On my way to work one morning this week, I was thinking about my professional life. I was late to the game of finding out what I want to do when I grow up. For years, I was a stay-at-home parent who loved the freedom and flexibility to parent the way I wanted. I also used the time to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and learn how to best take care of me while also caring for my kids.
One of the things I did regularly during this time was meet a friend for coffee. It was cheap and the conversation was often enjoyable. I typically had coffee dates booked weeks in advance. My husband would say, “If you could get paid for having coffee with a friend, you’d have a nice side business.” As I considered his observation, I realized many of my coffee dates were with friends seeking advice. However, it did not seem right to charge my friends. “Judy, I enjoyed our time together this afternoon. That will be $65 please. Cash or check would be fine.”
As my kids got older, I continued to ask myself what I wanted to do professionally. I did not have a college degree or an identified passion to pursue, so it was not an easy question to answer. I went back to work, but soon learned it was not the job or the career for me long term.
Fast-forward 10 years. I have a master’s degree and am a Board Certified hospital Chaplain. My skills of coming alongside someone have strengthened with education and experience. I am now getting paid to have thoughtful, deep conversations. I love what I do, but it is not all that I want to do. Once again, I am asking myself, “What’s next?”
Some of the things I have learned about my professional self – strengths and growing edges (as we say in chaplaincy because “growing edges” sounds better than “weaknesses”):
1. I love thinking about what is possible, how something could be improved, or ways to address an identified problem. While those around me often seem to respond with annoyance or disinterest, I become energized and want to jump right in. My husband will confirm, I have never met a scenario I did not want to improve.
2. I am creative. This took me a long time to learn about myself. I married an artist and both of my kids have strong artistic talent. Therefore, I assumed my lack of drawing, painting or musical skills meant I was not creative. It also did not help that for years my mom would ask, “Where did your kids get their artistic talent from? I mean, it couldn’t be from you.” So I identified as the analytical one and left the creativity to the artists in the family… until I began to see that I, too, am creative. This not only impacted the way I see myself, but also how I express myself.
3. I am an agitator. I do not agitate simply for the sake of being an annoyance. When something is not working to the point of creating dysfunction, I do not keep my mouth shut. I am going to say something. Probably more than once. To anyone who will listen. I am learning (AKA a growing edge) to do so more appropriately, helpfully, and kindly. I am also learning to discern when it is better for me to leave the situation than to address what is happening.
I think I have best used these skills as a parent. I love my kids more selflessly than I love others. I have their best interest at heart. I dose everything with a lot of love. I wish this was true in my other relationships, or more true. I’m working on it. (Growing edge.)
But this post is meant to be about my professional life.
My current job delves deeply into the personal. My training has solidified healthy, appropriate boundaries and restorative self-care practices. Part of me wants to venture more into a professional space where I have a say on culture, function, vision and sustainability. And to be able to do these things with resources sounds very appealing. Would I be good at it? Can I build a healthy foundation professionally the way I have done personally with my kids?
I could have started school earlier and begun the process of building my professional self. But I now see ways I was working on who I am professionally. I did a lot of volunteering during the parenting years and honed my skills. I learned what I like and what I do well. I also learned what I do not enjoy and what I do not do so well. My professional path has been less like a race track, and more like a long walk in the woods. Come to think of it, that suits me much better.
What do I want to do when I grow up? Not sure. I think I’ll just keep walking. Meandering even. Seems to suit me well.