Monday, January 28, 2013

A Slacker* Looks At 40 (From 45) - What Career?

Continuing my look back at TURNING FORTY, it's time to face a measure or two of the career music to which I was listening at the time.  I promise to mention neither the HEALTH STUFF nor the ENDLESS FITNESS RESTARTS this time, although the latter has much in common with my working life.

The truth is, I have no career; I have a series of jobs.  This is an increasingly common phenomenon.  It's not unusual to end up on a career track far from one's college degree or youthful life-plan.  I know a political science major who has turned out to be a successful and indispensable executive assistant, just to name one.  Some career paths, like that one, automatically include some job-hopping to facilitate advancement.

What I saw through the smoky haze of my forty birthday candles was a SERIES OF JOBS with little to no upward movement.  I don't beat myself up too much about this, as plain ol' bad luck gets a significant part of the blame for it; I've been caught up in a ridiculous number of layoffs.  

But at the same time, I was fully-aware of how my choices had led me to be a 40-year old Accounts Receivable/Order Entry Administrator in a small, doomed software company.

Choice One:  Majoring in Business when deep-down I kind of already knew I didn't like business.  I had heard it was easy, and while we've established that I'm not a *real* slacker, it is true that I was not much of a student.  The owner of our local beer and wine store once asked me what I was studying in college, and when I said business, he sighed and told me to expect a life of "taking up time and space."

Choice Two:  Lingering in retail until I was 27 years old.

Choice Three:  Not finishing my MBA.  It was the mid-90s and A) I got some bad advice about them not being worth the paper they were printed upon, and B) with my retail salary and fear of crushing debt, I couldn't afford to finish.

Choices Four through Six:  Doomed biotech start-up, doomed software/internet start-up with imbecilic "visionary" President, and doomed relic from the telecom collapse - one rife with internal turmoil and dysfunction.  Oh well - who knew?

Choice Seven was hardly a choice at all.  It was so much more money and autonomy, responsibility and potential than I'd seen before, and my boss and coworkers were simply amazing.  It was the best fit I'd found since my late teens, and I loved it.  

As I turned forty, I was at peace with the place to which my strange series of jobs had led me.  I wasn't climbing any ladders, but I had come to know that ladders probably aren't my thing.  Could I work harder and be more aggressive and move up a rung or two?  Sure I could, but I had come to value where I was and what I was doing - a lot more than the prospect of fighting for much more.

In our country, we have a tendency to look down at smart underachievers.  I think my problem with that is that we have twisted definitions of achievement.  As I turned forty, I had achieved a good job, with a great boss and the opportunity to take ownership of a process and to excel and be challenged and fairly happy.  I didn't have a career, but I had what I needed.  

To some, that wasn't achievement at all.  To me, it was (and still is) the highlight of my working life to date.

Besides, throughout my life as
Assistant Store Manager,
Customer Service/Sales Representative,
Client Services Representative,
User Support/Training Associate,
Order Management Associate,
Call Center Representative,
Order Entry/Accounts Receivable Administrator,
Accounts Receivable Clerk,
my title hasn't mattered, because in my heart, I've always been a dancer-- I mean, a WRITER!  [Cue John Belushi dancing on the graves of his fallen peers...]       

* Remember - I'm not really a slacker.  I just needed a hook for the title.        


  1. "Smart underachiever," story of my life. But hey, most people my age are working 40-50s a week and I work 25 and still do alright. I don't have to wake up before noon if I don't want to either (though I try to).

  2. Okay - now I'm just straight-up jealous. Noon has always been sacred to me, and the fact that I have to engage with the dreaded OTHERS before that hour has provided me with no shortage of bitterness (and hurt feelings, on the OTHERS' part).

  3. I'm at that point in my "career" where by traditional standards I should be moving up into more managerial positions. The problem is I really like what I do now and the little managerial type stuff I currently do, I greatly dislike. Sure there's more money there but I rather make less and not absolutely dread going into work each day.

    1. That is a problem as old as management itself. Line Guy gets really good at his line job. Line Guy is promoted, to manage the work of other line workers. Line Guy knows nothing about managing others; he's just really good at his line job. Line guy fails and/or hates his promotion's guts. Yep, and I'll be faced with that again in the next year or two.

      Still - There are worse problems to have. Check out "Double-barrel Unemployment" drivel from a couple of years back!