There’s no way around it, you guys. I don’t want to choose between security and growth, but advancement doesn’t come by staying put. This month I walked away from a familiar job at a museum whose mission I love. For nearly 15 years I worked at the same building, surrounded by people who’ve become dear friends. (Name something you were doing a decade and a half ago. Think about it. Yeah. That’s how long it’s been.)
I Contemplate a Big Change
Call it midlife, call it the universe–I don’t know what to call it, exactly–but something changed along the way. That job was no longer my future, and I had to figure out what was. To some, switching jobs may sound straightforward, but let me tell you: I loved that job for more than a quarter of my life. It took me months just to say out loud I really did want to make a change. The idea started as a whisper in my mind. Over the next two years, it grew into a yelling internal voice.
A Strategy for Sanity: Podcasts
Throughout this time, I learned to cultivate practices to keep me sane. As it turned out, one of my favorite ways to calm my mind came in an unexpected form: listening to podcasts. When my days felt numb, I loved popping in my earbuds and and filling my mind with possibility. I could select whatever topic struck me, hit play, and immerse myself with intention. My choices became playlist categories on my ipod: Wellness, Entrepreneurship, Creative Women, and–why not throw in a little fun–Entertainment.
When I needed to escape solving mode and just laugh, I’d often turn to my favorite entertainment podcast: Judge John Hodgman (brought to you by Maximum Fun). You may know author and humorist John Hodgman from his Daily Show segments during the Stewart days. For an example of his brilliantly arrogant fake-expert persona, check out Friday Night Fights with Stephen Colbert.
The podcast’s format is simple: The all-powerful judge hears a dispute from two fans, guides a conversation that highlights their personalities and reveals the crux of their debate. When he’s heard enough, he offers a ruling about how the disputants most proceed. Here’s the thing, though. Underneath the John’s over-the-top character lives a caring, thoughtful guy.
Ricardo and I Get a Life Lesson: No Growth Without Embarrassment
Nearly every episode ends with both participants feeling good about John’s ruling, mostly because he’s spent an hour actually listening to them. He often finds a way to address needs even they didn’t realize they had. Take Strictly Courtroom, Episode 130. Technically, the case was about where Ricardo should learn to salsa dance: out in the clubs or in the privacy of home?
In the end, Ricardo got a deeper life lesson. (Spoiler alert: So did I.) If he wants to grow, he’s got to get over his fear of embarrassment. As John points out, “To learn something, you have to admit to what you don’t know.” In my case I had to face that fact that I didn’t exactly know who I wanted to become next, as a woman who values her career.
At first I thought I’d search employment listings online, apply for a few positions, and–poof–new job! As I’m sure you’ve guessed, things didn’t work out quite that way. For a few months, I heard nothing but crickets in response to my (lovingly crafted) cover letters. Gradually, an uncomfortable reality started to dawn on me. My job experience wasn’t enough. The search process had changed, and I’d have to learn a whole new way to go about it.
Ricardo Salsas with His Mother-in-Law. I Get Rejected from a Job.
As I listened to John’s advice about salsa dancing, I took it to heart myself. I related to Ricardo, who figured he’d head straight for the clubs. All the guy wanted, after all, was for learning to be fun. But he had another thing coming. “First you must unlearn what you’ve learned,” John said, sentencing Ricardo confront what he doesn’t know. Not yet ready for the clubs, he must face the embarrassment of learning from his girlfriend Paula and her mother–at home, in the light of day.
I don’t know why we’re all so afraid of admitting we don’t know stuff. But, man, I’d love to know exactly what I’m doing (or even just look like it) every minute of the day. But as John explained to Ricardo, “You are convinced on some level that the world has never experienced what you’ve had to say or how you’ve moved, and that it will stand in judgment of you.”
I experienced this feeling during my job search. At one point I made it to a second interview, for a job that would have meant a pay cut, but at an organization whose mission inspired me. When I didn’t even hear back (a half-hearted”no” would have been preferable), I had a hard time not second-guessing myself.
“If You Want to Get a Job, You’ve Got to Get Out of the House.”
After months of trying, I finally had to acknowledge a hard truth: Applying only for listings on job sites was a cowardly way to face the market. Though doing this felt like progress, these applications rarely resulted in a response. Over dinner a girlfriend gave me some critical advice: “If you want to get a job, you’ve got to get out of the house.” Ugh. An introvert like me isn’t always in the mood to meet new people, but eventually I discovered that–indeed, more opportunities came when I encountered actual people.
I attended a lot of networking events last year, at which I experienced the phenomenon John described: “It is embarrassing to deal with feelings, and to deal with the vulnerability that you expose when you dance . . . in public.” But as he also says, this is how we learn. “It is a matter of desensitizing yourself to embarrassment,” then taking the time to practice, practice, and practice some more.
Huh. Persistence Really Does Pay Off
In the end, I applied for 23 jobs over the course of a year. There were flat-out rejections, and, as time went by, a few near misses. But when I found the right one, it felt mutually enthusiastic at every step. I discovered it by targeting a company I’d researched, then decided I wanted to work for. Even this required my letting go of some pride and admitting what I didn’t know.
I had the right match for job skills, but it meant jumping to a whole new industry. The first day at my new job felt exciting, but driving to a new parking lot felt excessively weird. For the first few days, I’d walk to the copier or my desk, thinking to myself, “What am I doing here?” There wasn’t the slightest trace of regret–I was thrilled to be there–but the whole thing was just so weird.
As I adjust, I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow. Now, if only I can learn to befriend embarrassment–and not just tolerate it–who knows how else I’ll advance my life and learning?