Transparency, Not Spin

I’ve been doing some career soul-searching again lately. Even though I’ve been at my current job less than six months, I’m becoming restless and bored. It was definitely time for a change when I decided to take this position, and I’m certainly not complaining about the compensation or benefits. It’s just that I’m not sure I feel right for the job. Strangely, I feel both too stupid and too smart for what I’m doing. Too stupid because I know little about the world of accounting and “professional services,” and too smart because I feel my job function is too narrow and leaves me waiting for other people’s input far too much of the time.

As I look back over my resume’s alarming zigs and zags, I have to ask myself why I’ve kept moving around. It’s not like I’ve been on any kind of direct career “path,” with each move taking me closer to some working nirvana. Some jobs I took for money, some for love, but all felt constricting sooner or later. I often joke (half-seriously) that I’m a profoundly lazy man. But I think I’m just bored by my opportunities. Pardon the boasting, but I was once considered a “gifted” student. I skipped a grade and would have skipped another had my parents allowed it. I was a good student in university who gave up the idea of grad school for teachers’ college. When no job opportunities came my way there, I took the first well-paying job that came my way, in social work. But I panicked about being on a very limiting career path and jumped ship to work in, gasp, retail sales. The money was great, the prospects dismal. Then a brief sojourn as a web designer, until the first bubble burst. Back to sales. Then back to web design for a wine importing firm. Lots of freedom there, and I learned a lot about marketing. But again, a very limited career path. And working in a highly regulated market was tough, as was working for a small business. So now, a jump to a huge corporate firm, to be a “writer” and a “web producer.”

It sounded very promising six months ago. A great opportunity with a large company. Great salary and benefits. But I feel lost most days. My workmates are nice but almost pathologically unsocial. My work function is very constrained, and there’s very little of the web involved in it. The corporate culture is extremely risk-averse, and though I was ostensibly hired for my crackerjack writing skills, most of my personality has to be ironed out of my writing so that it will match the corporate (non) style and avoid lawsuits.

I read about some of the people I know from South by Southwest starting up companies and I’m jealous. I try to convince myself I’m not really lazy, just unchallenged. But my “gifted” past seems so long ago now, and I worry that I can’t learn any new tricks. I’m a collaborator and a strategic thinker, and I’m trapped in a cubicle by myself working on details.

Lately, I’ve been a bit of a voyeur among the public relations (PR) blog crowd. A few months ago, I attended the Talk is Cheap unconference, where I learned how PR firms are embracing the web and doing some truly innovative things. I think I’ve become infatuated. I’m somewhat encouraged when I read that people come to the field of public relations from all kinds of places, including some of the places I’ve been. I think what I truly want is to work for a nimble company, one that can react quickly and intelligently to what’s happening in the world. I realize that I’ve never really worked for a place that could be described that way. I also realize that I need to work somewhere where I can speak my mind, and where I don’t have to learn the org chart to get my job done.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be writing so openly on my blog about this, but only the people that really matter to me will read this anyway. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about what I’m good at over the course of my admittedly scattered work life. And I’ve learned from a lot of people, some of whom I’ve never met, about what work can be and how to get the best out of myself. I’m sorry that this entry seems a bit self-pitying. But I encourage you, if you’ve read this far, to engage with me on some of this stuff. What makes your job great, or rotten? Do we expect too much of our careers, in terms of fulfillment, or opportunity?

On Wednesday night this week, I’ll be attending an offline gathering for PR folks interested in social media. I hope to find out more about the field and see if I might not be able to find a place within it. One thing that blogging has taught me, and that the social media PR people are saying is that honesty and transparency are more valuable than spin. So if I get into any conversations, whether after one beer or three, it’s going to be all about the authenticity. It’s the one constant that my resume has no room to include.