2017 taught me to focus on my priorities

2017 was a year of work for me. It was my first complete year out of school and, consequently, my first complete year of unemployment. And yet I was working – working really, really hard.

The call to work – to “hustle,” as some like to say – seems to be prevailing in popular culture, especially among freelancers and creatives. This call can be an awesome encouragement to many who, like me, often feel anxious about the quality of their own work. But with this encouragement also comes the danger of overworking. While I worked really, really hard last year, I also learned a lot about how not to work – and specifically, how to decide what not to work on.

Even though I technically didn’t have a full-time job for most of 2017, I still felt like I overworked myself. Between pursuing freelance gigs, volunteering, starting my own personal projects, and trying to find a full-time job, I found myself feeling exhausted and unfulfilled. By focusing all my energy into too much, I accomplished very little.

I took a long, hard look at all my work when 2017 ended. What had I accomplished? What goals didn’t I reach?

Primarily I felt grateful to have found a full-time job. I wrote this in my last career update, and I’m blown away by how close I currently am to what I said before:

“My goals within the next few months are to learn more about working for community-based efforts, and hopefully get more experience. Personally, I’m leaning towards PR and grant writing – two disciplines I’ve always enjoyed – but we’ll see where I end up!”

I’m doing both PR and grantwriting at a nonprofit right now. It’s amazing what can happen when I focus!

What my reflection also yielded, however, was that I had to take a few things out of my life because they were sucking away the energy I needed to accomplish my other, more important goals. So one day I sat down, wrote out every goal I had, and put them in order of importance. I asked myself a few questions, and I’ll write them down though at the time I just let them bounce around my head:

  1. What do I really want to do with my time?
  2. Will this goal contribute to my overall career dreams?
  3. Is this goal feasible within the next few months?
  4. Do I have a solid plan to accomplish this goal?
  5. Do I share this goal and my commitment to it with others?

Questions like this help me see where my priorities lay and, even though it hurt at first, I forced myself to remove a few projects. I won’t leave those projects forever, of course. But now I know to focus most of my energy on my biggest goals. By the end I had a list of my goals categorized into “priority,” “free time stuff,” and “totally optional,” in order to help myself better manage my time in 2018.

At the time I had grantwriting and church ministry work listed as my two biggest goals, and technically they’re still up there. But the nice thing about setting these goals for myself is that I can always change them. Who knows what I’ll be focusing on within the next few months? Regardless, my hope is to stay focused, no matter what that focus might be.

I’m very excited to write more, produce more, and rest more in 2018. I hope to work purposefully and to know that I’m using all my energy wisely. Here’s to an even better new year!

Next Steps [June 2017 Career Update]

I can’t believe it’s only been a year since I graduated with my MA in English – within 12 months I’ve gained so many new experiences that I feel like I’m far different from the person I was when I left school.

I figure this is a good a time as any to start writing about the trajectory of my career as I move from studying English to actually working. It’s definitely a weird shift.

I now understand the old cliche: experience really is the key to an actual career. The English program in my school was very focused on literature, analysis, and academic writing, which wasn’t bad at all – I love reading and writing in that sort of environment. What would be bad, however, would be if I graduated without any plan to gain solid experience in a specific field. As I move further away from school I’m realizing that an English degree affords its students many possibilities, but it’s up to students to decide where to apply their skills.

I, happily, already had a few experiences under my belt – I was running newsletters, writing for community-based projects, and creating digital content. The problem I kept running into, however, was that my range of experience was too big. I thought I was gaining good experience everywhere, but I was actually failing to distinguish myself as an expert in something specific. My resume went all over the place, my job applications went to unnoticed, and my confidence dipped because I wasn’t sure who I was really trying to be, at least in terms of writing. I knew I was a writer, of course – my problem was that I wasn’t sure what kind of writer I was going to be.

This is a realization I’ve come to recently, and I’m making changes to re-orient myself into a career path that 1. makes me excited and 2. makes sense with my past experience.

This almost seemed impossible to me, until I recognized a common theme throughout almost every role I’ve had – non-profit community work. I enjoy serving my community, and some of my favorite roles include writing for groups that aim for a higher cause. I’ve always had this strong desire to do good, and I’ve always loved writing – why not combine the two?

So that’s where I’m headed now. My goals within the next few months are to learn more about working for community-based efforts, and hopefully get more experience. Personally, I’m leaning towards PR and grant writing – two disciplines I’ve always enjoyed – but we’ll see where I end up!