career   /kəˈri(ə)r/

noun  an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress

verb  move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction

Oxford US English Dictionary

Isn’t this the oddest word? In American culture, we are taught as children that a career is what we decide to “be” when we grow up. We are what we do. We are expected to pursue a career in a deliberate and linear fashion: we go to college and, possibly, graduate school, with a goal in mind, then we get a job in our chosen profession at a company that will employ us, promote us, provide benefits for our families, and fulfill us, until the time comes for us to retire happily. But nowhere in either definition of the word “career” is anything related to personal fulfillment.

I never knew this word as a verb, but I identify with it much more, especially the “swift and uncontrolled” part. Now that sounds exciting! For my whole life, I’ve been careering, and my specified direction was always UP the corporate ladder. I thought that getting promoted was the sign I was doing the right thing. But, at two points in my life, I realized that I had attained career goals that just didn’t fit me. The first time, I was 25 years old. I thought I was hot shit and envisioned success, power, and money in my future. I called it my Quarter Life Crisis. But more on that another time.

This time, I’m approaching 40, and all I want is time and energy to enjoy my family. I don’t really want anything in my life to be done swiftly and out of control. I don’t need it to be a smooth trajectory upward or a 65mph highway. This time, careering will be a meandering path through back roads that slows down and speeds up here and there, with no dead ends or head-on collisions.

Direction. What’s yours? How did you find it?


One thought on “careering

  1. I’m still searching for mine….go figure! Your words are inspirational. What we think we want to do in our 20’s is very different from what we want as we get older and our priorities change. Wish people living longer, we may have many careers in a lifetime, all the while searching for the things that bring us joy.

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