As I jump back into the search, after taking some time away from that field, I want to confront these fears head-on so I can move on — and evaluate other people’s perceptions of my ambitions.
I am exploring the fears I face as I continue my job search in a field I have worked in for the last 20 years. In the original post, I identified three fears that grip me and have influenced my job search over the past few years. Some of the fears are decades-long, while others are more recent fears. But all of them have influenced my career development.
As I jump back into the search, after taking some time away from that field, I want to confront these fears head-on so I can move on — and move ahead.
One of my fears involves my goals and ambitions, or more specifically, how other people evaluate my goals and ambitions. Unlike my previously stated fears of feeling rusty or saddled with anxiety from feedback received, this fear is situated with other people’s perceptions of me.
And more likely, it’s situated in my own self-perception.
The Origin of (The Lack of) My Ambition
In 2011, I quit a full-time job to pursue a doctor of education degree full-time. The choice to step out, at the time, was grounded in the feelings of burnout I experienced and the lack of support I felt in order to pursue my dream. Once I returned to full-time work, I tried to make job-related decisions that focus on feeling support and avoiding burnout. When asked the right question, I talk about how support and burnout have impacted me on the job.
However, I am not often asked the right question. My career trajectory, rather, has been evaluated by interviewers over and over.
And often to my face:
I have been asked if I was overqualified for jobs I was a finalist for at least a half dozen times in the last couple of years. Previously, I chose to focus on how I was enough for the role. But perhaps I need to give myself room to grow into a role. Maybe it’s not the most senior leadership role, but perhaps an assistant dean or vice president role isn’t so far outside my strengths and skills. I haven’t applied for those roles, in the recent past, because I feared that they spoke about ambitions I didn’t have.
Even before leaving my full-time job in 2011, I knew that I did not want to hold a senior leadership role in student affairs or higher education. I knew enough about these roles and their focus on budgeting to know that my passion lay elsewhere.
I’ve written previously about some of the poor management I have received during my time in my field. I suppose some of those experiences have impacted me more than I originally thought.
Perhaps I began to internalize that it was the leadership position that created poor managers. With some reflection and work experience outside of my field, I know that these poor managers can exist in any field.
Maybe, I can revisit those ambitions and see what is now possible for me.
Starting with My Why
Author Simon Sinek has written extensively on how your Why matters. In summary, “By “why” means: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning and why should anyone care?”
Author Catherine Bishop continues to connect your Why with personal goals and ambition. “‘Get clear about what matters,’ says Bishop. ‘What’s your ‘why’? What does success for you look like and how does it connect to your longer-term purpose?”
For so long, I have attributed my why to the role I held within the organization and was clear that positional leadership was not how I wanted to achieve that goal. I believed, and still believe, that a senior leadership role that does not have personal connection to help others is not the end goal for me.
But perhaps I can think of this goal more broadly.
My longer-term goal has always been to help others — at the time, it was college students. Perhaps my newer goal is to help young professionals in non-profit organizations discover their strengths. The easier jobs would be within higher education. But my time in workforce development has showed me that those professionals also need strong mentorship and support.
Will that get me closer to my Why? I still need to reflect on that. But being more open is already helping me see a path to my longer-term purpose.
The Paradox of Ambition
One would think that trying to achieve easy goals would be a great motivator. From personal experience, it really isn’t. In fact, it’s a great de-motivator.
Over the past few years, I have tried, unsuccessfully to apply for jobs that were well within my wheelhouse. And once granted an interview, I wouldn’t get offered a job. I kept wondering why.
I think it was from the boredom in my voice. But also because the jobs weren’t very hard and I wasn’t as interested once offered an interview.
David Perell describes this as the paradox of ambition. He continues, “We’re taught that hard goals are hard and easy goals are easy. In entrepreneurial environments, the inverse is true. Paradoxically, hard goals can be easier to accomplish.”
My A-Ha Moment
Realizing this description reflected my personal ambitions has been very eye-opening. It made me think about every project I have taken on in every workplace simply because it was a challenge:
- Creating a driver certification process and vehicle check-out system even though I don’t drive a car
- Developing a semester-long RA training program from scratch
- Holding first-time administrative positions to create systems for work that others followed
- Implementing a new member education program and training new member educators on how to fine-tune the programs on their own campus
- Writing a 250+ page assessment document for a workforce development non-profit without a background in workforce development
- Training staff on how to use a CRM without prior training or examples
As I sat writing this list, I am struck by two things:
- Why isn’t this list more prominent in my applications and cover letters.
- I really love a good challenge
Why do I love a good challenge? Because I know how to use my resources so that it isn’t very challenging, but just looks challenging to others. This makes me think about all of the job descriptions I’ve read with skills I don’t have. That’s never stopped me from learning it on the fly — and that list above is the proof I never lead with.
But I will now.
My New Goal: To Be Determined
I wish I could be pithy and summarize this series with the announcement of new life goals. But to be honest, I still need to look at my ambitions. I have sat with them for so long that I need to figure out how to move past my fears and step into a new destiny. But after spending the past month seriously analyzing the basis for my fears related to my career search, I am more confident that the next great thing is right around the corner.
What that experience will be is still undetermined but I am less afraid of moving toward new goals and ambitions. By just naming them, I know that I will overcome them.
I invite you to take a similar journey — name your fears and determine how to move past them. Your journey will be different from mine, but experience has told me that it will be well worth it.
I will you all the luck and joy in the process of self-determination and self-exploration!