The American work ethic is staggering, we all know this. I found a similar pace in Abu Dhabi, where so many people – and sometimes their entire families – are tethered to their jobs through visas and relocation packages. There’s a feeling that your job owns you and, on paper, they kind of technically do.
But in America, so much of who you are is wrapped up in what you do. It took me years to rid myself of the impulse to ask people what they do for a living, and I’m currently working on getting it out of the conversation when people talk about others in the third person. (As in – “So, I just met this awesome guy and he’s taking me to dinner next week!” “That’s great! How old is he and what does he do?” or “You have to meet this girl, she is so interesting and I think you’d have a lot in common.” “Awesome! What does she do?”) It’s so engrained in casual conversation, and for a good reason – in trying to avoid controversial topics like politics or boring ones like the weather, it’s an easy thing to grasp for when you’ve just met someone.
It’s also one of the first things people ask me. In fact, there are three questions that almost every single person asks upon reuniting:
- How does it feel to be back?
- Where are you living?
- Are you looking for a job?
We’ve been back almost a month and we’re still living in a hotel while under contract for a house. Later this week we’ll move in with some awesome friends who are allowing all of us (cats included) crash until we can get everything sorted with a more permanent living situation. The past four weeks have been a chaotic blur of looking at houses, filling out paperwork, running errands, and all of that fun stuff. Meanwhile, my husband is back to work full time and I am freelancing for a couple of clients. I haven’t had a single day where I’ve thought, “Goodness, whatever shall I do today?” I may be a Lady Who Lunches but, lemme tell you, that lunch is either one hour catching up with an old friend and then back out for more errands or it’s spent hunched over a laptop in a cafe taking advantage of free wifi and trying to finish a 900-word piece.
That third question is a stickler. Sometimes people ask because they (helpfully) know of someone who knows of someone who may or may not be hiring. And, hands down, this is the very best way to get a job. Forget searching online, if you can get your resume on the desk of someone who is hiring because your best friend’s cousin’s hair stylist also does her hair – you’ve got your foot wedged firmly in the door. Networking, however vague, is one of the best ways to get a job and it’s how I’ve gotten almost every single job I’ve ever had.
But mostly people ask me because they know I’m a career-oriented person and because it’s just part of the culture. There’s a part of me that is resistant to this narrative and I think it’s because I actually do feel slightly insecure that I don’t have anything lined up at this point. It’s rare for me to not have an Action Plan – detailed and bulleted, and probably laminated and color-coded while we’re at it – and I really don’t. I am open to a host of possibilities and it’s really exciting and fun and also really terrifying. In a way, it feels like that first year out of college when the world was your oyster but you also feared that whatever decision you made next would put you in a box for the next thirty years.
Now, I know it’s not like that at this point – I have ten years of the working world under my belt at this point and our generation is notably not one to commit to any one company or even career field for the entirety of our working time before retirement. But there is a general sense that I have a tremendous opportunity here to take some very calculated and meaningful next steps.
There’s a lot of freedom in being able to answer, “Not yet,” and then “I don’t know” to the inevitable follow-up question “What are you going to be looking for?” I know, whatever it is, that it needs to involve writing. I didn’t have the opportunity to do much of that in my last job, and I missed it dearly. I know that it needs to involve something I’m passionate about, whether it’s a great group of supportive coworkers or a cause. I know that I love working in general and that being bored is my greatest enemy.
For now, though, I am happy just to focus on settling in and getting the things done that need to be done. On writing and putting as much as I can into the work I am doing at the moment. And reading – I’ve read three books in the month we’ve been back, so I can’t claim I haven’t had any down time. Reading fuels the writing and writing inspires more reading and it’s a lovely little perpetual chain.
In the off-chance that you’re reading this and think of something fabulous for me to do for work (or your best friend’s cousin’s hair stylist also styles the hair of someone who is hiring), email me and/or check out some of my work. You know, because hustle always, American work ethic and all.