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
In Technology • For Academia • As Contractor
What lead me here • My high school hired me to be an after school computer teacher because I scored 129% in my programming class and was the only one to graduate the computer science track with 109%. 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.
Greatest lesson • Just start. Start with whatever is right in front of you.
Identity no. 2 •Web Designer
In Technology • for Small Businesses • As Freelancer
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: 18/10.
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.
Greatest lesson • 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
In Engineering • for Academia • As Contractor
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!!! 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 lesson • 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 • Customer Service
In Banking • for Private Sector • As Employee
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: 7/10.
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. They are adults, whining day in and day out about the dumbest things, most of which was due to their lack of foresight. I know money and scarcity are massive triggers, but f*ck this shit, I'm out! Besides, working at a bank has very little to do with wealth mindset and cultivation.
Greatest lesson • It's not easy to navigate the fear / faith paradox. But the cost of misery is too high a price.
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
In Engineering • for Government • As Fellow
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: 12/10 | Magic: 6/10.
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 anti-social, non-communicative male manager, lacking leadership and vision.
Greatest lesson • 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
In Energy Conservation • for Government • As Fellow
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, similar to awakening the sleeping beast of my inner feminist (when I finally stopped trying to be the best man Culture expected me to be). Grit: 3/10 | Magic: 7/10.
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 lesson • Not every passion, hobby or interest needs to be turned into a career or business. That's why we call them passions, hobbies and interests.
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
In Engineering • for Private Sector • As Employee
What lead me here • I earned another women in S.T.E.M. leadership award, which came with a full-time work contract at Canada's premier engineering firm. I impressed my boss so much that when I returned from my 11-country around-the-world trip, they offered me a full-time position in their Vancouver office, no interview, no questions asked. I got to work on the Canada Line skytrain for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics! How cool is that?!? As oppose to research, I got to create colourful flowcharts that were creative, tangible and immediately applicable. Grit: 12/10 | Magic: 6/10.
Name that fear • "Oh man, what if I'm stuck in this job forever?" Fear of hopelessness and fear of loss of adventure.
Why I left • I'd have to sell 10 years of my life to this company before getting 3 weeks of vacation/year (instead of 2). This fact made my soul die a little each day. I constantly wanted to shout, "Look alive, people, look alive!" My boss couldn't do what I did and was threatened by my talent. He got paid double to take credit for my work. F*ck this shit, I'm out! I resigned ONE day before my probation ended, ONE day before the golden handcuffs went on . Phew, got out in the nick of time!
Greatest lesson • Soul aridity is a sign for exit strategy If you’re intimately connected to soul like I am and can feel its searing agony, you'll walk away instantly and never look 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 weirdo, you keep changing jobs. You'll never get anywhere this way."
Identity no. 8 • E-Learning Manager
In Humanitarian Aid • for Government • As Contractor
What lead me here • Science and tech had "failed" me. I couldn't find anything that had creativity, adventure, aliveness AND fulfillment. So I used my multiple languages, travels (yay me for being a natural $ saver), volunteer and leadership activities (eg. building houses overseas with Habitat for Humanity), team building workshops skills to make a career 180.
I happen to stumble upon and apply for a placement, partially funded by the Canadian government, 3 days before the deadline. 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 after that. And I followed my heart to Rwanda a month later, where I could do good and build local capacity. [I breezed through police checks, vaccinations, paperwork, etc. You develop a knack for organization when you have a family of 4 to raise, plus yourself.] Oh my heart sang: I felt purposeful and fulfilled for the FIRST TIME in my life!!! I felt enriched, empowered, and enlightened by epic adventures and deep deep deep friendships! Grit: 3/10 | Magic: 12/10.
Name that fear • "Am I really going to flush 10 years of blood, sweat, tears, and engineering training down the toilet for fulfillment?". Agony, fear of sunk 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."
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 talents and potential atrophy like this. Field work was too slow for me and I didn't fit the aid worker profile. I like looking and feeling like a spring blossom, in a garden of high speed internet. There I said it, lol!
Greatest lesson • The sooner you begin again, the sooner you get there.
Critics corner • "You're moving to Africa? You're abandoning us? Who's going to pay our mortgage for us now?"
Part 2 continued next week...
The sooner you begin again, the sooner you get there.
– Ellany Lea