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In the wild
Why pivoting careers may mean more than one pivot.
I am writing this from a hotel in Boston. I’m here for a marketing conference: the first time I’ve attended any type of conference outside of banking and the first time I’ve traveled via plane since before the pandemic. A friend of mine joked that she was excited for me to be out “in the wild.”
While she was referring to the travel itself, I’m out in the wild in another way. I’m here without an employer, introducing myself as a freelance content writer.
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It wasn’t planned this way. I signed up for the conference a month ago, while I was still at a content agency, and was going to be here on the agency’s behalf. But I parted ways with that employer last week and am striking out on my own. I decided that the conference would be an opportunity to network. When I mention that I’m a freelance writer, everyone has given me a big smile and a congratulatory “good for you.”
I don’t quite know where the road will lead, but I’m committed to the journey.
A pivot doesn’t have to be the final destination
It’s been a winding, and sometimes turbulent, path since I began my career pivot almost two years ago.
I left a job I’d been at for 15 years because I had stagnated. There was no way to grow and, even in a leadership role, I was no longer challenged. The culture was bad and it took a toll on me.
But I also couldn’t see myself continuing work as a product manager. It’s a stressful job in general: the direction of the product often relies on decisions that a PM makes. “Chill product manager” didn’t seem like a realistic job description.
So I pivoted into content marketing, which I didn’t even know was a thing until I started looking for a job as a writer. I got a job at a content agency, writing SEO blog posts, and then a job at another content agency as an account manager.
But I wasn’t happy with the work I was doing. Neither of the roles played to my skills or strengths. Or, I should say, didn’t play to the skills that set me apart from other people. The first agency had dozens of writers: I was one of many talented people. The second agency role had very little to do with any of my prior work experiences.
I fell into the old mindset that I should just stick it out. Changing jobs is hard and I couldn’t keep bouncing around every few months… or could I?
Here’s the thing: hiring managers who think there is something wrong with the candidate who hops from job to job are gravely mistaken. Sure, some people look for new challenges, but many, many people leave bad jobs, bad bosses, toxic work environments, and a whole host of other problems. There are a lot of companies out there that simply suck. And a candidate can get all the way through an interview process only to discover that the company is not what they seem.
Recovery from burnout takes time
As I thought about “What else can I do (again)?” I realized that I needed to take a step back.
For me, burnout started years ago, though I didn’t realize it at the time. The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome resulting from workplace stressors.” But Eve Ettinger looks more closely at burnout in their article “Have We Been Thinking About Burnout All Wrong?” Ettinger talked to Hassel Aviles, the executive director of a nonprofit that advocates for mental health improvements in the hospitality industry. Aviles pointed out that exhaustion can be addressed through rest. Burnout can only be addressed by stepping away from work.
Yet I didn’t step away. I was burnout and immediately jumped into a new job — and a new industry. I thought I could address burnout by joining a company last year that had a 4-day workweek and prioritized hiring kind people. But that wasn’t it. Two things were colliding for me: feeling like I wasn’t good at the work I was doing and continuing to fight the residual effects of burnout. I’d never taken the break.
I spoke with a woman a few weeks ago who quit her job and took a few months off before starting something new. She talked about burnout on LinkedIn. During her conversation with me, she reminded me that if we are working while burned out, it’s not reflective of who we are. We’re not capable of being out best selves.
It’s like being underwater all the time.
Careers are a portfolio of experiences. Keep building.
My decision to be a full-time freelancer may seem like the opposite of what I need to address burnout.
But — for now — it’s what I need. Control over the work that I do. Control over how I spend my time. And accountable only to myself.
I didn’t jump into the deep end. I already have a few clients. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the type of work that makes me happy. In addition to writing, I want to do some consulting work and create resources for other freelancers.
In the background, I’ve been building. I didn’t know at what point I’d hit a ceiling and decided to branch out on my own, but I wanted to be prepared. I have systems in place that can scale, so I won’t need to figure out how to be a freelancer.
Over the past two years, I’ve been giving myself permission to keep exploring — outside of the work that I was doing from 9-5. It became a safety net: making the change hasn’t seemed so scary. And as I’ve watched a massive layoffs in my industry for months, I also knew that I was potentially protecting myself.
There are no limits to pivots and careers don’t have to be linear. Someone I know commented that my past experiences have given me a bunch of skills that I can use now.
And it’s true. I keep adding to this portfolio of what I can do, while at the same time niching down to work I enjoy doing.
A roundup of stuff from around The Interwebs. Some to make you smile, some to make you roll your eyes. And some stuff that I wrote on other platforms.
Emotional Intelligence Needs a Rewrite | Lisa Feldman Barrett (this article was mentioned at the conference I’m at)
Be a fast tortoise | Khe Hy
Oh and I also recently wrote an entire eBook — 17 Smart Tools Solopreneurs Need to Start, Grow, and Scale. Check it out (for free!)
You can also follow me on LinkedIn for more insights about work, or on Twitter for spicier takes, and Medium where I write about fun stuff like productivity and creativity. Or catch up on the personal side of my life on my blog.
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