Anna Maria Locke

what do you do? my career identity crisis

December 2014AnnaComment

Ah, December. The month of parties, social events, family gatherings, and constant networking with people who are usually either:

A. Old friends/fam who are genuinely interested in your life these days.

B. New acquaintances who are trying to figure out who you are and if they should be friends with you.

Last Saturday night Ben and I found ourselves in the crowded and loud back room of a nearby bar, munching on quesadillas and cheap beer (him), pita and hummus and cherry vodka/diet coke (me), and celebrating his ten year high school reunion. It was my first high school reunion experience, and it was weirdly fun, like a suburban high school yearbook came to life only everyone is starting to get a couple gray hairs and wrinkles (ok seriously--when did we become adults??). Since I've known Ben since I was nineteen, I always love getting the rare opportunity to experience a new side of him and his history. I also like parties and meeting new people, but as an introvert these specific types of networking events (crowded, loud, chaotic) definitely drain and intimidate me. Give me a quiet living room and a small group of interesting people and I can stay up until 3 am talking, but making small talk with strangers when you have to yell over loud music and everyone else's yelling is kind of hard.

Ok, now that the scene has been set, this is what I really want to talk about. What's always the first thing you ask someone when you're meeting them for the first time? Yup, the dreaded question.

"So, what do you do?" 

I generally do like hearing about other people's jobs because I'm fascinated by the different opportunities and paths out there, but I personally dread the question because I've struggled with a lot of insecurity over the fact that I've never had a traditional, easily defined career path. Not being able to respond with a confident, easy to understand, and suitably impressive answer is kind of like how I grew up with the unpronounceable name "Anna Vandervlugt".

Ahhh-Nah, last name sounds like "looked" with a V in front of it.

I'm used to having to justify, explain, and correct misconceptions but I hate it because deep down I really want to be immediately accepted and understood, just like we all do.

Ever since I left grad school I've struggled with a silly inferiority complex regarding my career path and job, which definitely stems from my two year stretch of un/under-employment. I never had to TRY to be successful when I was in school. Sure, I worked hard and earned my success, but I was a good student and was proud of the fact that I always held a high GPA, high test scores, good internships, and landed multiple full rides to top graduate programs. But then once I was launched into the real world, things didn't come so easily. And let me tell you, being in a group of apparently successful and corporate-ladder climbing young professionals and having to explain how you graduated from a top tier graduate program but now you're working part time as a field trip leader and babysitter and have no idea what you really want to do but all you know is that no one wants to hire you........yeah it's not really empowering.

But then I did finally get a full time job as an educator at a wonderful, well recognized zoo in Chicago, and all of a sudden people "understood" what I did, or at least thought it sounded exciting. But then came the follow up comments.

"Oh I've always wanted to play with zoo animals!"

"Do you get to work with the animals?"

"I've always felt bad for zoo animals..."


And I had to justify that I was not in fact a zoo keeper or circus performer, but an educator who did outreach in underprivileged CPS schools around the city, and that in fact my zoo is a research and education centered non-profit institution focused on science and conservation, not entertainment. Then they were suitably impressed and I felt very proud of my job, but I knew in my subconscious that it wasn't the best job for ME, so I still felt crappy.

Aaaaaand now I have to explain that I recently quit my job and am working for myself.

Which makes me FEEL like people jump to the conclusion that I'm unemployed/broke again, which is probably an untrue story I'm making up to cover my own insecurities. Because to be honest? Sometimes working from home feels a lot like my life back when I was unemployed. I'm in the same apartment, doing the same things (blogging, sewing, working out, cooking), and even though EVERYTHING ELSE has changed, it's easy to forget how far I've come in the last couple of years! The truth is, when I was unemployed I was actually happy (apart from the whole uncertain future/being broke/feeling worthless part), because I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do every day. The only difference is that now I've figured out how to turn what I want to do, the things that make me ME, into legitimate businesses that bring in money. Small shifts but huge implications. Yeah, I'm a head case.

Does the question "what do you do?" make you feel uncomfortable and stressed out too? I'm starting to believe that those negative emotions stem from a disconnect between the ACTUAL answer of what we do, and how we truly FEEL about what we do.

Student/grad student/Nature Conservancy:

Loved my job, loved telling people about it, but I knew it was only temporary.

Unemployed/substitute teacher/part time education guide:

Didn't love my job, didn't love telling people about it, knew there was something better out there.

Zoo educator:

Didn't love job but liked it enough to love telling people about it.

Self employed:

LOOOOOOVE THIS JOB!!!! It freaking rocks. But now I have to figure out what to call myself, since there's no convenient HR department to write me a title and job description. I am the HR department now. And allllll the other departments. Hello career identity crisis!

What do you say when people ask you what you do?

And more importantly--how does it make you FEEL? 

I've been reading The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte, and she's got me thinking more about connecting with our feelings and desires. "It's better for your nervous system if your description of your current career or life status feels honest to you when you deliver it." BOOM.

It doesn't even matter what you do. What matters how you feel about it. This makes total sense! Someone might have an incredibly impressive sounding title but if they are constantly stressed and hate their life, there's no glory in that.

Now I feel AMAZING and empowered and excited to wake up in the morning, but I struggle to convey a neatly packaged description or elevator speech, because I don't have that official HR approved job title! I'm a small business owner, but that doesn't really say anything.

The short version:

I own two small businesses--I'm an online health and fitness consultant and also have a handmade shop on Etsy where I sell scarves and (soon to be) watercolor art and paper goods.

But does that really tell you anything about what I do? I'm practicing getting better and more confident, because I am truly proud of my work and I honestly feel pretty dang successful!

The long version: 

I'm a health and wellness coach, and lead a team of over 50 other motivated and driven women just like me who want to make a positive difference in the lives of others. We run online accountability groups for people who want to gain confidence, lose weight, and learn how to stick to a healthy eating and workout routine for the long haul. I'm also an emerging social media marketing expert and trainer. I'm working on developing a lifestyle blog centered on empowering others to create a healthy balanced life. I'm a watercolor artist and wedding stationery designer (although I haven't made it public yet) as well as a handmade artisan and I design, sew, and knit one of a kind beautiful scarves for women around the world. I also love photography, and want to design and publish healthy recipe e-books and possibly a cookbook. My ultimate goal is to provide life or business coaching services to women who want to feel confident and empowered, meet their true potential, and design fulfilling, purpose driven lives.

Ummmm yeah. Did I tell you I have big dreams? I've been struggling a lot with trying to figure out what I should be prioritizing right now, and how to balance it all.

The other week I discovered Marie Forleo, a business coach and personal development guru who describes herself as a "multi-passionate entrepreneur," and everything started to click. YES! That's me!

I am a multi-passionate entrepreneur!

I don't have to feel confused or overwhelmed or frustrated by having too many interests and passions and dreams. I can run more than one small business. I don't need to combine everything. It's ok to be diverse, because ultimately everything that I'm passionate about comes together naturally because its all a part of ME. I am the brand. My family jokes about me being the next Martha Stewart and I just laugh it off because that's never going to happen, right? I have no idea what I'm doing. But. But but but...what if it could happen? What if I could be an internationally recognized lifestyle brand? I mean, yes it does sound ridiculous and I'm not sure if that would even make me happy, but what I'm trying to say is that I REFUSE to mentally dismiss possibilities purely because my current situation is not at that level.

In the meantime, I'll just continue to learn, read, create, and figure out how to define what I do.