Because sometimes it feels that the career we love so much
Yes, I’m in love with my career. It’s my passion, one of them, anyway. It’s (probably) the one thing I am good at doing. How good I am at my career brings to mind the line from Good Will Hunting:
“Mozart, Beethoven. They saw it, they could just play. I can’t hit the ball out of Fenway and …. But when it came to stuff like that, I could always just play”.
When it comes to providing education on sexual violence prevention, I could always just play.
I love what I do. Mostly because as a result of doing this work I am helping to make the world a better place. Like the camouflage-pants wearing guy, who approached me after a training because he wanted to shake my hand, and say thanks for presenting the material in such an engaging and non-threatening way. Or the dozens of young people (mostly women) who wanted me to tell me they knew someone who had been victimized, that they had been victimized, and wanted to know (more specifically) where they could turn to for help. Or the thank yous I receive from friends and family member who contribute when I ask for their support, who speak of the good work I’m doing. I should also mention the student who came up to me, to ask if the way her history teacher had been looking at her was wrong. (Yes, it was!)
These (along with countless others) have come to be my success stories. My very own personal motivational speeches. Reminding me of a job well done, especially on days that I need it most. That I am actually making a difference, on days when I cannot tell the difference.
So I love my career. But, lately, I’ve come to think that my career doesn’t love me.
No hyperbole here. This isn’t some haphazard comparison to abusive or toxic relationships. For, I’ve had far too many family members, friends, and clients experience abuse within their relationships to make some bullshit comparison. No, the empathy I have for survivors will not allow me to compare my career journey with the debilitating effects of abuse.
What this is about, however, is navigating this career while experiencing few strong leaders and mentors. I need only one hand, and indeed, just a couple of fingers, to count the number of strong supervisors I’ve had the pleasure of working under. Supervisors who knew how to lead a team and how to motivate each member of that team. Supervisors who empowered and engaged, instead of managed and micromanaged. Supervisors who actually cared what I thought, and did not tell me what I should know. (For that, thank you, GH.)
Being in this career knowing that adequate financial compensation is realistic…yet, my career will shell out thousands of dollars on expert so-and-so. Two separate points, though they are tied at the hip. On the one hand, my career pay is mediocre, at best. If I want to provide for my family – in the sense of affording family vacations, summer camp for the kids, and date nights for me and my wife, I would be better served working in some mindless job in the corporate world. With my career, I have to choose – family vacation or summer camp for the kids or regular date nights with my wife. Nothing extraordinary, just basic life pleasures. I can’t have it all, or so it seems, and that it disheartening.
On the other hand, if should my career (as a whole) ever finds itself in a good financial position, I don’t think those of us who work in this field, will see any of that compensation. To earn real money – the kind where you don’t have to choose between that family vacation or summer camps for the kids – you have to become an expert. What actually constitutes an expert is unknown, however. Does an expert have strong familiarity with all of the leading programs in their field? Or have almost a decade’s worth of experience? Or have provided education to over 10,000 students (middle school, high school, and college)? Does an expert do all of those things, and serve as a trustee for a state-wide agency? What about provide training for professionals? What about…, I could go on, but the point has already been made. Although I would rather not speak of my own successes, when I compare my accomplishments with those of expert so-and-so, not only do mine stack up well, but in some cases, they actually exceed the expert’s. I’m also finding that we bestow the label expert on those who have a following (a celebrity, if you will) who happens to speak up about these issues. So an actor will quickly become an expert, although the clinician who has worked with survivors for decades does the work, can speak to theory and trends, and (as my students would say) is about that life.
I do love my career. But my career doesn’t quite have a path, per say. No linear line of progression like most other careers. You’re an educator, a clinician, or a manager (and those skill sets are all vastly different). In most fields, one could expect to work as a clinician and then become a manager. But this doesn’t work that way. Most of the managers I’ve had, have just average management skills. Practically no supervisory abilities; big-picture thinking and planning are decent, at best; but they are people persons! They can check in (a term I’ve come to hate, by the way) though like nobody’s business. A hundred times per day, if necessary. They can chat your ear off about their thoughts on whatever topic. However, listening to, or being receptive to your feedback, is a skill that has seems to have evaded them.
I’ve seen high turnover in my career. Chewing people up, spitting them out. Co-workers turned friends often speak of the long hours, with little pay and no recognition, the lack of support, the ever-changing landscape (a funder once used the term, build the plane as we’re flying it, to express how their expectations would be fluctuating from year to year, hell even week to week). Wearing down our mental health and resilience, while we empower and celebrate the mental health and resilience of others whom we serve. As I write this, I accept that these traits of my career may be similar to others. That we all may have these same things in common.
Still, that doesn’t make me feel any better about being in a one-sided relationship, where you love your career, but apparently, your career doesn’t love you.
And though this feels like an abrupt ending…it’s actually symbolic of the abrupt breakups colleagues have had with our career. No personal, hand-written thank yous to co-workers…like we would send to presenters. No warm announcements of moving on to a different career field…like we get from clients once their sessions have ended. No get togethers to toast all of the successes and memories…like we always say we should. Instead, work a zillion hours today, and gone tomorrow. Abrupt.
Yet, for me, and I’m guessing for all of us, it is the impact on survivors or clients or the children or our patients that keeps up coming back. Those that we serve, both literally and figuratively.
This back and forth is precisely what it feels like to be in love with a career that doesn’t love you in return.