My (Career) Path to Enlightenment

Taking a moment to pause for reflection during a milestone birthday a few years ago, it suddenly hit me that I seem to re-invent myself by way of a new career path every decade. 

Looking back through the years, there was the steady babysitting gig in my neighbourhood from grade school all the way until I left home at age twenty, working in both the canteen and the cafeteria at my high school and at the same time, at a part time fashion retail job after school and on the weekends.

Customer service played a big part in what I did, although I didn’t notice it at the time.  They were just jobs - because you’re supposed to work.  But, I did seem to gravitate toward that type of service the older I got.

...and a funny thing happened - I started to get pretty good at it.

Artless and inexperienced, I just went in to a store and got hired.  Maybe that was what got me hired, I don’t really know.  When I was sixteen and shopping at a popular ladies clothing store, Fairweather, the manager walked up to me and said “You should be working here.”…and hired me on the spot.  I didn’t even have a SIN number at the time. 

Being fashion conscious and very experimental in my sartorial choices - mixing vintage, hand-me-downs and new items with the help of Vogue and Seventeen magazines, really helped me sell clothes.   I ended up working for that particular store as well as the attached men’s wear section, Big Steel, until I left home and then immediately was hired again at the same clothing store chain the day after I arrived in my new destination - wait for it - Edmonton.

Working more than one job at a time also seemed to be a habit, as I reflected over my work history.  It just happened that way for me.

About two weeks after I started back at Big Steel in Edmonton, I was hired at another shop downtown - a bit more on the funky and cool side, Le Chateau for men and women was the destination of rock stars and other famous folks looking for clothing with more of a fashion edge.  

Later on, I was hired at yet another clothing store (a high end designer with the initials Ralph Lauren) after I started University and from there, changing tacks slightly, moved on to a cool specialty coffee and tea shop (long before the arrival of Starbucks, these were still a relatively new concept in retail) where I worked for years.  From that location and the contacts I met, I was poached to work in a brand new clothing store called Club Monaco located in the fancier section of the mall (OK, OK - it was in West Edmonton Mall during the 1980s.  You can imagine...).

An interesting development was taking place;  I became friends with the people who I worked with and years later, I am still connected to them.  I was also learning about customer service, both the good and the bad.  Yup, my 20s were all about learning and more than a few cringe factor moments happened along the way.

Before long, I moved again to the city where I still reside, Vancouver.  I did the fashion retail gig for the first few years that I lived here until I found myself, by way of new friends and connections and pure serendipity, in the music industry.

Hello 30s.  As my new decade dawned, I began a job in the music industry and met more friends who I’m still close with.  Those years with a major concert production company and then at a major record label were amazing and not likely to be repeated.  Also, it was kind of like working on a pirate ship as far as professional conduct typical to most workplaces.  I don't mean that in a bad way, just that it was damned fun.  In fact, even though we no longer work together, that tight band of "work peeps" at the label still get together for reunion parties every summer, and the same group of "media girls" from the concert days still get together for brunches during the year on a regular basis. 

Although some of us have moved on to different career paths, we are still connected.  We still reach out in friendship and professionally - a network of support.

When I turned forty, I was introduced to a completely different business sector - that of the non-profit and more corporate world of business start up and information products and services.  Again, I didn’t really actively seek out these jobs, they came to me through connections.  Networking has always been a thing with me although I never called it by that name.

I started to discover that there was a side to me that fit in well to this new learning curve of "business" and I began to pick up new skills and perhaps more importantly, a new professional confidence.  Who knew?

After spending many years in an enjoyable role of business advisor I learned a lot about my past work path and really noticed all it had done in making me the professional who I am today.  The many skills and lessons learned over the jobs and years, the people I met, the mentors along the way and the personal development muscles stretched in getting me where I am today were all signposts along my career route.

It also got me thinking..."am I an entrepreneur too?"  Although I helped clients every day who asked that same question, I never thought it could happen to me.

It wasn’t until that milestone birthday a few years ago that I saw everything in hindsight and I immediately thought to myself, “It’s time!  What next?”  I started to pay attention to where I would go next and I realized that of all the experience I had, of all the different jobs I had taken, I had never explored the real me - the artist, the creative person.  It was time.

Personal transformation is a gradual process - from realization to putting it into action - and over the past few years I have tried to keep the transformation going forward, especially now that I recognize the signs when I see them. 

The biggest lessons that I learned during my overall work history?

  • People
  • Teamwork
  • Friends
  • Advice and mentorship along the way
  • New skills
  • Strengths in me that I never knew existed
  • A new confidence in myself
  • What I want to let go of and what I want to embrace.

After a few years of letting my career concerns percolate, I came to the conclusion that the best thing for me to do was to actually quit my present job and to pivot.  Now, I don't recommend such a drastic step for everyone because it's risky and bold and let's not forget about that pesky "age factor".  Believe me, I thought long and hard about it.  Quitting a job without actually moving on to another job is crazy!  But, sometimes it's the only way to re-charge yourself, both professionally and creatively, not to mention the physical and mental rejuvenation of letting go of a major chunk of stress.  If you have the means to do it and to sustain yourself financially, if only for a short period of time, then do it - and make it count.

Travel if you can, be a tourist in your own city, re-establish your professional network and meet new people, take the opportunity to learn something new, and pursue that interest that called out to you in the first place, wholeheartedly.  Keep your heart and mind open for inspiration. 

Although I don't have a crystallized vision of what to call myself, (self-employed? In between jobs??) and I still have not yet corralled all of my artistic and creative pursuits into one neat and marketable package, I know I am on the right path.

Have I figured it all out yet?  Not by a long shot - but by moving forward in my quest, I'm sure to meet "it" along the way.

What do you want to be when you grow up?    - photo by Heather Phillips

What do you want to be when you grow up?  - photo by Heather Phillips