “plans”) come to fruition certainly provides an emotional boost.

The Preacher tells us that the end of a thing is better than its beginning (Eccl. 7:8). But I find that my energy is highest at the start, when ideas are fresh and shiny and new.

I even enjoy the job of working out how to move from idea to reality, at least in the big picture. And when I was in the classroom, I usually ran the whole process from idea to plan to implementation to assessment and feedback.

But there’s nothing quite like the new car smell of a freshly minted idea.* The longer it goes, the more I have to grit my teeth, dig in, and get ‘er done.

*Yes, I realize I mixed car production and coin production metaphors there. You can deal.

I have yet to work in a job where I could devise plans and then hand them off to someone else to implement. I hear that there are organizations like this, where resources and personnel converge thus. 🙂  I guess education tends not to be resource-rich. More accurately, I’m a sucker for a good mission rather than a job flush with cash, so I find myself solving the problems that come within scarcity rather than pursuing positions with resources.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple years asking myself questions about how I work, how I want to work, where I want to work, and whether “work” should take up as much room in my future planning as it does.  I don’t have all the answers to those questions, but I’ve learned a few things so far:

  • I like to generate ideas, clarify them, and do that in collaboration with other people who also like ideas.
  • Planning is fun when I don’t have to worry about carrying out those plans myself. If I’m the primary implementer, I tend to plan with a lot less verve, because I don’t draw as much energy from work parts of implementing plans. 🙂
  • Solitary work pleases me when there are tasks demanding mental focus. Or when I need some peace and quiet and “me time.”  Otherwise, working near others, and preferably with others, wins every time.  I don’t want to be stuck in a cubicle or office, ever. If I have to execute an idea, I’ll like it 1,000x more if I’m working alongside someone else.
  • Apparently I’m built to be an educator. Can’t really think about much else. Not for long. lol
  • I’d rather be a guru than a manager. 

The big question I’m trying to answer, unsuccessfully so far, is what the next 10 years of work should look like. Regardless of what other life events crowd into that mix, I’d like to have a goal.

“By 2025, I will be ________ing in pursuit of __________[result].” 

What’s supposed to go in those blanks?  

Some ideas so far:

  • Teaching high school students to enable them to live lives of flourishing, because I genuinely like adolescents and helping them grow into the cool people they are
  • Mentoring younger teachers to help them be better at their craft
  • Investigating the nexus of two fields, like Design Thinking and some sub-field of education – applying one to the other in hopes of ….what?  Not sure. Better pedagogy? Better training for teachers? Information added to the field?
  • Working outside the classroom but within higher ed to develop [area] like vocational guidance or improving pedagogy in the undergrad classroom or innovation within higher ed structures
  • Collaborating with people across disciplines to write better curriculum for [area]

You know, I didn’t expect to be wrestling with big questions of vocation and calling at this age. lol

And really, no one says I can’t have more than one set of answers in those blanks. But as years pass by, it’s harder and harder to stay nimble (vocationally), to have access to resources to start and stop or to design a career from ground-up.

Or maybe that’s a myth. Maybe this is when I’ve finally gotten out of training and am about to hit the starting blocks.

Work, Moms, Families, ‘Merica, and The Dream

I realized while writing that last post: the rabbit trail I wanted to take would turn that post into a monster.  So here’s a coda of sorts.

America’s work/life balance seems is broken. This is not really a revelation; people have been writing about it, like here (Slate) and here (The Atlantic).

Women who work “outside the home” tell us they suffer tremendous guilt (or suppress the guilt), perhaps because the dominant message in both sacred and secular society is that the successful woman is a Pinterest mother, crafting perfect sandwiches for her offspring from the sanctity of a spotless home.  She runs taxi for all the soccer games and school field trips in a sparkling tan SUV that runs on a hybrid engine (caring for the environment!)

And to the extent that work gets in the way of the Pinterest dream, work is a villain for the working American mom.

We Americans seem unable to find any way for a woman to be both a flourishing human being (a doctor, a pharmacist, a hairdresser) and also be fully a mother without having to blend those into a shadowy compromise, a failure to live up to either set of impossible standards.

Corporate / Working America runs on consumerism – the economy must grow! grow! grow! so people must spend! spend! spend! And that demands work! work! work! so we can earn! earn! earn!    I am tired just thinking about it.  So we work to earn to spend so the economy can grow, and that work eats 40-50 hours of our lives because Americans work more than nearly anyone else in the world; we take fewer vacation days; we offer very little in the way of family leave to actually give both men and women breathing room to achieve a balance of life and work.

Research tells us that men are likewise frustrated at the vice-grip of trying to balance work and family.   Working moms get all the press, but the dads can’t even talk about it.  American companies rarely offer paternity or family leave for new fathers, and the struggle for a dad to balance his work life with his children doesn’t get much better from there on — even if his wife is staying home.

Our national view of parenting seems to be broken too, at least for some middle-class families.  It’s possible to smother kids with too much love, to clutch so tightly that it’s not possible to let kids go.  We’ve taken all of the risks out of living (or attempted to), reigning in kids’ freedoms so that no kid ever seems to be alone ever – and certainly never out of line of sight. But kids need freedom to develop creativity, problem-solving, and independence.

Colleges are telling us that “helicopter parents” are worse than ever. Some have appointed “parent bouncers” to force parents to leave their kids behind and get off campus on Move-in Day.  It’s like we Gen-X’rs had such a great time in college that we insist on living our lives again, vicariously, through our children.

One of the most interesting books I read in the last couple years was Bringing Up BéBé (Amazon link), written by a woman who moved to Paris with her husband and their toddler. The French women around Druckerman weren’t obsessed with their children. Their homes weren’t child-centric.  The tiny preschools down the street were ready to accept the wee ones around the six to nine month mark, and the mothers returned to being people first, and mothers second. They were far happier, far more fulfilled, far more successful in their marriages, far better parents (as evidenced by the happiness & behavior of their children).

The French mindset of making children part of life rather than the center of life paid big dividends in the parents’ and children’s lives. And their educated, capable men AND women were able to pursue gainful work if they chose.

Agree or disagree with Druckerman, it’s at least worth considering.

And here’s where I’m going to get in trouble:  🙂   It would help if the dominant voices in Christianity were not preaching that SAHM’s were the closest to the Kingdom.  Even if it’s not spoken aloud, it’s certainly a deep undercurrent in the religious traditions that have shaped my life — all of them.  Working women are appreciated and supported and occasionally pitied yet the homemaker is the fairest of them all.  Eventually, the argument reaches its natural conclusion – that the women who matter the most to the Kingdom are those who have raised children.  That perspective marginalizes a lot of women. (Rachel Held Evans has an excellent post on why the Church can and should support “breadwinning” wives, one that addresses several of these thoughts better than I have.)

So what took me down this deep rabbit hole of thought?
Just the recognition that we Americans have built our own cage – our working lives and family lives are in conflict because the system  for earning what we need to live (whether that’s a realistic measurement or driven by capitalist greed) is forcing us into decisions that shouldn’t have to be so gut-wrenching, guilt-ridden, and exhausting.

Gender and Calling: A few thoughts

Yesterday I wandered around in the not-all-that-brilliant observation that I can’t really get a grasp on my own calling (what I’m supposed to be doing on this planet, my personal mission statement, whatever you want to call it) without viewing that very question from within the complex network of relationships that surround my life.

We all draw circles of influence and relationship in our lives—often including spouse, parent, and employee (or perhaps entrepreneur).

And for me, as a woman within conservative Christianity living in America, that means I haven’t had an independent sense of my calling in life. It’s always been a calling alongside.

Let me hasten to clarify: I’m not complaining or unhappy with the alongside-ness of my calling. But I do want to pause to recognize what that means for me:

1. Because my calling has for the past couple decades been inextricably linked to my husband’s, I don’t plan clear, guiding goals for future accomplishments in my life and work (more than a year or so down the road).

I’ve never felt the pull toward the FUTURE the way Coart does.  Perhaps that’s a part of my personality – that I’m totally happy living “in the moment” – but that doesn’t match the way I view milestones at work: starting the new year, dreaming up a new project, thinking “what if we did this next year…..” is actually very energizing for me.

But I don’t seem to develop those same questions or daydreams about my work as a whole.  I don’t spend much time considering questions like “What if I started a company to ……?” “Should I be writing a book about …..?” “What big problem or need in the world would benefit from my skills and experience?”

2. Because my calling is alongside, I don’t pursue opportunities that would launch their own trajectory that could radically depart from Coart’s.

For example, I’m not pursuing any job openings right for any reason since he’s finishing a PhD within 18 months, and his future employment will make all the difference in where I end up living and working.

[Again, I’m not complaining AT ALL, especially since Coart has always been very conscious of what is best for the two of us together, not just me. And he’d be happy for me to launch something new.  And he provokes me to be a better version of myself (far better) than I would be on my own – more thoughtful, more analytic, more caring, more capable. I expect that he’s more disappointed at my vocational myopia than I am.]

3. And then there’s the really big one ….  Parenting.  Knowing that childrearing totally up-ends the apple cart of a woman’s career planning has had a profound effect on the way I “imagine” my life’s work and calling — and that has been true since the day I got married.

We don’t have kids (yet) but we both want to raise children. I assume kids will work their way into our lives sometime in the next few years.  We both want that.

I don’t plan for the future because, as a woman, I feel like I have very little control over what my future circumstances will be. 

And that plays out in a variety of ways, including this:

I know what I’m good at: provoking people to flourish as better versions of themselves (usually intellectually, sometimes spiritually).

But I can’t really tell you how that’s going to play out in the world as a whole, because I can’t lay much claim to controlling the context in which I do and will work.

And that, my friends, is kind of frustrating, honestly.