Every so often, the storm firing between my synapses leads me to seek an outside, expert opinion. I met a therapist in an online program, and it turned out that not only was her focus career guidance and work stress reduction, but she also lived locally enough where I could visit her in person. Realizing the online program wasn’t enough for my current needs, I signed off and signed on to her in-person services.
What I appreciate most about this woman is that she has a similar background working for technology companies in the communications field, so she understands some of the rewards and challenges that come with such a career choice. She is different from therapists I’ve seen before as she isn’t afraid to pay close attention to what I say and call me on where I’m getting in the way of my own happiness.
One trend she pointed out, which is 100% true, is that for the entirety of my career (and even college) I chose to be just-removed from what it is I actually want to do. For college, instead of majoring in acting, I majored in design — now, that may have been a good choice (my acting talent is limited to say the least), but it still is the first of many proof points of how I’ve been consistently too afraid to follow my dreams and self-selected to sit on the sidelines. When I had my heart set on directing, I secured a marketing internship at a theatre company, always longing to be in the rehearsals instead of promoting the end result. Then, as a journalist I loved writing human-interest stories for local communities, but I gave up on this in exchange for reporting on business news which had little heart or soul, only data and “scoops.” My work as a business journalist led me to what I thought I actually wanted to do – work in a startup company creating products (later I found out this role was titled “product manager” but I never got there, instead spending years building an impressive resume, on paper, as a career marketer.
What I’ve come to realize is that if you aren’t passionate about what you do on a day-to-day basis, especially if you are just one step removed from what it is you actually want to do, you find yourself in this professional limbo. You’re so close to doing something fulfilling and yet you sit from the sidelines watching others who are engaging in the work that drives them. Of course nothing is perfect, and everyone has their work stress no matter what the field, but I’m all for stress that ties to doing something meaningful. And while it’s important to be able to pay the bills and have savings, it’s time to stop thinking so short-term about my networth growth. Life is short enough, and there’s plenty of time to save.
As we got into what I really want to do with my life, a few different prospects came up. The one which I find most interesting is to become a therapist myself. I actually thinking I would enjoy this in many ways. I love to help people, and nothing fulfills me more than helping others in a one-on-one environment. There are many reasons I’m scared of a potential career in therapy – I know how hard it is, and how draining it can be. Your clients may be psychologically disturbed beyond the point you can help, they may be severely depressed, angry, or worse. As a therapist you hear horrible things and can’t talk to anyone about them due to confidentiality agreements. It sounds like a quite stressful job. But that’s the type of stress I could handle if I knew I was actually helping people on a daily basis.
I’ve always wanted to be known for something, but I know this is largely due to growing up with two narcissistic parents and not my actual inner intention. Well, in a way many people want to leave behind some sort of legacy – so this is just part of being human – but I don’t need to be famous in any way. That said, I believe if I follow my own path and become an expert in that which I am most interested in, I can easily become known for that via writing and sharing advice, should I chose to market myself.
I’m terrified of leaving the tech industry in pursuit of something entirely different – as much as this industry stresses me out I do enjoy being at the center of innovation. Walking out my door and seeing Google’s self-driving cars sweep down the street reminds me how I live here in the future; if New York was the place to be at the center of the future during the Mad Men era, well, that’s Silicon Valley today. When my genetically-altered grand children ask about life in the early 2000s, I can tell them about how before there were self-flying cars, there were self-driving ones that roamed the streets alongside cars that were, gasp, driven actually by people. Companies were only beginning to test drone delivery services, and this was outlawed by most of the country. We could 3D print human cells, but not the human mind yet, or full limbs, though we were rather close to this discovery…
There’s a dynamic pulse of life-changing innovation to living here that is one vibrant ingredient to the taste of the air here, from San Jose to San Francisco. As much as I miss what was a simpler time when I grew up in the 1980s, when one had to actually pause and rewind tapes in order to transcribe lyrics from their favorite songs, and had to pick up a phone connected to the wall should someone give them a call, and even had to write reports for school on a device that was fully mechanical, stamping ink letters onto paper as you thought what you would say versus printing all at once after a series of complex edits, I do love the world of change. Of leveraging technology to change the world for the better – to make processes more efficient, people more healthy, the world more connected…
It’s not to say I can’t be a therapist IN Silicon Valley (in fact, my therapist yesterday noted that she is filled to the brim with clients here, and has to turn down clients for certain days), but I fear not being part of the innovation, which I’ve come so close to tapping. Yet as a marketer my only innovation tapping is telling the stories of what other’s have created, and no say in what is created or how its user interface is rendered for human contact. I do know that I cannot spend the next 30+ years of my career telling stories of other’s creations. Either I find a way to get inside of this, to be the creator, or collaborator in such creation, or I accept that being on a product team is not my fate, and instead I appreciate rapid change from the outskirts of innovation, perhaps in my own maroon leather therapists chair, listening to the embers of innovation behind the privacy of a closed-door session.