I spent most of the last year BETWEEN. I knew that the job that I had was neither what I was supposed to be doing nor where I was supposed to be doing it. So, I made some hard choices, took some chances and made some huge changes quitting my job and moving back to Denver, Colorado, the only place that to date has felt like home.
And, I’ll confess that I thought that with the experiences and expertise I’d developed, along with the network that I’d maintained in Colorado, that it would be (relatively) easy to find the next thing. People I worked with certainly believed in me and expressed their support.
Leap and the net will appear….maybe…eventually.
Some expressed their envy that I had the freedom to take such a big leap, since I did not have a spouse or kids depending on me, my income, or my success. And there is a lot of freedom when you don’t have a mortgage, car payment, kids, or even a house plant as obligations.
While I knew with perfect clarity that I was in the wrong place doing the wrong job, I actually didn’t have a clue what the right thing was. So while I had a fantastic network, when some asked how they could help, I had no idea what to ask for, and certainly did not want to waste anyone’s time while I was still fumbling around with what I didn’t want, or worse, with the 50 things that I might like to try on for a month or three.
And even though I said (to myself and others) that I wanted to be back in Colorado, I interviewed for and spoke with recruiters about positions in diverse locations such as Honolulu, Houston, Jackson Hole, New York, Saudi Arabia, and the Czech Republic – to name a few.
Even with local opportunities, I would sometimes find myself knowingly killing any chance I had for the position in the interview. I would literally say out loud things like, “my friend is interviewing for this same position in the next time slot and s/he would be fantastic” or “with the depth of institutional knowledge and expertise held by your internal candidate, I’m not sure it’s worth the risk of bringing in an outsider like me.”
Mostly it felt like I was “waiting” even if I was not 100% clear what I was waiting for. And, in an economy that has yet to recover, this felt incredibly foolish.
I am sure that I could have landed one of the positions I looked at, but I knew that I would have continued to look for that “right opportunity” just as hard, even on the day that I was hired. And since I hated when people did that to me, I didn’t want to do it someone else.
People may say the economy is recovering, but these are some headlines on US employment from the August 2, 2013.
Not Good. And really not a great time to be looking for some dream job, some idealistic has everything you want, wrapped up in a pink bow, type of position. In those rare moments when I’d share my entire list of job wants with someone, I almost always closed with “and I’d also like a pony” since I knew I was being unrealistic but also wanted at least 90% of my wish list.
You would think that in some ways that being “between” is awesome, you have all this time, can catch up with friends, finish projects, travel, work through your bucket list, etc. And maybe if you had saved up a bigger pile of cash than I did, this would be true. But your friends will most likely still be working and not available. I did do some travelling and check some things off my bucket list. But I’m pressure prompted; an abundance of time is NOT my friend in terms of productivity. One good friend warned me that it was possible to fill my days so completely with some activities that I’d literally be left with NO time to work or look for work. Indeed. It is easy to be busy; and yet, it can also be indescribably, monotonously, dull with its sameness. Many of my days were filled with running, hot yoga, applying for jobs, reconnecting to my network, running a few errands, wash-rinse-repeat. I am 100% clear that I needed to be working, useful, creating value, learning, and doing interesting work wherever on the planet that may be.
One of my biggest struggles was related to interestingness (travel solo, learn new things, take risks, adventure). If you are not independently wealthy, how do you stay interesting when you are not working? I was busy; I was largely content; but I was not INTERESTING for most of the last year. In spite of that, this year has been useful in terms of refining my circle of connections. Who in yours values you only for your position/title/power/influence that comes via that role? When you lose it, or as in my case, walk away from it, who still makes time/sees you as a person worth knowing? Luckily for me, ever since I started moving away from being a bench scientist my identity has been less tied to my work each day. That made it easier to watch the evolution of interactions based on my title/position than it might have been otherwise. I thought often of Godbody, by Theodore Sturgeon and the protagonist who could virtually breathe in a person’s essence and being with just their name, not what they did, but who they were at the core.
Many people in my network wanted to help me by encouraging me to go back to something I’d succeeded at or had at least done before: lab work, academia, teaching – essentially use that PhD for something. And truly, if the economics had required it, I’m sure I’d have eventually turned down this path. But I had spent years breaking out of that box.
My friend Clay has a great poem in his book “A Thousand Bullets Gone Astray” which was just released on the kindle. As I traveled last year, it was one of the few books I did not put in storage; his words comfort and inspire me. Follow him – he changes media & platforms often – but today this one is live.
People want to put me
In a box
Constrain the four corners
Of who I am
What they can’t understand
Is I don’t fit
In a box
But that doesn’t stop
Other people trying
Every which way they can
To stuff me
In a box
I’d rather ride the waves
Of infinite possibilities
Exploring more realities
In a box
If I think as small
As they want me to think
I’ll be small enough
In a box
But that’s not for me
I guess some people
Are happy to live
In a box
I HATE being put in a box.
I worked on my resume constantly. The initial academic CV to resume conversion is brutal if you want to change career paths. I started with resume edge (not an affiliate link; worth the expense), made some self-edits over time studying other people’s resumes, but ultimately used my outer circle of connections to essentially rewrite/reframe/re-imagine my skills, values, and accomplishments from the outside. And I’m fortunate with the depth and breadth of my network – everything from Fortune 100 HR executives to academics to startup CEOs to investors – all of whom knew me well enough to assess whether the document accurately reflected me and yet also could still show some value across various industry verticals.
And for every job I applied to, I changed something; highlighted something different. And the PhD is a funny thing. It is either essential for a job or a liability. I have yet to meet someone for whom it’s neutral. You don’t always know this going in. More than 50% of my prior work experiences were possible due to the PhD. Even with the amazing amount of help I was provided, I struggled with how to reframe my work history if I suspected the PhD was going to be a liability. And in these connected times, it’s not like I could personalize LinkedIn or FaceBook every time I applied for a job. So the overall story had to be consistent, but the relevant skills/accomplishments needed to be highlighted.
In the end, the waiting was worth it. About a month ago I saw a job advertisement that resonated. It wasn’t what I expected to be searching for but I felt compelled to apply. I follow logic 99.999% of the time; this time, my gut said…this is the one. Even as I applied, the logical part of my brain was rolling its eyes “really?” My first phone interview was 24 hours later. I was hired in under a month. In that same time period my new boss has already written about hiring me. I have been waiting for this. Really.
In terms of my over-reaching “want” list (taken from an email that I sent to someone who asked, in the order in which I sent them to her):
- Location: Denver or another major metro with ideally a direct flight to Denver and 300+ sunny days a year – yes
- Great people. Strong leader/visionary – yes
- Value alignment, I don’t care how great the pay is or interesting the work is on paper. So far yes.
- The Work. I like to create opportunities for others in some way, large or small. I like sloshy intersections between biotech, innovation, entrepreneurship, economic development & higher ed. – yes
- The ideal job will have the opportunity for a mix of salary/equity; some travel (or great compensation so I can do more travelling for fun) – mostly. No equity; some travel; good compensation + almost 20 vacation days a year for travel.
- I’d like to try tech business development/operation role in smaller, VC backed company – mostly. Yes mostly– tech business development; yes operations role in a smaller organization; not VC backed.
So not 100%; and I didn’t get a pony, but amazingly close. It feels like I have found my next “home.” And it was worth waiting for/striving for.
And it’s much more than people were encouraging me to shoot for. If you have the resources, do not settle before you need to.
A friend recommended that I write a job searching “how to” post based on my experiences. My situation was pretty unique. I had time due to my savings. I *needed* that time to get clear on what mattered to me and what I wanted. I have a fantastic network of people who wanted to help if only I knew what to ask for. In the end, over the last year, I formally applied for fewer than 50 jobs. I did make it to interview #1 for about 25% of those which seems to be better than what I read about. I often removed myself from round #2 based on the first round. I spent a lot of time making sure that (a) I largely met the requirements of the position and that (b) my resume/cover letter addressed those requirements.
And, I had a number of companies take a chance on me for consulting projects which bought me more time. I am grateful beyond measure for the opportunities provided to me by: iN2L, House of Genius, PharmaJet, and others over the last year. Thank you.
I am glad the waiting is over.