Now That I’m (Temporarily) “Funemployed:” Reflections on Work

Empty Desktop

An empty desktop for the first time in 2.5 years…

I laced up my running shoes and set out for my final run in Houston – a short 35 minute jog at dusk. Despite Christmas being days away, it was near-tropical outside; within ten minutes I was sopping wet, struggling to keep my normal pace. Zoned out – listening to Radiolab, as usual – I ran past a strange National Mall replica and through a golf course next to the medical center. As I was running over a small wooden bridge, memories of my first days running in Jackson, Mississippi floated to the surface of my thoughts: the oppressive heat, the wooden bridge, Radiolab in my ears and my brain – it was all the same, and I was transported to my not-so-distant past.

Which sounds… unremarkable, right? But, it was my final run in Houston on my last day onsite with a healthcare consulting company I’d worked at for the past 2.5 years; my first client was in Jackson, Mississippi, and runs at dusk through a golf course were common. The parallelism of it all — the weird feeling of ending a lot like I started — stuck with me, and I spent the rest of the run with only my thoughts and the steady rhythm of my feet hitting the gravel running path.

A few things struck me and have been on my mind since. Mostly, I feel unbelievably fortunate to have started my career at such a fantastic organization. The vast majority of my colleagues are genuinely amazing people, I got to test-drive living in almost every region of the country, and the work I did was thought-provoking, worthwhile, and right in my healthcare wheelhouse. It’s not lost on me that I literally stumbled upon the company at the UW School of Business Career Fair (really – I bumped into the representative); a remarkably lucky, simple twist of fate.

I learned an astounding amount personally and professionally; in true consulting fashion, here are just a few of the main “lessons learned” that I think readers may benefit from:

Be friends with your co-workers – show them the “full catastrophe” that you are

The notion that “work is work, play is play, and you should never combine them” is dying off, and while it’s not kind to speak ill of the dead or near-dead, I’m glad to see it go; preventing yourself from establishing relationships with co-workers is outdated, unnecessary, and dumb. With my job, it was basically impossible not to establish relationships – often, the only people we knew in the city were the members of the project team – and I’m unequivocally a better, happier person for it. With many of them, I was able to get beyond the strictures of “work friend” and show them all of me – the good and the bad, the full catastrophe of the person I am. I was lucky enough to have a few of them return the gesture. They made every good time better and every bad time more tolerable; they’re the people I’ll be friends with for years.

So, if you take one thing away from this post, it’s this: let the people you work with into your life, Monday through Sunday. One may be the girl you fall head-over-heels for, and another may be the first person you call after things don’t work out. Many of them will be lifelong friends; some may be future colleagues; nearly all will have a positive effect on your life – if you let them.

Passion for your job isn’t necessary – but pay attention to the pieces that you’re passionate about

Admittedly, this isn’t particularly uplifting advice, and it’s basically apostatical of me as a Millennial to say. But it’s true: if you’re totally passionate about your job, you are in the blissful minority of young people. For the rest of us… it’s OK! We can still do important work well and feel good about it. Passion can be temporarily supplanted by the excitement of doing something new, the satisfaction that comes with doing an amazing job and knowing it, or the knowledge that you’re learning something new every day.

And crucially, every project you work on affords an opportunity to find out what you are passionate about. Even in a job that holistically doesn’t do it for you, there will be pieces of it that put you in a state of flow. Maybe you created something from scratch and it felt amazing; you found that you could spend hours absorbed in research; presenting to a group of people felt easy and electric. Be on the watch for those moments, and don’t forget them – then find a job where you do that all the time.

Step back and remember how fortunate you are

During a particularly brutal go-live or late nights buried in Excel minutiae, it’s easy to forget just how lucky you are to have a good job where you work with good people doing good things. Fight the temporary amnesia and remember that – any way you look at it – you are incredibly, incredibly fortunate.

None of that is earth-shattering in its originality, of course – merely items that stuck out to me on my first day of temporary “funemployment.” And I’ve learned so much more than can be contained in a few hundred words. But for me, big transitions open up space to step back and think about the recent past; to figure out what went well and what didn’t, what I wish I would have done or what I could have improved upon.

Now, onto the new, new thing…

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