Course Correcting Your Career

It’s crazy how time flies in the work world. I remember interviewing for my first job out of college. It was my dream — or at least my dream starter job. I didn’t have tons of confidence in the role, and was almost certain I would ditch the delusion of “big city” living just as quickly as I had embraced it. Eight years later, and that’s only half-true.

I love the grit of New York City, but not the grime. So I moved to Westchester, but held onto my dream, or at least the parts that have survived reality.

I’m happy with the career I’ve built; I sometimes experience a wave of gratitude and pride when I pencil in the time to reflect. But we all have ebbs and flows to career fulfillment and happiness. It’s natural. You can love what you do, where you do it, and the team that supports you, and still have moments where you question the very course you’ve charted. And that’s ok.

Yesterday was a tough day. A full workload and other real-life needs have been competing for my attention. On my commute into the city, I came across an article titled “The Ambition Collision.” The title resonated with me, but I didn’t have time to give it a read.

It crept up again on my late-night commute home. As if reading my mind, a friend and colleague texted it to me, bringing it above the fold. Somewhere between White Plains and Chappaqua, I confronted my curiosity.

Wildly relatable and so very important, Lisa Miller beautifully pieces apart the segment of working women in their 30s who shelter themselves in what she calls “professional bubbles.” She paints a picture of women who have it all, but who still feel short-changed. Her article tries to solve for “why?” with just enough tongue-in-cheek witticisms to keep readers engaged.

The female dissatisfaction chronicled by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique was prompted by a widespread awakening to the bullshit promises of domestic happiness, manufactured by culture to make female containment look good. Now another bullshit promise has taken its place, and another generation is waking up. The men in charge are still in charge. It is impossible for women to continue to have faith in a vision of their own empowerment, when that empowerment is, in fact, a pose. It is not true that a gleaming kitchen floor is the key to female satisfaction. And “Bow down, bitches” is a lie.

Have millennial women, as Miller writes, “presumed their power?” I’m not so sure. We focus so much on the wage gap – which, as she points out, has not budged in a decade — but the pause in progress is more troubling than dollars and cents. We’re spending more time than ever at work — even if doing so remotely — and as Miller points out, we’re focusing on the wrong things. She’s not suggesting we settle. But she’s encouraging us — the working women who sometimes struggle in balancing work with life — to press the proverbial “reset” button on perspective and find comfort — or as Miller puts it “appreciation” — in the imperfections.

Work can’t be your everything. You need a life outside of the office to help you recalibrate. Setting boundaries is just one way to get there — they shape expectations and curb judgments from people who haven’t yet been caught in the collision between career ambition and reality.

Ever the non-athlete, I’ve somehow lucked into a love for circuit training and pilates. They keep me as zen as I’ve ever known myself to be. Challenging myself physically has helped me continue to challenge myself professionally. It’s also made me more thoughtful as a manager, and more conscious of how I invest my time.

Work might not always be perfect, but if you can get behind the notion that visions change, career paths take detours, and that there’s promise in your passion, you’ll net out somewhere between myth and reality, and you’ll be alright because you were part of the fight.

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