How to listen for the clues

Getting stuck along my journey of finding a job with meaning was the best thing that could’ve happened to me (in retrospect, of course).

During that time, some guardian angel recommended What Color Is Your Parachute, and another the new-agey yoga retreat center Kripalu. I am eternally grateful I had the opportunity that summer to go to a workshop at Kripalu about life transitions, and to dive into that book – both of which were instrumental in helping me see what really mattered to me, and to envision (in quite a lot of detail) what I wanted to do with my life, who I wanted to be surrounded with, and even what I wanted the office to feel like.

Now, I had lots and lots of clues…

However, these clues didn’t spell out how to actually find the right job – there wasn’t a particular cause I lived for, or a specific role I felt called to do. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was really a generalist – fairly good at a wide range of things, and especially at bringing different things together. But that made it harder to find anything that felt like a good next step!

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Even though all those exercises and reflection helped me build more confidence and clarity in what mattered to me, it took many more months to effectively narrow my search – and more months after that to actually get the right job.

It wasn’t for lack of trying – and in fact, I think my ability to keep trying was critical to understanding how a search process can work.

But first, I had to deal with applications that went nowhere, interviews that felt awkward, and eventually settling for temp jobs – first, handing out pamphlets at a trade show, and then (at least getting closer) as an administrative assistant for a large nonprofit.

With a secure job finally in place in November, I took a breath, but it wasn’t long before I realized this very old, national nonprofit was way too bureaucratic for me, that my skills weren’t really valued, and that the staff wasn’t treated particularly well. So I went back to my Parachute instructions, and started working my connections for more informational interviews in the nonprofit arena, now having more clarity about the type of organization, or the culture, that would be a better fit for me.

These clues – about where and how I wanted to work – would be game-changers.

The people I met with were genuinely willing to hear about what I was looking for, to share what they knew about the nonprofit sector, and to introduce me to other people they knew – because (I imagine now) they knew that finding great people was a challenge, and they wanted to do what they could to make connections.

It was one of those connections who had a job posting on his desk from an organization that was opening an office in Chicago, and who made an introduction for me. By February, that turned into a job opportunity I was really excited about, and an interview I felt great about… and then, a job that I didn’t get. I was crushed.

I took some time to process and grieve – I had done all the right things! I had clarity on what I wanted and what I was good at, had used all my networking skills (even though I am an introvert and networking is hard!!), and kept meeting with people… and it didn’t work out! And in the meantime, the job that I actually had was getting worse – more mindless, with more turnover in the organization, and a fax machine behind my desk that was straight out of Office Space. I felt stuck. Again.

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A few months later, I got a call from the organization that had rejected me so heartlessly, offering me a summer internship. That almost felt worse… I was now almost a year out of college, and my best prospect was a paid internship, with no clear sense of whether that could turn into an actual job.

But, I had really loved what this organization was doing, how they were approaching the challenge, and the way they welcomed creative thinking and leadership from everyone. The opportunity to do something that better aligned with what mattered to me made it worth the risk. That May, I quit my job and took the internship.

What is a risk – whether small or big – that you could take to move you closer to what you seek?

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