Image courtesy of Julie Lavoie. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.
I spent this weekend in Miami, in a very fancy hotel, planning my 2014, reflecting on my 2013, and wearing a jaunty white hat with a glitter unicorn horn on it. It was a very nerdy, very delightful way to spend my post-Thanksgiving weekend after what has been, to put it mildly, A Year.
It turns out that career networking conferences are totally great when they’re full of Cuban food and delightful people from the internet. Who knew?
For those who I haven’t told about this approximately 8000 times in the last few months, I was attending BullCon 2013, the first (hopefully annual) conference attached to the career column (and now, store) Bullish, written by a woman named Jen Dziura for ladies who want to Get Shit Done. It’s a column (and a conference) for the sort of folks who think an article named “Maybe Work-Life Balance Means You Need to Work More” is funny and inspiring, rather than cause for alarm. The mascot is a purple bullicorn (bull + unicorn) named Sheila.
The full conference was covered in admirable detail by my roommate (also an Emily), whose articles you can read here. All of the panels were useful and fun and funny, but thinking about what I was going to write while sitting in the airport lounge waiting for my flight home, one part of the conference really stood out for me. In the middle of Jen Dziura’s panel on designing your 2014, sitting by the pool and filling out the truly gigantic worksheet packet that she had charged us with completing, I set about defining my values.
This is actually something that I had been meaning to do for months (inspired, of course, by this Bullish column), but had of course kept putting off until told to do so by the woman who wrote the thing in the first place. The question came after a long list of others about my previous year–I realized that, despite having made a personal agreement to write this year off due to my mother’s death and college graduation, I had actually accomplished a lot I was proud of. I got a job I (usually) love, graduated college, and was published on the Toast with a personal essay that I was proud of.
And I realized that the reason I had felt that this year was a wash was, in part, the things I didn’t do. I didn’t finish my honors thesis (and consequently didn’t graduate with honors). I didn’t apply to grad school or take the GRE. I didn’t socialize much and remained very, very single.
But, while defining my values, two things became very clear: if I really broke down the things that kept showing up on the list, that I was able to identify as driving forces in my life, the top two–the leaders of a pack that also included family obligation and justice and living a life that I feel is elegant–were “minimizing the amount of bullshit in the world” and “seeing the practical impact of my labor.” The things that I didn’t do didn’t fit in with those values.
Having a mark on a piece of paper when I already had a job was not enough to motivate me to finish the thesis even if I loved the topic and the advisor. Going into grad school would have–for me, right now–been a delay tactic rather than the next step in a career that earns me enough power and social capital to make the world better. The vast majority of the men I met this year would have brought more bullshit to my life than they would have relieved (god bless 20-somethings), and I could not get myself excited-enough about dating them to overcome that. But the things that brought me the most joy–volunteering at the local improv theatre, my job, and writing–fit within my values.
Perhaps other folks handle this differently, but for me that was huge. I have a tendency to feel so, so guilty for being unable to make myself do the things that I know I could do even if I don’t want to. I pick at those particular mental scabs constantly. It’s not healthy, and it’s not good, and most of all it’s not helpful. The conference was worth its cost, for me, because that exercise alone helped me really create a mental frame on which I could construct an idea of myself and my future self, and I can with more certainty decide what does or doesn’t fit in that structure without guilt. That, for me, is huge.
And if nothing else, I got some sweet sunglasses, a giant floppy hat, and some excellent pool time.