Pick. A. Lane.
Here’s what I would hear…
Or nails on a chalkboard.
Or the sound of macaroni and cheese getting stirred up.
It was offensive, annoying and even disgusting. Seriously how gross is the sound of mac-n-cheese being stirred by a wooden spoon?
Picking a lane felt like picking a life of monotony and sameness and stagnation.
But I listened anyway. I listened because not only was that the common wisdom but because that is the way society is set up.
People who pick a lane and stick with it are revered for their climb up the ladder.
They are given health insurance and paid vacations and lots of other perks that come with devoting yourself and your talents to a single job or a single destiny.
We like their chronological stories and logical steps. Their careers make sense to us.
So I listened. Kind of.
Every couple of years I would sign on a dotted line and drop in to whatever job I was doing. Then when I wasn’t working, or even when I was, I would fantasize about everything else I would rather be doing like writing novels, setting up schools in third world countries, heading off to the Peace Corps, joining a think tank…or a dunk tank, becoming a chef, owning a business, etc.
I used to think everyone felt the same way I did. That everyone else’s restlessness was just an intense as mine. Not true.
After a couple of years I would inevitably change jobs or change careers altogether.
That would keep me going for a bit until I followed another path or project.
The worst part about it all is that I would beat myself up all of the time for not being like a “normal” person who could just pick a lane and stay on the road. I envied all of those people who responded to the question, “What do you do for a living?” with, “I’ve been a lawyer for 15 years” or “I’ve been a teacher for 20.”
I lacked longevity.
I always felt like there was something wrong with me.
And over the years it started to wear on me.
When I started my own business seven years ago some of that went away. Partly because I was soon surrounded by a huge network of people who spent most of their lives feeling the same way I did. They had a thousand interests and they were trying to figure out how to bring them all together. Yes, some were total slackers who talked big but really were just using their belief that they had way too many interests as an excuse for not doing anything. Others, however, I rank as some of the smartest and most creative and productive people I know.
Still, all of that didn’t entirely cure me. I still had this picture in my head of who I was supposed to be and by failing to live up to that, I continued to doubt myself.
Call Out the Crayons
Then one day I sat down with some crayons and markers and a giant piece of butcher paper and started drawing pictures of what I wanted. I blocked out the noise and played with no judgment. Sounds easy. It’s not. It’s probably harder than you think. Or maybe I’m just a self-judging genius.
I went for a run and let the wax dry. When I came back I sat down with my water bottle to survey the damage. When I looked at it there were three areas my eyes were drawn to. Three words actually that were large, bold, bright and circled. Teacher, writer, and helper. These words were not surprising to me. I am an INFJ to a tee for one and for two, teaching, writing and helping is what I’ve been doing since I was old enough to do so.
What was surprising this time was everything that sprang from each of my three power words and how they started to make sense to me even though many of the ideas seemed unrelated.
Then I decided to write a letter to the next twelve years of my life as it related to one of those areas. (Again, even after all of this I was forcing myself to pick a lane.) I told those years everything I wanted to do and devised a clear step-by-step process for making it happen.
Not a week later I was listening to NPR in my car and heard an interview with someone who was talking about her work and what it took for her to get to where she is. She said something that struck me right to the core. Looking back on her career choices she said, “I came to a point where I realized that if I continued to make decisions based on my current life, I would miss out on the me that was waiting to get out there.” That part of her was unknown, uncertain, and maybe even a bit confused. However, she just kept looking forward and asking herself if she wanted to be in the same place 10 years from now and her head and heart both yelled NO!
After hearing her it was so clear to me that if it were 10 years or even 5 years from now and I were looking back and I hadn’t taken the chance I have right now to design the kind of portfolio career that rocks my world, the portfolio I had just mapped out in my letter and in my drawing, that I would regret it.
The Portfolio Career
Here’s the question I downloaded in that moment:
Why not just design my portfolio career with as much intention as other people design their singular career?
If I did that, then I wouldn’t get hung up on the fact that I am supposed to like one career path more than the other. I actually like them all equally but they all fulfill very different needs for me.
For the first time I started thinking about my career in a more mature way.
Do you remember how important it was to have a best friend when you were young? Even if you changed who it was every day, it mattered. There needed to be someone with top billing. My daughter and her friends are at this stage now and it’s both hilarious and awful to watch.
Then, once you get older, you start to realize that you have certain friends who fulfill different needs. One is the friend you call whenever you need a drink. You call one when you want to go for a hard run. Another when your child is sick. Another when you lose your job. And another who you want to spend every random day with. They all serve a purpose and as a woman you would be lost if any one of them left the fold.
That’s how I see my career. I have been fighting this idea that I have to pick one lane, one route and one path. I don’t. Anymore than I have to pick one friend. And they can be as disparate as I want them to be.
In the end it’s all about design. And changing your picture. If you can change the picture you have of yourself – the one that doesn’t look anything like the current version of you – then you can change your life. It really is that simple.
To confirm that intentionally deigning a portfolio career is exactly the right path for me I had a conversation with my 6 year old daughter the other day in the car that went like this…
Dylan: Mom, you know what else I’m going to be when I grow up?
Dylan: I’m going to be a singer and a dancer and a doctor and a paleontologist
Me: Wow – that’s great. How are you going to do all of them?
Dylan: On Mondays I’m going to sing, on Tuesdays I’m going to dance, on Wednesdays I’m going to be a doctor and on Thursdays I’m going to look at dinosaur bones.
Me: That sounds great. What do you think you’re going to do on Fridays?
Dylan: Well…I figure I am going to be pretty tired from all of that work so I’ll probably just take the day off:)
She’s the smart one in the family:)
Now It’s Your Turn
1. Get out your crayons, markers, sharpies, chalk, and a large piece of paper.
2. Create a visual image of the life and career you want. Don’t judge, hold back or worry about how you are going to make it happen. Just write the words or draw the pictures that make you come alive. Quiet the noise and let your crayons do whatever they want.
3. Walk away and take a break.
4. Come back and see what pops out at you. What words, themes, ideas float to the surface?
5. Now, write a letter to the next 10 years of your life. What do you want to happen? What do you have to do to make it happen? Get as detailed as you can. I am typically not a proponent of doing detailed plans this far into the future but there is value in this exercise. First, things become less big when we break them down into smaller steps. Second, once you write it down as if it is a plan you’re going to follow, then your mind and body begin to get on board. They either clap or resist. Great information either way.
6. Use the letter you wrote and the picture you drew to change your picture.