Without a rudder 🚣🏻♀️
If you aren't familiar with the term, without a rudder refers to a boat that essentially has no mechanism for steering. It means you are at the mercy of the water and where it wants to take you. In terms of life and career - it's a pretty horrible policy. And unfortunately, this is the policy I largely subscribed to in my early life and career. I can honestly say that I was a pretty unremarkable teenager. I had few friends and even fewer aspirations. I can explain the friends thing. I'm a generally anxious and introverted guy. It's never been uncommon for me to just drop off the grid and not see people. This makes personal attachments and relationships hard for me. I can't point to any one thing that made me this way. I suppose I've always struggled with trust. As a result, and as you can imagine, this didn't make me Mr.Popular at school. As for the lack of aspirations, this one is a little harder to explain. Growing up in a very small town, you'd think this would have inspired me to think big and to want out as soon as possible. But unfortunately, it did the opposite. I felt that I didn't have many options. Community college ended up draining my meager savings, making it impossible to continue. As it was, I hadn't even nailed down what I wanted to go for, and the prospect of "figuring it out as you go", which was suggested to me by councillors, came off as tone deaf given my financial situation and lack of aid. I saw kids from my school, in similar situations, just getting manufacturing and retail jobs. They had cars and apartments, and this seemed advantageous compared to living at home.
When options seem limited, you often put yourself on a path that has no real longterm potential and is only marginally better than doing nothing at all.
I took a job in a plant that manufactured parts for fork-lifts. The job was night-shift, 12 hours per shift, and body breaking manual labor. Within just a few weeks, I had injured my back and nearly lost a finger. I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do with my life - but I knew I didn't want to do this. After quitting that job, I took a few interviews across various retail establishments and got a job with a toy store. While this was a completely different experience from manufacturing, I still felt largely unfulfilled at a core level. I absolutely hated "season", a term that meant the store would be filled with mostly rude and demeaning people searching for Christmas gifts. Retail schedules are also often far from stable. One day you'll work 6am to 3pm, the next day you'll work 7pm to 7am. Over the next few years I would continually miss shifts, and become less and less reliable to my superiors. Eventually, my saint of a boss, just couldn't take it anymore. He explained that he felt it best if I found something that I could be passionate about. That while I was a great employee, when I chose to be, he knew my heart wasn't in it.
Blind leading the Blind 🧑🏻🦯
After leaving retail, I was unemployed for a few months while I considered my next move. I had few skills and even fewer ideas about what skills I wanted to shape and develop. At the same time, I was with a person that I never wanted to be with. A person that I felt forced to be with, and a person that didn't know me in the slightest. It was this person that steered me into finance, where I would spend the next 10 years of my unhappy life. Of all the people I should have looked to for career and development advice, this is the last person on Earth I had any business listening to. At first, my finance role ticked a lot of boxes. At first, the hours seemed better, more regular, and more conducive to a healthier lifestyle. At first, there seemed to be a clear distinction between my new finance role and the retail role I left behind. I say, at first, because the illusion quickly faded. Fairly soon, the hours became really intense. Sure, your contract said you were 8am to 5pm, but to keep up with the cutthroat competition and to make the commissions necessary to keep putting food on the table, the hours were quickly extended. What appeared at first to be a Monday - Friday job, soon became a job where weekend shifts were not just required, but necessary to hit ever increasing "stretch goals" by team leaders.
I am thoroughly convinced that stretch goals are often utilized as a way to NOT PAY particular bonuses and serve as a constant tool that executives can use to point to your "non-performance".
It was soon fairly obvious, that my finance job, was actually just a retail job that required a suit. The endless conference calls, the impossible goals and targets, the role play (omg the role play), was all too much for me. And as an introverted, often depressed, young man - having to cold call individuals and set endless amounts of "investment account reviews" was not just uncomfortable, it was unbearable. My life and my career were both heading towards a cliff. By not choosing a path, by not committing to any given direction, by not just being myself, I had, in fact, committed to something after all. I had committed to unhappiness, both in life and in career. But that was all about to change.
When life goes boom 🧨
I've come to realize, that sometimes, everything in your life needs to blow up. It's extreme, often unpleasant, and never easy, but it certainly does give you perspective, and usually is a pretty good catalyst for change. After over a decade of letting the current carry me, I finally got sick of the scenery. I was able to get free from a person that never supported me or understood me, and I was able to get some clarity around who, and what, I wanted to be. From childhood, I had always been fascinated and intrigued by computers. I liked building computers and I liked playing on them. But nothing really compared to being able to create something using a computer. I remember one summer day, I think I was maybe 11 or 12. I found a book that outlined a program that, once complete, would draw a house on your monitor. I spent half the day copying the code out of that book. And in the end, I was able to get a pretty weird looking house to print out on my massive CRT monitor. It was exhilarating. I should have known right then, I should have dedicated myself, right then, to a life with computers. I regret, very much, that I didn't. But finally, in 2014-2015, with life thoroughly blown to smithereens, it became clear that this would be the only way I could be me. So I started applying to tech jobs, mostly the kind that were geared towards data analysis and data specialization. I figured my background with investment analysis might lend itself pretty well to that kind of work. I was hired as a data specialist with a logistics company. And I'm not going to lie, it was super intimidating at first.
It's not easy feeling like you are the least qualified person in the room. The flip side of that, is realizing this just means that you have a tremendous opportunity to learn.
I quickly found myself in conference rooms with senior executives and stakeholders that needed solutions to problems, the likes of which, I'd never even contemplated. Everything from data structure, data sanitization, data massage, and beyond were problems that needed solutions. These conference rooms were filled with people that had been doing this for years, and in lots of cases, were still younger than me. So finally, to the point of this whole article.
We are all in this together 👏🏻
As I said in the beginning, changing careers has all kinds of built in stressors. Changing careers a solid ten years or more after everyone else has seemingly figured it all out. Well that's a whole new bowl of crazy. So what can you do? How do you deal with it? Can you deal with it? And this is where this article will probably fail you miserably. Because I can't offer you the snake oil that cures all ills. But here's my take on it. Be ready for it be stressful. Be ready for days where you want to crawl under a rock and not come out. Be ready to be wrong, often and with epically horrific consequences. But most of all, be ready to learn. Chances are, if you are switching careers somewhat late, you aren't averse to learning anyway. More than likely, you've spent countless hours learning some new language or framework. You've probably stayed up more than once until the early rays of morning light, stream through the windows; having neglected sleep in pursuit of a tentative grasp of some new concept or idea. Never lose this desire to learn new things, and perhaps more importantly, never feel disoriented in being taught something by someone you might have 10-15 years on. If you're like me and switched careers late, it's likely your team will be composed of individuals that have never seen the movie Old School, and couldn't even begin to understand a reference to Dark Helmet hating Yogurt. This isn't bad. It's just different. You may feel like your challenges are unique to you. And yes, a lot of your challenges are your own. But that feeling that you're in a constant state of catch-up. That feeling that you're not good enough. That feeling that everyone is going to find out that you have no idea what you're doing. Trust me, your coworkers feel that way too. So just strap in, trust that being true to your truest self. Believe that you are doing what is right for you and for your happiness. And at the end of it all, you won't just have changed careers, you'll have installed a mechanism that gives your life direction. And there really is nothing better than a good rudder in stormy seas.