I’m going to get all woo-woo for the new year, so here goes:
Being good at something does not obligate you to do it.
I worked full time while going to college at a computer store. This was back in the 80’s and you couldn’t one-click a MacBook on Amazon or stroll into Best Buy and come out with an HP laptop. Back then computers were sold in pieces that didn’t always play well with each other. “Portables” weighed over twenty pounds and didn’t run on batteries. You even had to buy the damned keyboard and operating system separately. People went to stores, sat down with a sales person to discuss their business needs and budget, plonked down 10k for a system with a text-only monitor and a 10mb hard drive. Then they waited two weeks for all the parts to come in and the tech dudes in the back room to assemble and install everything. It was fun selling computers. I liked meeting interesting people, helping them solve their problems, and making some money doing so. There was no hard close because people were there to buy, I was just telling them which pieces to choose.
When I graduated with my BA in English Lit, I was ready to move out of sales and into my “real” career. I got a job offer at Tab Books as a junior editor. There were two problems I faced in this crossroads of my life: One, the offer was for half of what I was already making. Two, those who do my editing can attest to my less-than-stellar abilities when it comes to capitalization, punctuation, and catching typos. In short, I’m a horrible copy editor. My skills are in seeing the big picture, coming up with creative ideas to solve problems, connecting abstract concepts and seemingly unrelated events, understanding motivations and human behavior, captivating an audience. Those skills don’t lend themselves to detail-oriented work. They make me a good writer, a good public speaker, and a good sales person.
I said “no” to the junior editor job, and “yes” to a government sales position. For eight years I did sales at various companies. I was good at it. I hated it.
I hated closing. I went through Xerox Sales Training (the big expensive course of the early 90’s), I knew how to close. I hated it. The best I ever did was in the government sales job where I could chat with Majors and Colonels about their tech needs, then the pair of us would hand the deal over to procurement and my contracts people to do the sordid task of talking dollars and cents. I made good money, and spent all that money buying things to sooth my ragged soul – an old candy-apple-red Alfa Romeo convertible, a spinning wheel, a Trek mountain bike, a summer time-share at the beach, skis, a puppy. It was slapping a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.
So I quit and I re-worked my resume to emphasize my marketing experience. Bills went overdue and I ate Ramen for dinner as I interviewed over and over for jobs where the interviewer would invariably try to convince me to take a sales position with their company instead. “But you’re so good at it.”
The whole time I was filled with doubt. Maybe I was an idealistic fool. People spent lifetimes doing job they disliked to pay the bills. I had a talent here. Didn’t I have some obligation to work where my talent lay? I had a real terror that there would be no other job or career, that everything else I tried would end in dismal failure and my eventual bankruptcy.
I got I position with a software developer organizing their trade shows and training seminars. I loved it. I got to travel, meet people. It was a great job until one day the owner told me she was cutting the schedule from 6 trade shows to 2 and handed me a stack of papers. I was to spend my day cold-calling and prospecting leads for the sales team, closing add-on purchases and upgrades from other lists. “But you’re good at this. You’ve got all that sales experience,” she said when I protested that this wasn’t the job I took.
I quit. Disillusioned but ever optimistic I loaded my dog and my Mac into my Jeep and headed to Florida where I spent the summer living in a rent-by-the-week trailer with a pink stove, a yellow refrigerator, and palmetto bugs the size of my fist. I bartended on the beach, and wrote, doubting that my stories would ever make me rich but hoping they would somehow heal my wounds. I headed back north in August with maxed out credit cards to move in with my parents and hide my Jeep in the barn from the repo man while I looked for a job that wasn’t sales.
I took a temp-service job organizing applicant tracking and doing some spreadsheet analytics in a Human Resources department of a tech ceramics manufacturer. They liked me and this began my back-door entry into my Human Resources career. I was good at it. And I loved most of it – the variety, the interesting people, the mix of behavioral psychology and statistical analysis. This was my career for over twenty years, and I’ve enjoyed it.
Two weeks ago I gave them my notice. When I decided to do this I heard the familiar refrain in my head of “But you’re good at it!” I was. And I was good at sales. But in the end being good at something doesn’t obligate me to do it, or to commit a lifetime to doing it. I need to be open to change, willing to take a risk.
I’ll be transitioning my Corporate Day Job throughout the first quarter of the year, then after that I’ll be supporting myself solely as a full time writer. It’s scary. I’m a single mom. There are hurdles like the need to buy my own health care, ensure I continue to save for retirement, figure out how I’m supposed to pay my Social Security and Medicare contributions, ensuring I accurately calculate and pay my quarterly Federal and State taxes.
It’s scary. Throwing away a sales career was scary, and in some ways this is harder since I have more obligations and I’m not the young resilient girl I once was. But I’ve been at rock-bottom before. I know I can rise from the ashes if the worst happens. I know that even if the world throws the worst at me, I’ll still find beauty and truth in the rubble of my life.
Being good at something doesn’t obligate me to do it. I’m good at a lot of things – more than I probably will ever realize. So it’s time once more for me to Trust (in myself) and Jump. Because at the end of the day, I want to say I spent the hours of my life doing something that made my heart sing.