Perfect Work

A really nice, unexpected bonus of this blog on exploring a creative voice has been some great conversations about discovery. Discovery of the next job, the perfect business venture, the answer to “what my unique mission is.”

Discovery defined as a wonderful, insightful breakthrough of the right answer.

What’s been interesting is that even though we all have experience with struggling for answers, the myth persists that discovery is a Big Bang, news-flash, out-of-the-blue moment. Tons of evidence exists to the contrary: Steve Jobs failed with the Apple Lisa personal computer before the Macintosh’s huge success. Jim Henson created Kermit as a lizard before he was a frog.

So, what if, instead of a lightning-bolt-moment, discovery is something a little messier and unclear? A series of small, intentional steps taken without knowing the destination. This is important because without recognizing this, you may give up on finding an answer too early.

I have a story about taking one step at a time without knowing where I was headed. What was surprising was finding out that unrelated, individual things I’d unwittingly done in the past slipped together in perfect harmony to solve my current predicament.

Finding the Perfect Work
It had been seven years since I’d worked. A 7-year break of stay-at-home-mom baby juggling. Fun times of dashing to the beach on a suddenly warm spring day or joining friends for tennis while our kids scurried around outside the courts like little flocks of chicks. The Holland Tunnel was just 40 minutes away, making quick brunch trips into the city easy. From our suburban home we could see the blink of Manhattan’s skyline in the winter when the tree leaves had dropped.

My resume was pretty dusty, suspended in time at the juncture years before when I’d left NYC behind. Suspended in a city and on a coast where we no longer lived.

Ready for our 1000-mile road trip as we leave New Jersey for the Midwest.

Ready for our 1000-mile road trip as we leave New Jersey for the Midwest.

We’d picked up and moved 1,000 miles to settle into a few rooms inside my parents’ home. They lived in an Illinois county peppered with 350-acre farms (the nearest town’s population was less than 100 people). My parents’ half-mile driveway led over a ridge to a home hidden on the back of a 9-acre lot. Wild flowers poked through prairie grass on either side of the driveway until opening up to a dozen or so neat rows of raspberry bushes before the road split into a circular driveway in front of their house.

It was remote and beautiful and swaths of polka-dot stars — never seen before by my little suburban bambinos —blanketed the sky at night. There was a pond out back so frogs screeched a throbbing lullaby serenade every night. And in the early morning hours — I kid you not — coyote’s howled. This felt really far away from a NYC vibe.

And really far away from finding work.

If this was my “discovery” phase I was struggling to identify the next steps. I remember being overwhelmed by questions on where to begin. New city, dated experience, few contacts, little information.

Hesitantly, I powered up my antiquated laptop, pulled up my resume and abruptly hit the first obstacle. How to fill in the 7-year hole of being an unemployed mom? I was glad I’d been a stay-at-home mom; yet, on paper it looked like I was critically, hopelessly out-of-date. An entire technological revolution had happened while I was pulling up Pull-ups. Then an idea dawned: collect the writing I’d done during my 7-year gap — sales copy for friends’ businesses, newsletters I’d done for church, event programs I’d desktop-published for local clubs — all work I’d done just for the love of writing and doing stuff with friends.

By repositioning the fun as being a calculated strategic move to keep my writing skills sharp maybe the workforce break wouldn’t look so bad. And, truthfully, though it hadn’t been so calculating, I had been a freelancer for seven years, just a free freelancer.

This gave me a first step. I then looked up a friend and asked him to review the resume - what did it need? He referred me to another person - what could she tell me about the job market? Each person had another person I could talk with, another idea. Along the way, I got some offers: sell real estate, be a travel agent, even chaperone a school bus. I went on interviews for jobs I liked but got no call-backs.  Then I heard from my girlfriend Margaret on Wall Street who wrote that hey - she knew some people in the financial industry in St. Louis - and gave me their names. And though I knew nothing about investments or the financial markets I contacted them and set up information interviews.

I’d cleared the first information meetings and one of the firms invited me back. I remember that the interview was early afternoon — around 1:30 — and, being an hour away, I’d headed out early to make sure I’d get to the interview on time. I have a mental image of the freeway being full of cars, all of us in an orderly race toward some westward destination, the car radio softly chattering and me, lost in thought, focused on the appointment in front of me.

The interviewer had a steely-eyed, unsmiling stare. With my wrinkled resume crunched in his hand he barked out questions about my (lack of) experience and credentials. Staring at my liberal arts degree and noting the gaping hole of anything financial he fixed me with another stare. “Do you have a clue where the Dow is today?” he growled. Did I have a clue? I panicked. I wasn’t sure exactly what the Dow was. But then, with a flash, I recalled the radio mid-day stock market report. There the numbers sat, briefly lodged in short-term memory. “Around 4700?” I replied. Pass!

The best part of 20 years with the same company? Friendship.

The best part of 20 years with the same company? Friendship.

Two Simple Steps
And so I got a job as an editor of a stock investment newsletter.  My jargon-less voice lightened up the technical tone of their publications, which proved to be just what they needed. It also proved to be the beginning of a 20-year career with lots of different roles.

I came across an article on creative voice that shares ideas on the discovery phase. It’s from the 99u website that’s a treasure trove for making ideas happen.  The article describes the process that follows the initial seed of an idea or question. Experimentation and leveraging past work are two building blocks. Over time, your collections of experience can forge together to express something unique and pretty cool. You!

I’m still experimenting for sure.

Thinking about your own discovery right now? If so, consider this simple 2-step process:
       1. Write down just one or two activities you do that cause time to fly,
           and instead of being exhausting, ENERGIZE you.
       2. Next, identify an idea or skill related to this activity that you’re curious about.

Learning about this is your next step. Could make for a good 2016 New Year’s resolution!

Perhaps you’re in the middle of your own discovery phase, looking over your collection of experiences and wondering where it all leads to? If so, welcome! You’re in discovery! Your next step is a step.

Bless you. I’m walking with you. Write to you next year!!!


Did you think of a next step you’re curious about exploring? Please send a note if you’d like share it.