For me, there was always something about the pencil skirts. I may not have had a clear plan of how my working life would look, but I was pretty sure it would involve pencil skirts and silk blouses. It would involve having a colour-coded calendar and a work-wife who I had lunch with every day. There would be meetings and complaining about my commute and office politics and money. There would definitely be money.
When I was a teenager and a well-intentioned stranger would turn to me and ask, “Well, what are you going to do with your life?” I would spiral into a panic. Even now, as a working woman who pays her own electricity bills and buys her own clothes, this question still trips me up. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t wrestled with this idea in one form or another – whether it’s about their career, or their partner or the person they’re turning into.
But, for me, my career has always been the most complicated part of planning my future. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but knowing what I wanted and turning it into a reality are two very different things. And then, after years of having doors slammed in my face, I got my break – working for this website, actually.
And, while I love my job, I’m aware that my career, like so many others, seems destined to twist and turn as technology forces the entire industry to change and innovate. More and more people seem to be fighting to make space where they’re not sure any exists, taking risks, placing bets on what they think the future looks like. But how are you meant to make these sort of decisions on your own?
Well, maybe you aren’t.
Putting the naff name aside, the point they’re getting at is that you should have a group of people that you can call or email or meet for a coffee to talk to about your future
A piece in The New York Times last week encouraged readers who were trying to work out what they’re doing with their lives to “form a ‘personal board of directors’ by picking four or five people you trust to help you test hypotheses and make decisions. This can be informal. The main point is to not go it alone.”
Putting the naff name aside, the point they’re getting at is that you should have a group of people that you can call or email or meet for a coffee to talk to about your future. I love this idea so much – it’s the complete antithesis of so much other advice I’ve received over the years: that your career is dictated solely by how hard you are willing to work, that you should think of your colleagues as competitors rather than allies and, most importantly, that you should have all the answers to the questions life throws at you.
I immediately thought about my own board of directors – who are the people I rely on whenever I have to make a decision about my career? Who are the people I trust to help guide me in the right direction?
There are the core members of the board – my parents, my boyfriend, my best friend – the ones who have stayed up late into the night as I talked in circles, who have held me as I’ve broken down in tears, convinced that I’m talentless, and who have talked me into believing in myself again.
Then there are the newer members: the university professor from my undergraduate degree, who, despite being one of the busiest men I know, never fails to email me back.
There’s my old editor whom I worship, who stands on the sidelines of my life like an infatigable cheerleader, pushing me to pitch more stories and take more risks. Then there’s a family friend who meets with me for a coffee every once in a while and listens to me talk until I’ve run out of breath, and throws himself into talking about my future with the sort of enthusiasm that is normally reserved for greeting puppies or free cake.
Having these people on hand doesn’t mean I suddenly have any clearer idea of where my life is headed – they won’t tell me the answers, but they will help me me find my way through the world. Somehow, that makes not knowing what’s going to come next feel a lot less scary.