I met with the Career Management instructor yesterday and I made her cry. Doesn’t that sound awful ? Doesn’t it sound as though I ranted and raved and was a real nasty piece of work ? Doesn’t it sound like a really mean thing to do ? But I wasn’t. I was self-deprecating. I was putting myself down. I was less than complimentary about my skills and abilities. I probably appeared to be a bit of a conundrum. Talkative, confident, intelligent and probably the biggest square peg that ever tried to go to school at 41.
Let me preface the crying story with the fact that I also made her laugh. A lot. This is not unusual for me. I have a tendency to be somewhat irreverent in most professional settings although please believe me that my abilities to keep it under control are developing. Our conversation also included a discussion about True Colors which is a seminar you can take to help develop team skills, do a bit of introspection and overall develop an appreciation for how someone else functions. I am a green/gold which means not only do I come up with the plan, I also get it done. I’m a bit of a square peg there as well as I understand that most people fall decidedly in one category – me ? I straddle the green/gold fence with little to no foray in to blue or orange. To make this story complete – my instructor is blue. VERY blue. Smurftastsic blue. Blue’s are touchy-feely, why don’t we all get along, let’s talk about it kind of people. She is lovely, don’t get me wrong, but this illustrates that it was not completely my fault that she cried. Or almost anyway.
In preparation for this meeting I stayed up until 1am getting an assignment ready so I would be super-duper prepared. Gathered all my portfolio items, developed the master list, wrote up an assessment of my skills, evaluated my strengths and challenges, etc. I was quite proud and quite exhausted when I arrived for this meeting. It was then that I discovered that it wasn’t due for three weeks. One of my square peg deficiencies is the ability to correctly read instructions and follow process. This meeting was to discuss our work background and placement goals for which she already had my resume and cover letter which was all that was required. I was so off target an arrow the size of Texas would not have found the bull’s eye. Needless to say I began the negative comments. Of course they were said in a off-handed, “jokey” manner but they were personal put downs none the less. This is a habit I have developed as a defence mechanism against once again doing something wrong. If I put myself down first, the other person may not feel so obligated to do it for me. Common survival tactic for us square peggers.
This little habit of mine continued for quite a bit as we discussed my skills, interests, etc. until the instructor finally said, “The first thing we need to do is to get you to stop putting yourself down.” This shocked me. I didn’t realize that anyone paid attention to what I was saying. I didn’t realize that I was doing it so much. The fact that she had tears in her eyes as she said it made an impact on me. I brushed it off and comforted her a bit. “No worries” I believe was my response and we moved on. When I recounted this incident at the team meeting, another member agreed with the instructor. I did put myself down a lot and why was I doing that anyway ? She seemed quite puzzled. Now this made an even bigger impact on me. Someone I barely know, who is about 20 years younger than me saw my little survival tactic as well. Hmmm…
This prompted another bout of introspection as I processed what I had discovered during this day. Curious ? I know I was. What I discovered is that I have been trying to fit myself in to careers that don’t fit me and damaging myself the entire time. I tried to fit in to medicine because it intrigued me, seemed like a good direction and I wasn’t likely to get bored quickly. But being a medical secretary is boring work that is under appreciated and has no room for advancement never mind creativity. Then I tried to be an instructor which was a pretty good fit. Despite the wonderful challenges and experiences I had, the college was less than completely ethical in it’s business practices so that had to go. The last was my job with Girl Guides of which pieces fit but still not quite. I was still trying to be round when I should have been going square.
The point of this is that trying to fit in to careers that don’t fit you is damaging. Slowly but surely it erodes your confidence. It destroys your creative drive. It warps the perception you have of yourself as qualified or competent. You start to believe that you are only capable of making mistakes and not performing to high standards. You start to feel like employers are making do with keeping you on but at any moment they will come to their senses and out you go. If you follow Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, no wonder I’m a mess. I;ve never felt secure. In 15 years, I’ve never felt like I measure up. I’m still stuck in the muck like some bassakwards tadpole waiting for my tail to fall off.
Needless to say talk like this does not generate a lot of confidence from those around you and in fact can drive people a little nuts. As this is not my intention and it is proving to be counterproductive to my new career choice, I guess a change is in order.You see I have found my fit I think with this Communications gig. I am feeling more and more assured that I may have left the ill-fitting round hole behind. I may, in fact, be streaking spectacularly towards a tidy little square hole that will suit me just fine. The thought of spending that next 25 years in the wrong type of hole sounds more horrifying than the double entendre it could also be hatching in your dirty little mind. So while the foray in to blue might have been a bit, dare I say, uncomfortable, it appears to have done me some good after all. If for nothing else than to show me that I am on the right track to feeling good about myself again. To feeling as though my skills and abilities are not meager and unworthy but actually worthwhile and important. After all, isn’t that what we are all looking for ? Not necessarily to be validated by our work but to at least know that it means something and we do it well ?
So this is something I am going to work on. I’m going to use this Career Management course to undo some of the damage that has been done. Maybe by building up my portfolio, taking advantage of fresh eyes to look at my current skills and listening to constructive comments, I will see that I am slowly climbing out of the muck. That I am on my way to owning my skills and abilities and putting them to good use for a career that I can be proud of. Maybe this green / gold square peg can embrace a bit of blue and be gentle with herself. I should probably bring a box of Kleenex to the next meeting with my instructor. I might just need it.