It’s weird that 6 years of experience fits into one of those paper ream boxes. For some reason, that was the predominant thought as I pressed the button for the elevator to take me down from my job for the last time, and into the unknown.
For 6 whirlwind years I had worked at a small corporate communications and training agency. It was my first real job, i.e. not a “I’m doing this so I can splurge at Camelot” job (you remember Camelot, right? That was OG, son. None of that F.Y.E. bullshit). My growth in the company was non-linear, and in many ways predetermined by the way I got the job.
6 and a half years ago, I was a fresh-off-the-U-haul New York resident. My only friend was Erika (yeah, this one). I was living in Brooklyn. I was working in a lab in the Bronx (where my Biochem peoples at!). It was a brutal commute. Erika worked at this agency. One (fateful?) day in December, Erika’s two bosses asked if she knew a Medical Writer, as it was time to expand. She said she did know one dude who worked in a lab. They wanted to meet me.
Rather than an interview, they decided the best way to vet me was to invite me to their first-ever holiday party. It was Erika, her two bosses, their wives, and myself. We went to Otto. We had several bottles of wine (and food, I’m sure). We went to Reservoir. We sampled a fine Pinot (shots of Jameson) and respectfully listened to a rousing Aria (danced and shouted to as many Killers songs as the jukebox held). It was a match made in Heaven. I had 0 experience in Medical Writing and corporate training, and I was barely adequate at communication (me talk real gud), but they took a chance. I accepted in no small part because it cut my commute in over half.
Not too long into my tenure, my boss asked me if I knew any audio engineers – they needed some audio to be edited. I said I could probably do it, as I edit demos and such for my band. Thus began my foray into technical production, ultimately landing at technical direction. My bosses, knowing me as a creative-y dude, then suggested I take a stab at more creative avenues, and the technical direction turned into writing, creative concepting, and media production. I don’t think I ever did any legit medical writing.
Point is, my path was unorthodox. One of the most amazing things about my bosses was that they recognized untapped ability. And upon seeing that ability, they provided opportunities to hone it. Countless times I found myself saying “Huh, never considered that, but I’ll give it a shot.”
Fast forward to last year. Last year was terrible. In a “one of the hardest years of my life” kinda way. It was a year that makes anyone question everything he was doing. I was about to level up in my job. I was being primed to embark upon the quest that would lead to Creative Director. And I wasn’t sure I wanted it. I mean, sure, I mostly enjoyed what I did. I was good at it (for real, though). It matched my personality (many interests, creative but practical, dashingly good looks, etc.). But I hadn’t fought to get to where I was. To be clear, I worked incredibly hard to get there. My growth in the company was entirely performance-based. But it’s not like I came into the company saying “I’m gonna own this place someday,” or even “I will be the world’s greatest Creative Director.” It was more like “well my commute will be better, the people are awesome, and they do interesting things.”
And so, after many heart-to-hearts with the people I trust most, I realized that if I am to continue on my path of domination, I need to make sure I want it. I feel guilty saying that. I should be grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given. I mean here I am, moving up the ranks in a company almost in spite of myself. I should just quit my bitchin’ and get back to work. But I’m perpetually terrified that someday I’ll look back and say “How did I get to this point?” I do a good job of living with no regrets, with the exception of all the things I regret. I realized that the only way to truly figure out what I want, be it at this company or any other, was to separate myself from it and take a breather.
That’s how I came to tell my bosses “I love you guys. I love this company. You’ve been my family and my friends. You’re been the single most important thing that’s happened to me since I moved to New York. But this is something I gotta do.” And my bosses, being the complete dicks they are, were completely supportive.
So what’s next? I honestly have no idea. But I’m coming to grips with the notion that that’s OK. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to sit around until the answer hits me. My friend Emily said it best – the plan ahead is making a plan. I’m going to do some strategery (apparently not actually coined by Bush, well-played SNL), and go from there.
Is this for everyone? Probably not. It takes planning, serious fiscal responsibility and, if I may be so bold, chutzpah. But in whatever capacity you can, I think it’s essential to take a step back from time to time and reassess where you are and where you want to go. And you don’t have to figure out exactly where it is you want to go. It’s just taking that moment to have a little conversation with yourself and say “Hey man, how’s it goin? Eh, not sure about this or that. That’s cool man, let’s figure out what we can fix and not worry about the things we can’t. Right on, I can do that. Awesome. Let’s roll.”