Here I am, roughly 20 years into my working life. Throughout that time I’ve been lucky enough to never be unemployed, with the exception of a couple of spread out months following the occasional change of venue.

In terms of work, I have had mostly successes, though no big ones. A few failures too. I’ve been lucky in terms of finding jobs, keeping them, and leaving them at the right time. I’ve been “responsible” with my paychecks (for the most part) and used them to build a decent lifestyle, I suppose.

Professionally, I don’t have a whole lot to show for that time though. No awards. No postgraduate degrees. Certainly no saved lives or groundbreaking accomplishments. No impressive body of work. No significant title, power, or salary to speak of. No influence at my current position, really. Half of the companies that I used to work for, the smaller ones, are now defunct  (no, not because I left) which means I can’t even get a reference out of them.

In my formative years, I always envisioned myself being more successful, accomplished, or even satisfied at this age. At a minimum, I expected that my time spent working (for pay, I mean) would be important, engaging, or fulfilling, or that my peers, friends, community, or even some self-aggrandizing organization that doles out shallow but plaque-able recognition might come to respect the fruits of my labors. But it seems that 20 years in, I’m not, it isn’t, and they haven’t.

A colleague recently used the term “career” when speaking about his time spent with our company. I’m not sure why, but it poked my subconscious when he said it, his usage very confident and matter-of-fact. It prompted me to dwell on it long enough to heft my trusty Oxford American out and define the term for myself once again.

“Careernoun – an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.”

After 10 years of working for my current employer (certainly a “significant period”), I find myself in a lackluster position, stationed at the low-end of my pay grade where I’ve been for years now thanks to a recession, and with no potential for promotion. Despite my best efforts at standing out, producing good work, providing additional services, and making my skill set well-known, there seems to be little hope of those supplemental skills and interests becoming part of my actual responsibilities or propelling me beyond my current station at work.

I just realized that I don’t have a career, I have a job.

Granted, it’s a good job, with steady pay, strong benefits, a good environment, and a good company. And in the current economic climate, that’s a lot to sing about. It might even seem ungrateful or arrogant for me to portray it as vapid or menial. That’s not my intent.

But when you grow up thinking that you’re going to do something really fun, or exciting, or inspiring, or relevant, or important, or noble—hell, at least unique!—well, a paycheck and health insurance just doesn’t quite fill your stomach.

Of course it doesn’t help that I grew up with some pretty remarkable kids who have turned their early study-habits into exceptional careers. I sat in school with kids who were future Ivy Leagers, Summa Cum Laudes, and even a Rhodes Scholar. They’ve gone on to become skilled surgeons, respected principals, attorneys-general, and CEOs of multi-billion dollar corporations. They’re shaping public policy; they’re changing their industries; they’re molding young minds; they’re saving lives.

I write user manuals, short fiction that no one has read, and this ridiculously self-indulgent blog.

Even the not-so-smart-back-then ones have carved a niche of success and fulfillment for themselves. They’re affluent contractors, skilled tradesmen, and small-business owners. They are wholly in control of their employment and they answer to no one.

I am always one VP’s decision away from my last paycheck.

But even without notable accomplishment, significant influence, or the admiration of my peers; without a respectable title, large salary, or noteworthy awards; at this age shouldn’t I be at least deserving of an identifiable career?! Were my choices so bad as to deny me even that shred of individuality and character?

Woe is me, right? I know, I know. I chose this path; no one is making me stay on it. And it isn’t fair to compare our outcomes without comparing our starting points, and abilities, and choices made along the way.

Maybe I’m too lazy. Maybe I limit myself. Maybe I crave too much security (illusionary though it may be). Maybe I’m too careful. Maybe I’m just not as smart as I think I am.

Nonetheless, I still feel like I have something significant to say or do or write. And that’s what this is supposed to be in effort of.

As I’ve said, I fancy myself a writer. Lurking behind these 20 years of “job-type-jobs” there has always been this hobby, desire, even compulsion to write. I’m now over six months into my “rededication” to writing and I’ve got over 30 substantial posts to show for it, two dusted-off novels revisited, a good short story completed, and a bunch of promising ideas. For only one day a week, that’s not too shabby I guess. And I can already tell I’m getting better; that’s progress.

Perhaps I have a career after all.

Am I “a Writer?” I haven’t been published, which seems to me to be a necessary qualification. And though I get paid to write, I’m not paid to write what I want to be writing, so probably not.

But is getting paid necessarily a qualifier for a career? Oxford American doesn’t say so. Perhaps I shouldn’t either.

Besides, maybe my time will come.

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