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Pulling my Career Out of the Garbage

July 10, 2011

I didn’t sign up to be a training coordinator…

…or a chef…

…or a psychologist or a postal worker or a web copy writer or a child care relief worker.  I did, however, sign up to be an engineer, which is evidenced by my meticulous collection of every piece of career feedback I’ve ever received, every award I’ve ever been presented and every goal I have ever set (both achieved and in progress) in my Portfolio Binder (note the capitals to emphasize the importance) .  And if this sounds slightly like perfectionism to you (crossed with both a healthy dose of external validation and a love of well-organized stationery), then you, sir, have won a prize.

But this week (read: month) I am all of those roles, because that’s what we do when we live at warp speed and multitask (usually ineffectively say the stats), and try to help others.

As you can see from my last post, it’s been ages since I’ve visited my blog.  Yet, I attend networking functions, and when asked the inevitable, “so, what have you been doing with yourself since we last caught up?” I am at a loss for words.  There are a few things – working towards my chartership, designing a training program for The Scout’s new business, helping my company to launch our new website – but no Big Project, no Big Plan that allows me to move the conversation from small talk to engaging discussion.

I worry that I am becoming like the other 30-somethings I see about the place who somehow went from “on top of the world” to “keeping their head above water” and convincing themselves that this frazzled state of being was somehow equally as satisfying as setting goals and achieving them in a calm and capable manner.  I pile more and more role definitions into my life outside of work, and somewhere along the way I forgot that busy does not necessarily mean successful.

And then I lost my Binder.

In between preparing some web copy after hours and racing rush-hour to feed and dress 3 children for a working-engineer-super-mom (who at the time had one child with a chest infection, one child with a broken arm, one infant who was sleeping only for 2-hour increments and was herself the victim of tonsillitis and a broken kneecap), I put my portfolio binder on the roof of my car.  Then, after unloading the car’s contents and packing the evening’s food, I raced off down the highway.

And when I returned, I was too busy thinking about the training program design to have it click that the papers strewn across the front curb were my career.  How irresponsible I thought as I looked at the mess someone careless had left on the side of the highway.

The very mess that was kindly cleaned up by a neighbour and deposited in a garbage can the next morning – approximately 9 hours before my neural connections got it together enough to realise what had happened… which they did, and then I was heartbroken.  Most of those certificates and feedback blurbs and goals are not things that I hold in any other form.

That information proves everything I’ve done in my career,”

I said to The Scout, who replied with,

That’s not true, babe.  You prove everything you’ve done in your career, not those papers.  No one needs to see your archived performance reviews to know that you deliver.”

Which might be true, because I’ve never shown that Portfolio to anyone.

So why do I need the Binder?

They say that writing down your goals gives you a significantly higher chance of achieving them, and that is what my Portfolio is.  But I’ve gone one step further and collated the evidence that even my most active naysayer might need to support my progress.  To the project of my career, that binder is my business case.  I have to admit that until I lost that binder I don’t think I realised that the naysayer I was looking to impress in the future was… me.  Because those pieces of praise, those tiny pieces of validation and those fragments of insight into my ambition are there to remind me.  They are there so that when I’m in The Dip, I can remind myself to keep going.

Which I don’t need to do when I’m calm and focused.  I need that Binder when I’m tired and cranky and ready to give up… on the website or the brainstorming or the exhausted super-mom.

(Enter our tenants, we’ll call them The Kids… …who might be my favourite people alive this week.)

While I was trying to do some more training program work, The Kids went on a walk, and (out of the goodness of their hearts) did a complete search and rescue on my Binder, finding my career for me, crumpled and driven over (and slightly smelly) in a neighbour’s garbage can.  I’ve never been more excited to see drafts of Chartership essays or more relieved to see crumpled performance reviews!

And as I put all that validation in a neat pile (waiting for me to go stationery crazy on the weekend) I realized that most of the information my Portfolio contains is not directly related my technical work.  Sure, there’s some, but not heaps.  It’s mainly information about things I do after work and skills I’ve gained to compliment my technical self.  Which made me wonder…  maybe we aren’t just keeping our heads above water after all – maybe we’re busy building up the diverse skills we need to actually make a difference in the world once we’ve ticked the □ sufficient years of experience box.

Work Life Balance courtesy furykid; Goal Setting courtesy lululemon athletica on Flickr.


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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2011 10:03 pm

    Congratulations, Aurian, this is definitely one of those “Ah ha!” moments. A great story, I hope your Binder is better for it now:)

    • July 11, 2011 10:42 am

      Hi Ben!

      I think we managed to recover about 95% of the contents, but I have to admit that the Binder will never return to its former glory – I can’t decide if it is the above realizations or the tire marks that are to blame!

  2. July 11, 2011 9:58 pm

    Great post, Aurian. Funny. Sad. Thought provoking. Well worth waiting for!

    • July 11, 2011 11:15 pm

      Thanks, Tim! I was glad to see that you’ve kept the internet going in my absence when I stopped by your site today:-). I think I need a couple of days to catch up on reading your posts alone! Good work!

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