I’ve been putting off writing for a long time – I literally have a whiteboard full of blog ideas that’s so full I can’t fit anything new on it. After talking to a friend (who just happened to be fresh out of a self-help book and full of wisdom), I realised the only way I could make room for the new stuff was to DO SOMETHING with those ideas.
(After writing that paragraph, I checked my emails and updated my LinkedIn profile before hauling myself back to this Word document.)
This year I have lost four (FOUR!) jobs due to disappearing departments and straight-up douche-bag bosses (oh boy do I have a blog post for you once HR is done with THAT shit). I keep having different versions of the same conversation with the people who love me – “This is really just an opportunity for you, so you need to take time to think about what it is you WANT to be doing.”
That concept – that I’m remotely in control of my life – does not sit naturally with me.
It just seems like a very naïve and self-centered approach to take. That you could just think of a career and then get it.
It reminds me of a girl from high school who wanted to be a pop singer – that was ALL she wanted. I mean, that takes a lot of confidence but also a hellovalotta blatant obliviousness. Yes, having fame as your career goal at the age of 15 would have taken extreme determination– but that determination must have been mostly invested in avoiding eye contact with the Real World and all its problematic notions like ‘probability’, ‘competition’ and 'talent'.
I think that’s why I’ve also been goal averse. Who am I to assume the world will bend itself to my demands? For example, if I say out loud I WANT TO WORK FOR THE ABC, how do I make that happen? What if the ABC is never hiring science writers? What if the ABC doesn’t want me?
Hey Mad Men fans - remember when Don Draper’s second wife Megan spends an ENTIRE episode crying in the dark because she didn’t get an acting role? And her mother (who I think we are supposed to hate, but TBH she’s just speaking the truth) tells her:
“Not every little girl gets to do what they want; the world can't support that many ballerinas."
This is LOGICAL.
Yet people all around me are telling me that ‘what I want’ really can determine what I get. And I can see people living and making decisions based on this concept too.
Growing up, the idea of ‘finding work’ never really stretched beyond just that. Find work and do it. While I grew up knowing that working was not just a matter of finance and security, but also of pride and fulfilment, the concept that work could embody something you enjoy or are passionate about wasn’t really something I considered for myself.
Fast forward several years and I begin to be comfortable saying the name of a field I’d like to work in out loud. It comes after my PhD supervisor sits me down and asks me the pointed question, “What do you want to do after your PhD?” and I realise that she actually needs an answer and crying in the dark for a TV-hour won’t change that. Reflecting back on my experiences as a communications intern for a scientific not-for-profit, I tell her, “I want to work in science communication.”
Since then, every opportunity I’ve had in this field sort of seemed to land in my lap as a consequence of me working on things I cared about. Was it possible I was making any of this happen…? Nah.
I start blogging about my PhD experiences and get a small twitter following. One of my followers approaches me to write for a science magazine. I pitch so often and have so many ideas that I get my own column. I go to a science writing panel at a writers’ festival and meet other science writers – we go for beers. One of them invites me to pitch for her new platform, and when she moves on several months later she invites me to take up her position as editor. A little girl asks me to organise a science party for her 8th birthday and I start getting requests from all over town. One of my parent clients calls me up and asks if I’d like a job as a writer in her department.
I never (dirty word) PLANNED any of this.
(I paused writing this post for a few days because I realised I didn’t know where it was going. Tonight I dodged a call from my sister because I couldn’t bear to repeat the same stories of failure and worthlessness to another person I loved. I dodged another call from my grandparents for the same reason. Today at my current ‘temp’ job, as I was leaving I said I’d be in tomorrow if they could think of anything else they needed help with, and one of the guys sounded legit confused. Of course – of course there was nothing they needed help with and of course I am of no worth to them.)
I lost my job(s) four months ago and I haven’t pitched a single thing since. I’ve fumbled through with temp gigs and got on with paid work that landed in my lap via networking – which is OK I guess. But it’s hard to motivate yourself when you have no plan for the long-term AND an inconsistent income. It’s hard to feel worthy of anything when then only tasks assigned to you are the ones ‘no one else has really had the time or energy to do’.
For a long time the idea of ‘not having a plan’ has been liberating for me – watching odds and ends land in my lap was evidence of how unnecessary planning was for me. But I’m 28 now. I don’t want odds and ends. I want what I WANT. And I have the power to make that happen – or at least drastically increase the likelihood of it happening. You have the evidence for that you dummy!
Who needs structure? Who needs boundaries? Who needs a road map? Guess what, babe? YOU DO.
I’m not going to lean on my ‘lack of a plan’ as some excuse for being free-spirited and easy going (HAHHAHAHA ME) anymore. Over the years this perspective has morphed from feeling liberating to just being a crutch for me to lean on when I’m feeling scared about my future.
I realised tonight, just after I rage tweeted about how shitty I feel today – when it comes to planning, it’s not the hard work that I’ve been afraid of. It’s the potential for failure. But if my PhD has taught me anything, it’s that failure breeds success (eventually).
So I better start failing at science writing sooner than later. And I’m going to start tomorrow (it’s 23:15 right now). I am going to make: A PLAN.