Navigating Non-Conformity • How I Re-invented my Career + Business Identities 16 Times (Part 1)
Navigating Non-Conformity • How I Re-invented my Career + Business Identities 16 Times (Part 2)
There is an art and a science to non-conformity... as well as a price... and many, many, many rewards... and multiple soul wrenching trade-offs along the way. It's an intricate (aka neurotic) dance. Freedom is the dream. But freedom isn't for sissies.
Here is the story of how I re-invented my career and business identities 16 times, how I arrived at each identity, the grit score (the blood, sweat, and tears required to get there), the magic score (the amount of serendipity and synchrodestiny involved), the fears, the reasons why I walked away, the lessons extracted and of course, what the critics had to say.
May they expand your sense of wonder and embolden your quest for freedom!
Identity no. 1 • Computer Teacher
What lead me here • My high school hired me to be their after school computer teacher for the elementary school class, aka babysitter, because I scored 129% in my programming class and was the only one to graduate the computer science track, with a final average of 109%. It was surely cheaper to hire me than an adult or a licensed professional :P
Grit: 18/10 | Magic: 2/10.
Why I left • IT can be dry and boring, 1's and 0's. Teaching IT was even more boring, especially to kids who had to be there and who weren't interested in learning.
Name that fear • Am I really going to throw away 9 loooooog years of blood, sweat, tears, education and training in engineering to be happy, to love what I do, to wake up and look forward to my day and my life?
Greatest takeaways • Just start. Start with whatever is right in front of you, whatever is offered to you. I worked my ass off to get earn that offer, so I'll take it! Never did I ever imagine that designing my first teaching curriculum would lead me to my Unleash Your Masterclass signature program, where I teach others how to create a masterclass curriculum, 21 years later.
Identity no. 2 • Web Designer
What lead me here • Through computer science classes, I fell in love with game design and animation. Give me a Pentium I and GFA Basic and I'll immerse you in a world of awe and childhood glee, with a game I built called "<YourFirstName> Phone Home". You're a chubby little alien trying to outrun "Men in Black" in corn fields, win at Blackjack to collect a radio antenna, and 'pew-pew' shoot down government spaceships with a joystick, to get back home. God, I loved that game! Lost all sense of time and space creating that adventure.
Add Netscape 4.0 and chirping dial-up modems into the picture and I transferred that passion to web design. I made so many website from pure passion, pure creativity that people started paying me for a website of their own.
Grit: 2/10 | Magic: 14/10.
Why I left • My doctor alerted me multiple times of my spinal curvature, due to long hours hunched over the computer. Between the dark circles around my eyes and the chronic pain between my shoulder blades, I had to stop.
Name that fear • Am I really going to throw away a lucrative freelancing gig that I'm good at and like to do good in the world?
Overcoming fear • I listened to my heart, not my head. I followed my inner passion, not external expectations.
Greatest takeaways • There are NO wrong paths... The ride has only just begun. No matter if you're at career/biz identity number 1 or number 111.
Critics corner • "I'm not sure you should let this go... how will you pay the family bills and secure the parents' retirement?" and "And how will pay your own bills and secure your own retirement?"
Identity no. 3 • CNC Machinist
What lead me here • Naturally drawn to structures and systems, I joined a robotics club. I was the only gal in the group and our mentor, Steve, at the machine shop where we made robot parts [lol! what a funny phrase to say], pulled me out of the crowd. He taught me how to lathe a stainless steel coupling. Mine turned out better than his, hehe, so he hired me to work for McGill University full-time, during the summer. I got to work with VERY expensive CNC machinery, on multi-million dollar aerospace projects. So cool!!! We are friends until this day, over 20 years later!
Grit: 3/10 | Magic: 12/10.
Name that fear • "What if the boys get jealous and kick me out of the team?" Fear of being ostracized.
Why I left • If you think paper cuts hurt, imagine hot metal shaving cuts! With 10 bandages on 10 fingers, I didn't want to smell like industrial coolant or be a burly mechanic dude anymore. I loved crafting with my hands, but at this rate I'd have no fingers left!
Greatest takeaways • Mentors make ALL the difference. Before this, my mission in life was to be invisible and safe. Steve / Debbie / Mr. Johnson yanked me out of my shell. They saw me <insert gushing tears of gratitude>. For the first time in my life, I felt seen.
Critics corner • "You bring dishonour to the family. You did not follow in your father's footsteps." (He was a mechanical engineer.)
Identity no. 4 • Banking Service Rep
What lead me here • Blood, sweat and tears. Straight A's, innumerous philanthropic initiatives, and historic wins at national and international science + tech competitions earned me a full ride to McGill University AND two work terms at a bank. Career 180! I took the job, thinking this was my ONE chance to become the BEST white man and eldest son I could be.
Grit: 14/10 | Magic: 6/10.
Name that fear • "What if dad disowns me because I didn't stay in tech to create and sell the next Yahoo or Youtube for millions like he wanted me to?" Fear of criticism, fear of being ostracized, and fear of loss of love and safety.
Why I left • OMG customers are NOT always right. I've never met more whiny adults in my life, trying to blame the bank for their disorganization, procrastination or lack of planning. Banking bored me to tears and customer support sucked my soul dry.
Greatest takeaways • The cost of misery is too high a price, I'm not paying it! It takes courage and trust to walk away from a cushy, sure thing.
Critics corner • "You could have made it, settled down, gotten married and had kids. What's wrong with you? Why won't you 'play house' like the rest of us?"
Identity no. 5 • Aerospace Engineer
What lead me here • Not yet knowing about introversion, I went back to the sciences thinking, "Bleh, I'm not a people person. Keep the whinny customers away from me." Thanks to tons of extracurricular leadership roles, my work with Engineers Without Borders, and gracefully handling full-time studies AND full-time work, I earned 3 prestigious fellowships for women in S.T.E.M at Canada's national research institutes. "FINALLY!!! A perk for being a woman, ONE single perk! Woot woot!" I thought. I moved from East to West coast, worked at an astrophysics research lab, perched on a mountain, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and lakes. My fellows and I had sooo much fun together, using the million-dollar telescopes to watch the meteor showers, hee hee.
Grit: 16/10 | Magic: 5/10.
Name that fear • "What if I'm forever treated as the secretary by an old boys club?" Fear of being controlled and patronized.
Why I left • Though I kept the awe of the cosmos in my heart, I left the pure and applied sciences because I wasn't going to risk being micro-managed by yet another low social quotient male manager, lacking leadership and vision.
Greatest takeaways • If you're not a white, middle-class, heterosexual man, life is very, very unfair. And so what. Living is not about falling victim to all the injustices of the world, it's about co-creating a world, regardless of size, that is far better than the current one.
Critics corner • "What is wrong with you that you can't bag a husband?"
Identity no. 6 • Environmental Researcher
What lead me here • I kept forgetting how dry computer data simulation was. So I used my last fellowship for a career 180. The thought of becoming a tree hugging, whale saving environmental advocate lit a fire within.
Grit: 2/10 | Magic: 5/10.
Name that fear • "Oh man, will I have to start all over at the bottom from scratch in this new field?" Fear of loss of time and of sunk cost.
Why I left • OMG I am never working for government again!! The endless debating, with zero action. I also knew, once and for all, that setting up lab equipment and collecting data for weeks on end, though luxuriously peaceful for my introverted soul, was boring as f*ck and not a fulfilling career.
Greatest takeaways • Not every passion, hobby or interest needs to be turned into a career or business. That's why we call them hobbies or passion projects.
Critics corner • "What is wrong with you that you can't bag a husband and pump out babies? Like, yesterday!"
Identity no. 7 • Systems Designer
What lead me here • I earned another "Women in S.T.E.M." leadership award, which came with a seasonal contract at Canada's premier engineering firm. When I returned from my 11-country around-the-world trip, they offered me a full-time position, no interview, no questions asked. As a new grad, I made $42,000/year out of the gate, not too shabby! I even got assigned to the Canada Line skytrain project for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, how cool is that?!? As oppose to research, I got to create colorful flowcharts that were creative, tangible and immediately applicable.
Grit: 12/10 | Magic: 4/10.
Why I left • I hated it from day 3. A decade of blood/sweat/tears in engineering lead me to be treated as a secretary, fetching coffee, and making photocopies for old white men, of hell no! My feet felt like lead, grading my dying soul to work every day into a concrete box, literally. It was like inserting needles under my fingernails every morning, taking them out every night for a brief reprieve, knowing they'd be re-inserted the next morning... and every single weekday after that. I had to exert an exorbitant amount of fuel in the morning to peel myself out of bed to get to work, like a rocket burning its way out of the Earth's atmosphere. I'd have to sell 10 years of my soul to this company before getting one extra week of vacation, totally a measly 3 weeks of vacation/year!!! Ten effing years!!! My boss was regularly threatened by my talent and speed. He got paid double to take credit for my work. F*ck this shit! I resigned one day before my probation ended, ONE day before the golden handcuffs went on. Phew! I was likely having a Quarter Life Crisis at the same time.
Name that fear • "Oh man, what if I'm stuck in this job forever?" Fear of hopelessness and fear of loss of adventure. "Am I really going to flush 10 years of blood, sweat, tears, and engineering training down the toilet for fulfillment?". Agony, fear of sunken cost, and terror of "Am I truly ready to throw away any hopes of getting dad's approval? I won't be strikin' it rich in humanitarian aid."
Overcoming fear • I could hear something (which I'd discover 5 years later was my soul) begging me, "Pleeeeeease don't let us die like this." I listened.
Greatest takeaways • Soul aridity is an alarm for exit strategy, massive change, and never looking back.
Critics corner • "Tsk tsk tsk <insert eye roll and actual finger pointing in my face>, you know what the problem with you is, you can't stay put. You'll never get anywhere this way."
Identity no. 8 • E-Learning Manager
What lead me here • Science and tech had "failed" me. I couldn't find anything that had creativity, plus adventure, plus aliveness, plus fulfillment. So I leaned on my multiple languages and love of travels, international volunteer and leadership activities (eg. building houses overseas with Habitat for Humanity), team building workshops skills to make a career 180. I wanted to do good, something meaningful. Was it too much to ask to actually love my work?
I happen to stumble upon and apply for a placement, co-funded by the Canadian government, 3 days before the deadline. What were the chances?!? I was interviewed the following week during the last round of interviews for the year. They flew me to the last training of the year two weeks later. I breezed through the entire process, including orientation, police checks, vaccinations, insurance, paperwork, etc, within 30 days. My future looked like unlimited rows of green lights ahead. All that was left was to enjoy the holidays and board my flight in a month's time. For the first time in my life, I was excited about my career prospects since age 13. And I followed my heart to Rwanda a month later with a team, and we were safely welcomed, oriented and delivered to our designated posts, with a built in community of friends.
Grit: 3/10 | Magic: 13/10.
Name that fear • Am I really going to leave field missions and give up truly meaningful, much needed, hands-on work overseas? Fear of not actualizing my full potential
Overcoming fear • A mentor called just at the right time and reminded me of my greatness. Her love and her seeing me dissolved fear like water dissolves salt.
Why I left • I cared sooo much about the work and capacity building my team, but no one else did. There was no one assigned to turn on the generator to power the computers to teach e-learning. And when there was power, my team watched episodes of "24" all day long. I couldn't let my potential atrophy like that. Field work was waaaaaay toooooo sloooooow for me. To be paid peanuts for accomplishing nothing all day, that's not written in my destiny. Living without running water, electricity nor refrigeration was cute at first, but not for me. Oh, and I need high speed internet to thrive. There I said it, lol! I knew to my core that I could have a greater impact from international headquarters. (And I was right!)
Greatest takeaways • There is no failure, only detours and lessons. A detour is worth it, if it fills my soul with adventures and soul sister friendships. The sooner you begin again, the sooner you get there anew. It was far from ideal, but it was the distance I needed to pull myself out of a 9-month long silent depression. Could not have foreseen how this overseas managerial role would fast-tracked my professional legitimacy.
Critics corner • "You're moving to Africa? You're abandoning us? Who's going to pay our mortgage for us now?" You failed at being the perfect eldest son, retired your parents in comfort and luxury at 24, a car and a $20k down-payment is utterly insufficient, you failure! What's wrong with you, why won't you settle down?!?
Part 2 continued next week...
The sooner you begin again, the sooner you get there anew.
– Ellany Lea