Just Passing Through... Thoughts on Careers

My family moved a lot when I was a kid. My father was in the Army until I was 8 years old and then was a federal employee for years afterward. Giant moves across the country to a new community and aHappy Monday! Do you feel like your career suits you? I know tha t new house felt, if not normal, familiar. Every few years, I and my sister would come home from school and we’d find my parents talking in the living room, and after a moment of wondering why Dad was home from work so early, it would hit us. “It’s happening again…” By the time I was 12, I could mentally divide up my belongings into boxes in minutes and emotionally would be ready to see a “FOR SALE” sign in the front yard the following morning. We were modern day gypsies. 

As you can imagine, I didn’t meet that many people like us growing up. Most people I knew had grown up in the same place (boring), were surrounded by the same friends since kindergarten (sounded cool but odd) and suspicious if you weren’t familiar with the same sports teams (the Penguins? the Badgers?). Occasionally, we would meet others like us, military families or ones where the parents were executives moving around the country to move up the corporate ladder. We all had a tendency to look the same: clean-cut, emotionally compact, few networks which weren’t strictly family or an adopted local church. One got good at making friends fast or forgoing friendships at all. It was a life that made young people talented, if superficial, socialites or hermits (or occasionally both). 

In a world where I nearly always felt like an outsider, these were my people. What was funny was often I didn’t particularly like or admire the other families that we met, but that recognition went beyond enjoyment. These people saw the world the way we did. They viewed a house as an extended pit stop before moving on to some other place that was warmer/colder/quieter/busier than here on the other side of a faraway freeway exit. There was a comforting tribalism in being able to recognize that we weren’t entirely isolated in the world. 

What is strange is how my work life mirrors my childhood. For years, I always thought that I had stumbled into consulting as a career. I had planned to go into medicine when I graduated college, but in a strange series of personal plot twists found myself working independently for a variety of companies. However, as time as gone on, I’ve realized that my career has suited me far more than I could have expected. 

And like my childhood, I move from short-term home to extended contract to occasional retainer. I make friends, but rarely set down roots. I arrive with a laptop and a cell phone and my 3-ring binder and will camp out in someone’s unused office for a few hours. When my project is done, I often find myself leaving quietly out the back entrance. 

Sometimes, I find myself envious of those executives and employees that have built entire careers in one company or extended organization. What must it be like to have a job that has (more or less) predictable work hours? How do you interact with coworkers that have become an extended version of your family? What must it be like to have an office that is filled with personal memorabilia? 

Maybe someday I’ll get to experience that, but until then, I’m just passing through.

I would love to hear your thoughts about your work. Have you “put down roots” where you live or are you nomadic like me? Please feel free to share in the comments.