The Career Gap: Finding Joy Between Jobs

Michelle G., one of our fierce, fearless Aunt-bassadors, shares what she’s learning during a career gap. Turns out, what seems like a black hole on your résumé can actually be a time of growth and unexpected joy. 

As a general rule, I avoid giving advice. I think that I’ll either jinx myself the moment I say “this fact is absolute” or because I believe most personalities are different from mine and my advice may not be appropriate for them. Either way, here we are and here is my story.

In June 2015, I was hired as an Event Coordinator for one of my favorite organizations in town. It is well acclaimed and prominent. I came into the organization as a friend to the Executive Director. I had ( she said) “glowing recommendations” from previous employers and energy and ideas to burn. By the skin of my teeth, I left this job in October 2016. Today, I work building and repairing bicycles. There are two ways to read this story: measured or emotional. I want to write about the benefits of looking at both should a situation arise wherein you may need to know how to cope with a job transition.

To most people, they see the measureable and obvious side of this story. For example, I have a college degree and work in a job that does not require anything more than a high school diploma; my wage (they think) dropped; I went from being in an affluent circle to one where I rarely interact with anyone other than a wrench hand. I’ve not just stopped climbing up a career ladder, I seem to have fallen off it. These types of measurements and more will be used on you if you find yourself in a similar situation. Understand that most people will generalize, judge, or quantify things to make your life easier for them to understand. If they do this, whatever picture they create of you is likely to be a projection of themselves.

These interactions are not entirely their fault. The idea of anyone being comfortable trading in their Dropbox for a toolbox is an unfamiliar narrative and difficult to understand. Should you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, like I did, here are few things to keep in mind: while you’re searching for a job, I encourage you to be creative in how you go about meeting people. Call a company you’re interested in working for and ask to shadow them for a week or a month. The idea is to work on a project that, at the least, you can put under your belt. Call and ask an Executive Director from your church or from your neighborhood to have coffee with you. Explain that you are looking for another opportunity and would appreciate their advice. Again, while this organization or company may not be looking to hire someone at that very moment, it’s likely that they will be among the first to hear of an organization or company who is (or who will be) looking to hire.

The other perspective of this situation (emotional perspective) is entirely yours to control. In college, a trusted professor told me that carefully crafted plans often do not work out and that many people work in a field different than the one they studied in college. This is a great tagline for a refrigerator magnet, but it’s difficult to experience. I’m usually an optimistic person, but even this situation shook something in me and caused specific anxieties and beliefs that I was not good enough. (To cope, I kept myself busy job searching.) But, in a more profound way, it allowed me to search for a job I really wanted. Doing something out of the ordinary (such a working in a bicycle shop) is, actually, quite like me. I want to keep my life interesting. I enjoy making things all day. My basic requirements of a job are being met: having health insurance, having a certain amount of pay, allowing me time to see friends, a 401K, and a harmonious work environment. In an unexpected way, this type of loss will give you clarity about getting the things you want out of a job, too. Having a good résumé is important, but so is having a sense of adventure, persistence, and good nature.

All the wisdom in the world will not make life’s troubles evaporate so, my last bit of advice, look up when you are feeling down. I went through a bit of a rough period, but there were always some diamond friends around whose love and support really shined when the pressure was on me.

What about you? Ever experienced a career gap? How did you cope? And what discoveries about yourself did you make?

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