Tuesday, July 27, 2010

And Now a More Positive Note

After logging a quick blog entry, I set out for an evening run in the cool, summer air. (It was one the rare clear nights where thundering blankets of fog didn't envelope the Golden Gate Bridge.) Running across the bridge had always been a feat of mine, and for some reason tonight, though it was already nearing dusk, my legs continued to carry me up the winding path that dumps pedestrians and bikers onto the sidewalk flanking the bridge traffic. I'd originally planned a quick 30-minute abbreviated lap around Crissy Field, but my legs kept going, and I trucked along to the beat of Steve Nick's Edge of Seventeen churning over the decisions I faced with my next career move.

I reached the end of the bridge on the Marin side and considered immediately turning around, but instead took a moment to admire the city skyline. Surrounded by the flicker of camera flashes from tourist's capturing the beauty of twinkling lights dotting the San Francisco panorama, I was refreshed to cherish the fact that I called this city home.

A friend of mine had written to me, after reading my blog, to tell me that he shared in my angst over defining his own career, but asked if I was enjoying life in San Francisco. I was startled that he questioned my contentment living here. The truth is, I spend so much time elaborating and reflecting on my quest to find a new job that I omit gushing over how much I love living here. Living in San Francisco feeds my soul, and every time I look at the peak of the Trans America building, gaze out onto the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge, pass through the cramped streets of China town or casually sample the variety of fresh fruit at the Farmer's Market, I am reminded of the how much the hub and spirit of this city embodies and empowers me.

This city is home, and even though I don't have the dream job, I have the dream city.
At the end of my 10-mile run, I had little more clarity on what I wanted to do, but I did, however, have a renewed appreciation for the affection this city gives me. While I continue to stew over what to do next, I at least am happy that I'm making this decision in San Francisco.

(I 'm also ready to sign up for a half marathon!)

You Can Plan a Picnic, But You Can't Plan the Weather

I always thought that with every year I would grow in wisdom, but tonight as I oscillated back and forth between waiting out the end of the year with my current employer to secure financial security for my sabbatical in South America and committing to a new employer, it was my younger sister who reminded me of the truth in the cliche phrase, "You can plan a picnic, but you can't plan the weather." I planned had selected the companies and positions I desired, emphatically described my passion, experience and education qualifying me for the job, but the job market and employers turned a cold shoulder and balked that I lacked "experience." I planned my picnic, but I couldn't plan the weather.

Being 23, one year deep into the real world, has not helped me to decide on what I want to do next. In fact, if anything, the past year has made me more confused. When I first graduated, I was thankful for having a company hire me and was a sponge ready to absorb whatever training and information they puddled around me. The excitement of my first job quickly fizzled, and within 9 months I was once again on the prowl for a new position. I was seeking a job that wasn't just the 8-5 activity I performed Monday through Friday, but rather one that combined the skills and talents I was most proud of.

I'm constantly reminded that I am young. I am only 23, and I have years ahead of me to build toward acheiving my professional goals. However, while reading Paulo Coelho's The Pilgrimage, a quote struck me:

"The good fight is one that’s fought in the name of our dreams. When we’re young and our dreams first explode inside us with all their force, we are very courageous, but we haven’t yet learned how to fight. With great effort, we learn how to fight but no longer have the courage to go into combat… We say that our dreams were childish, or too difficult to realize, or the result of our not having known enough about life…"

Maybe I have lots of time, but will I still have the courage?

Monday, July 26, 2010

...but what is right?

One of the things that makes being an adult unique is that there never seems to be an obvious right answer. While I’d come to the conclusion that my drought in finding appealing job opportunities was all in alignment with the fates pushing me toward an adventure in South America, now a wrench has been thrown in: a job offer with a company I spent the last year trying to get in with. While at first this seems like an obvious opportunity to jump ship, wipe out my pending trip and begin a new career, there is always a catch: the job is less money than what I make, and the position is not the one I applied for. I understand that many time to move ahead you have to take a step back, but what worries me is that I make this commitment, I will then losing the freedom (both financially and professionally) to find either the perfect opportunity or pack my bags for the thrills of exploring another continent. If I don’t take my trip now, I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity to do it again, or if I’ll want to take that challenge again. However, I also don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to get my foot in the door again with this company should I rescind this offer.

Growing up, most difficult choices are escalated to the judgment of parents or advisors. And even the more life-changing choices such as where to attend college or what to study all generally fall within the confines of the “youth” safety net. But as an adult, decisions are made more independently and making the wrong choice can affect the rest of your life severely. People miss out on opportune investments and lament the fortunes that could have been theirs. Some invest poorly, and watch their savings dwindle away. Short-term positions with the promise of potential great opportunities are taken only to find that the one-year contract was actually limited to the term originally outlined. Sometimes taking a risk is the right way to go, and other times playing it safe turns out to have been the better choice- but there is no bona fide test to help in the assessment.

Making a switch in companies is a commitment just like dating. Right now my job status is pretty similar to my dating status: opportunities to pursue, but fear of actually committing. (Please pardon my ambiguity, but I’d prefer to not make an exposé of my love life, though the comparison is relevant.) I have been fortunate to meet a lot of good guys, and gone on several dates with a few. Though the moment the string of dates starts to blur into the defining “us” stage where the casual dinners don’t suffice and suddenly I’m being reluctantly carried along to meet his friends… I get scared and push away. I’m in a comfortable place right now: I have my safety net with my current employer (kind of like that good guy friend you can always fall back on), and several prospects letting me carry them along, plus the freedom to meet someone new and better.

A little over a month ago, I’d interviewed for a job that, though it was hardly what I’d ever envisioned doing for my career, I was infatuated. I was ready to shake hands with the hiring manager and make a commitment. During the limbo days preceding receiving news of their decision, I had dreams of professional monogamy: I saw myself finding a home and a partnership with which I could grow. I thought I had found “the one”. The phone call to learn that they’d filled the position with another candidate felt a lot like being left at the altar. For me, such a commitment-phobe, to have been ready to make that move led me to believe that it was right. I never imagined that I’d be rejected.

Now knowing that I’ve been in love before, how can I just settle? Even though this new opportunity has the promise of a stable future and the chance to grow in different fields, it eliminates the possibility of forging out on my own adventures and finding my professional soul mate. Accepting this position is safe and a good fit, but just not the perfect fit. I’m not sure what the right answer is, and I’m not how much longer I can continue to interview and reject offers.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lost and Found

I'm not sure if I should admit to sympathizing with Kristin Cavaleri of MTV's "Realty" TV show, The Hills, but during the series finale she announces that she's moving to Europe for a few months (or longer) to find herself. She's hit her mid-20s and still doesn't know what she wants to do with her life, or who she is supposed to be. I have to say, referencing my guilty pleasure isn't something I generally do, but I'm beginning to believe that the sentiment of feeling a bit lost in the ensuing post-college years is a feeling inherent to the early and mid-2o's. I don't believe that my job-hunt entries are unique to my experience alone, but I am astounded with how many of my 20-something-year-old friends sympathize with my feelings after reading my blog. (Thanks for reading!!)

Writing this blog has invariably been a journal of my hunt for the perfect job, but the undertones have essentially been my hunt for defining myself. It matters so much to me to have a job that I am proud of, that aligns with who I am and what I love. While I can easily tell you the things I love (writing, reading, Spanish, international politics and economics, helping people), I'm not sure how to get my foot in the door where I can exchange these interests for a salary that doesn't leave me sacrificing the lifestyle I've grown accustomed to.

Cavaleri of The Hills says she needs to leave Los Angeles to find herself, and I can relate. While saying that I'm trying to "find myself" would infer that I feel lost, I don't actually feel lost per se; rather, I feel like I am on a convoluted path that might not lead to where I want to go, and the ventures along the way aren't the type of challenges I aspire to take on.

After over a year of willing myself to find the perfect job to define me, I've decided to switch gears and turn around: I'm going to find myself in order to define my career, and I'm going to do it in South America. The plan is to backpack with my friend for four months with no set agenda aside from dipping my toes in the mud along the Amazon river, hiking to Machu Picchu and stuffing my face with all the alfajores my stomach can allow. Along the way, I hope to meet people of all kinds, sleep under the stars, cry, laugh and and to write about every single thing I see, feel, breath, smell and touch. I want to see the good, the bad and the ugly of the continent, and I want to learn how all of those things make me feel.

This winter I rode the ski lift up the upper lip of an "Experts Only" run at the peak of the mountain. I stood at the top of lip, staring down at the drop off and the steep run that awaited me. To the side, along a long catwalk, was an escape to some less-challenging, more familiar runs. Though I wasn't an expert skier, I mustered the courage, and pushed off the lip. I landed off the lip, but lost my balance and somersaulted for a few yards, leaving a pole stranded in the powder up the mountain. During my tumbling descent, my skis slapped against the back of my head and blood flooded my beanie. With the help of a friend, we collected my abandoned pole and finished the run. Though I fell, and fell badly, I don't consider my attempt a failure. Had I negated to try at all, that would have been the failure. I did get hurt on my run, and still have a faint scar buried under layers of hair, but the risk was the victory. Though taking a leave of absence from my current employer is a risk, and I might suffer economic consequences when I return, I'd rather have another scar than gaze longingly at the run never knowing how it would feel.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

River of Dreams

While discussing the facets of my career dreams with my Great Aunt, she used the analogy of a river for how we move through life. I loved the analogy, and, while driving home, I began to wonder what type of river I want to be when I look back at the end of my life.

Some rivers are long. Some are short. Some cut through the earth deeply, altering the surrounding landscape forever. Others explode at the source and flood outward, expanding their banks exponentially at first, yet trickling out as they continue before reaching their final base. Like life, we all have a starting and an end point. No matter what, the course of everyone's river is unique, as they cut around fallen trees or rocks, overcome droughts, or tumble down steep edges as a waterfall...

If I stay where I am now, the current will continue to calmly carry me along. I'll easily flow around rocks and other objects, so as to not disrupt the steady flow. Eventually, when my source dries up, my trail will erode and disappear as peacefully and unpronounced as I'd flowed along. While I appreciate well-intended practical advice from loved ones or friends regarding my career choices, I'm not sure I can live my life not trying to overcome some obstacles, without ever veering off course, testing a steeper run and facing the potential to cascade down a drop off...
I am comfortable in my pace. It's relaxing; it's easy. What worries me is that if I don't shake things up now, I'll get too comfortable and fear of climbing out of my comfort zone will appear too daunting, or worse- these opportunities will have already gone by and I'll have no where to go but to continue on as I'd been.

(A little flash back to another young woman looking to the water ways to decide her future... )

Flashing Lights

I've mentioned before that I'm a believer in fate- that things happen for a reason, and life is full of foreshadowing signs and omens. With that sentiment, I think the past few days were ablaze with flashing lights that something is coming.

To recap in brief (as possible...)

1. South America Trip: I'd assumed I'd make this trip alone since the likelihood of honing in on someone else open for the same adventure seemed improbable; however, Sunday I met the perfect travel budy: another young woman craving a trip not only nearly identical to what I've been plotting, but the timeline leading up to the alleged trip seems to be equally realistic for us both.

2. Visit with my Great Aunt: I've lived here for almost a year, well-knowing that my Great Aunt lived in the Bay area, yet I chose today to break the ice. There was no reason for my delay in calling her, but today I had the sudden urge to realize making this connection. My timing was impeccable- she'd just dropped her sister off at the airport after a week-long visit and was longing to have family in Bay area. While sharing family stories over snickerdoodles and iced tea, we uncovered a remarkable similarity between me and my second cousin (whom I've never met) that relates directly to my trip and career goals.

3. Encouragement: Previously I'd received a whirlwind of rebuttals to my plans to make a living as a writer/backpack through South America, but this week I've only received encouragement. Suddenly the gates of judgement seem to have lifted, and even my mom didn't relay a list of plausible risks when we last revisited the topic. I got support from my current boss that should I go through with taking a few months off, he would hire me back upon my return. (He admitted that he even anticipated since he hired me that I'd be making such a request.) The "could-have-been" employer not only supported the concept of the trip, but even encouraged me to expedite my plans.

4. Flurry of Employment Opportunities: There a few things in life that always come in packs: cigarettes, gum, potential suitors and job opportunities. Despite having been diligent in applications, resume construction and follow through for months in my pursuit, suddenly a myriad of interested employers have been hot on my trail. Since life decisions can never be made easily (God forbid the cosmos would ever permit reasonable intervals in between good opportunities), I predict more confusion to ensue.

5. Dave Eggers: My friend gave me a copy of What is the What by Dave Eggers after learning that I'm addicted to the thrill of swinging through literary jungles cascading acrross the pages of a good book. Today, my Great Aunt suggested seeking out Dave Eggers, a local writer with a creative writing workshop for San Francisco kids. For a few moments we stewed over why the name sounded familiar before concluding that he was the author of the book currently resting on my nightstand. (There's a little more substance to the significance of this omen, but I swore to refrain from writing about boys in my blog...though clearly, per this side note, I'm allowing allusions...)

Countless other "blinking lights" appeared this week, but providing an exhaustive list would be, well, exhausting. This synergy of events leads me to believe that something is surmounting from my belabored job search or the formulating work sabbatical in South America. Even my Great Aunt sensed the energy, and, unprompted, pronounced this belief. If an update doesn't peak through in the upcoming weeks, I'll either kick myself for jinxing my chances by blogging about this, or reject all my beliefs in fate (and most likely the former).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pink Elephants, "Could-Have-Beens" & Restoration

There are certain moments when I know, even as they are happening, that I'll always remember- that recounting the event would be effortless as the murmur of surrounding voices and the permeating smells flood back as if replaying in front of me. This evening, I grabbed a drink and some ceviche with my "could-have-been" employer (the manager of the job I turned down) when one such unforgettable moment arose.

We ordered our cocktails and began the ritualistic waltz of the requisite small talk until we felt comfortable enough to breach the line of professional happy hour vs friends meeting for a drink. It wasn't long before the alcohol seeped in and the looming pink elephant in the room, the "why-did-you-really-turn-down-my-offer" question arose. I paused for a moment to asses what ramifications might exist. Though Sully wasn't going to be hiring me, nor did he appear to have any motive for exploiting my covert professional ambitions, elaborating on the short comings of his position against my ambitions was a bit like rejecting a guy after just a couple dates: though the courtship was brief, delivering dejected news is always unsettling. In any case, I conceded, and began to detail my dream job and my increasingly budding desire to take a few months off to backpack through South America (more on this in a separate entry). I even went so far as to weigh the pros (i.e. no better time than while young & no great job prospects on the horizon) and cons (i.e. zero financial stability or job when I return) of taking this sabbatical.

Though I've only met Sully a few times in person, I've each time marveled at his uncanny ability to build moments. (Even in contemplating the menu, he managed to evoke drama over the mystery of which dish he found most appealing.) He analyzed me for a moment before responding, and the ensuing words of wisdom he bestowed on me were the exact words I, at the time, imagined would hang with me for the rest of my life- one of the memorable moments I'd replay for years. His words surmounted in leaving me with goosebumps trickling down my spine and a sense of hope that had been slowly seeping from my body since I'd began job hunting months prior. I remember thinking, "these words will be ones that I'll look back on in 20 years and still remember", yet as soon as I said goodbye and hopped in my car, I couldn't remember what he said. Hours later, I still don't know what he told me, but I do remember the feeling of restoration I felt, and my sincere appreciation for a much-needed boost of hope and confidence in following my heart.

{{Side note: Joe Montana was having drinks with his wife at the table next to us!!}}

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Settle for a Slow Down

This song always made me think of unrequited love, but tonight as I bounded around the limits of Chrissy Field (my favorite part of my usual jogging route where the bay greets the Golden Gate Bridge) I suddenly was reminded of my parents. I ran away to California, and the entire last year has been focused on my strife in finding a dream job, mending a broken heart after my first real break up, developing my social circle in a brand new city and making my dreams a reality. For some time, I talked about moving back east, closer to home. I gave my parents the inkling that I was slowing down, only to finally settle in with a group of friends and to fall in love with The Bay.

I played a little bit of chicken with my parents, friends and family. Each time I presented them with the hint of a brake light, distraught and ready to return to something familiar, suddenly I recharged my batteries and sped off. I continued to scour the shores of California for the bread crumbs that will lead to fulfillment of my dreams.

I love country music because every song tugs right at some part of me- be it a broken heart, the butterflies over a new crush, the wild fire inside me ready to explode, or the nostalgia for barefoot days trotting through the fields flanking my childhood home. Or, in this case, it flooded me with thoughts of my family, and how fortunate I am to have a support group back home waiting to accept me the moment I should turn around.

Happiness is Sunset Over Lake Tahoe

This year was the 2nd consecutive year I was absent from my traditional Fourth of July plans in my hometown. (And only the third in my entire life.) Last year I maneuvered through the streets of Chicago with my ex boyfriend, photographing some of our last moments as a couple in front of the Sears Tower and the giant Kidney Bean. This year, I decided to forgo making the 6-hour red eye home when flight prices spiked above $600. I packed my car Thursday afternoon and fought traffic for 5 hours en route to Lake Tahoe. Prior to the trip I was hesitant about committing to the weekend with a group I hardly knew outside of the weekend bar scene. The Fourth of July weekend had accrued sacred rights with me, and I wasn't prepared to turn over the highly-anticipated summer holiday to just anyone.

At the end of our first full day, I sauntered down to the water line with a few friends to catch the sunset. I balanced out to the edge where the waves broke against the rocks. I closed my eyes and soaked in the moment: the way the cool evening breeze gently combed through my hair, the receding sun beams bouncing off of my face and the tickle of the breaking waves against the palms of my feet. I opened my eyes and gazed out at the sinking sunshine cascading over the lake through the crest of snow capped mountains, yearning to stay in that moment forever.

There are certain snippets of time in my life where I have to pause to drink in gallons of happiness. Collections of moments dense with beautiful surroundings or with people I love permeate my happy memories. This moment, sitting along the lake with new friends illuminated by the shrinking sun over a summer lake circumscribed by mountains, was certainly one of them.