My career life has chapters. I didn’t initially realize this until I made a career shift over twenty years ago. After this change, I began thinking about what would be next, especially as I got closer to the other end of the age spectrum.
Thinking about your career life in terms of chapters helps living with a sense of purpose. The average life expectancy in the United States is about 79 years old. At 22 years old, it is challenging to know what your longer term purpose is. We set a direction with little thought, yet we begin. Early on, I knew that at some point past 50, my career life may be ready for a new chapter. I am beginning that chapter now.
Jumping ahead in a book is rarely a good idea. We need the patience for the story to develop. No different here. Since this “book” is about career stories, we can skip the early years and jump to my first chapter.
Chapter 1: My Political Career
One soul spark came during Boys State, which led to my undergraduate major of Government & International Affairs. During college, I was involved in political campaigns and organizations. I also pursued two internships. My first was with the mayor’s office in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the second was with U.S. Senator Jim Abdnor.
Interning at the mayor’s office was interesting. At Augustana University, each January, we had the opportunity to pursue an internship, travel, or take a class. Before one January, I called the mayor’s office and asked about an internship. When I told them I would work free full-time for one month, I was hired.
Working in city government is like no other. All issues are very local – from potholes to concert complaints to zoning. Problems cannot be kicked down the road. Local governments solve problems, and I enjoyed participating and observing. At the end of January, I was asked to stay on part-time and get paid. Not a bad way to get a job and learn more.
From here, I applied to be a summer intern in Senator Abdnor’s Washington, DC, office. My horizon became a lot broader after that experience. All this led to working in a congressional campaign after graduating from college, losing the election, and then being offered to work full-time for Senator Abdnor. My career unfolded impatiently from here. I served as a political appointee in the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Small Business Administration, and the White House Office of Administration and Management. All my positions were mid-level ones, but I was so very fortunate to have these experiences. Each were unforgettable and thrilling for a 20-something.
However, I always kept an article in my desk drawer about the parasite culture of DC. Fred Barnes wrote about young college graduates who come to Washington, DC, to work for their congressperson or senator and, after several years, gain a political appointment in the Administration. After this experience, they become a lobbyist, taking the money and staying.
I had checked off two of the three, and I did not want to do the third. I knew I needed to close this chapter. My next career chapter needed a transitional element. Getting an MBA at The University of Texas at Austin was that inflection point. To add to the transition, I also married Kathy, and we both left our comfort zones, moving to Austin, Texas. We knew no one in Austin, and neither of us had jobs.
Although it all worked out, there is a lesson of risk and understanding. Through effort, things can work out. It is scary, however. No one said our career stories would avoid uncertainty. Diligence is a theme we embraced.
Chapter 2: My Marketing and Business Development Career
As I started my second career chapter, I began to think about what I wanted to do late in life. Teaching was my initial instinct. High school. My thoughts turned to working with youth, getting them interested and energized about our political process and maybe some business classes. A kernel of a direction for chapter 3.
My career can be tracked easily through LinkedIn, so I won’t spend any time on my various jobs. In between work and family, a friend and I taught Junior Achievement in a local Austin high school. Being away from high school for over 10 years was an awakening. Needless to say, things changed. I began to think that high school may not be the place I want to spend my third chapter.
Fast forward a few years, and I got involved with confirmation at our church. Working with sixth graders was a lot of fun. I served as a co-facilitator for the next four years. During this time, over 250 kids went through this 9-month program. An inspiring experience, but it was time for someone else to jump in.
Soon after, on a quiet February afternoon, I launched Thin Difference. I knew that I always wanted to write. The time seemed right. I began. My blog was different then, but I learned that writing is a practice in which the writer may grow more than the readers.
My blog was very separate from my work life. In fact, initially, I wrote under the name of Farmer’s Son. Over time, my work and writing life began to collide. Hiring a 20-something and reading all the stereotypes of Millennials was concerning. As I wrote in Activate Leadership, snowshoeing in the Rockies changed Thin Difference to an intergenerational blog focused on bringing generations together to support and challenge the next. The rest is history.
What happens with side projects is that they impact your career more than you think. What I mean is that I became a better person, I believe, through my writing and, more importantly, through the community that grew around Thin Difference. Threads of purpose begin by what we choose to engage, so we need to engage in purpose in diverse ways.
Today is my last day at Corepoint Health. I am grateful for the talented people I work with and the opportunities I had to serve. I learned a great deal about healthcare the past ten-plus years, and I hope I made an impact in the ways I could.
Chapter 3: My Next One (A Work-in-Progress)
A new chapter begins. My chapter 3 is still developing, no different than a storyline. I knew that if I did not start the chapter, the result would be skipping it or not having enough time to live and work it. What I do know is that my next chapter will involve working with the next generation of leaders. What I also know is that some of the loud leaders today are espousing the wrong ideals. As I explore why this is the case, I am concerned with what we have created within our business world.
We have created too many gaps through poor leadership. We have trust gaps, generation gaps, wage gaps, and leadership gaps. These gaps are creating anger, disengagement, and weariness. We can – and must – do better.
My chapter 3 will be written to create greater leadership awareness in individuals who have, or will have, power to activate a better culture and community.
I believe we need to develop leaders who are:
- Conscious-discerning: a mix of self-awareness and empathy of others
- Culture-aware: developing a better way to inspire team members to be and do their best in achieving the right mix of profit and purpose
- Community-activated: setting a positive example in their community in how they develop people and give back in areas of local need
There are a number of places and ways I can pursue this purpose. A university setting or social venture is a possibility and a direction I am pursuing. Writing and speaking are other ones. Mixed in will be practices of writing, wellness, mindfulness, contribution, gratitude, and untried ones. Discerning and using the ones that matter most to my path will be essential. I am ready.
Writing posts like this is unusual for me. Although I try to mix in my experiences, this one is more personal. Thank you for bearing with me.
My objectives in writing this are three-fold. First, my career chapters impact my writing, so it may be helpful to know where I am.
Second, I am grateful for the community here. I have learned a great deal from all who have contributed, shared, and engaged here.
Third, I want to encourage others to think a few chapters ahead in your own career and life paths. You don’t need everything defined. In some ways, it is better if you don’t. What is helpful is a future storyline.
Make choices that keep your storyline developing in a meaningful way, drawing you closer to your purpose. No storyline is straight and narrow. Feel free to explore and discover. Feel free to adapt. Continue to think and work ahead, but think and act for a deeper future purpose.
Godspeed to us all.