Proving once more that you can make yourself miserable if you try hard enough, I landed a contract yesterday. I went out fishing for new work in fall 2013, half-heartedly. At the end of that spell, over the holidays, I thought I’d rather take some more flight lessons than look for a job, and I didn’t want to undertake both. So I dropped the job search and reupped my membership with the local soaring club. Six months later, I noted that I still had the same miserable job, and had not taken one flight in the year! Time to rethink my plan.

We went on vacation to the Netherlands and other beautiful spots in northwestern Europe during August 2014. I returned from that trip determined to restart the job search. In fact, I started to send out inquiries before the trip. During some long walks in Amsterdam, I resolved that this time I would not give up easily. I took vacation days for a couple of interviews. I finished the resume revision that sat on the shelf through the summer. I kept up a reasonable level of networking.

Still, unless you are willing to work your phone steadily and maintain lively email exchanges during working hours, you’ll find that job searches conducted while you hold a full-time job move slowly. You can check the job boards all you want during off hours, but you need to talk to people during working hours. They are not interested in talking with you in the evening, and in general, you’re not willing to give up the family time, either.

So you’re blessed when you have to leave your job at last. The break-up doesn’t have to be so hard. One party says, “This isn’t working,” and the other party says, “You’re right.” Then you go. It does feel painful at the time, but the break-up comes with a lot of relief as well. That happened with my job in November and December 2014.

At the time, my wife offered three pieces of brief advice: (1) you have to leave that job, (2) take a break, and (3) be selective about the next job you take. Oddly, the second proposal was the hardest piece. A hard winter kept everyone working hard, just to get around. Moreover, I couldn’t entirely relax, then look for another job. I needed to keep the job search going. This inability to relax when you don’t have a job lined up runs in my family. Plus, with the new year, the fish out there seemed terribly hungry. The job market is better than it has been for a long time. No kidding.

So I’m out there shovelling snow and sending resumes during my break. I rented a cabin to get away, but had no way to supply the wood stove with wood. The road was closed, and I had to snowshoe in! I managed to heat the cabin occasionally, but mostly that beautiful building sat there, snowbound, cold and unoccupied. I moved my stuff out on Monday, February 23.

The next day – that was yesterday – I had an interview at Overture Partners. Overture places consultants like me. I met with the head of software development at a local company that helps its customers figure out their cash flows. You don’t pull the general ledger off the bookshelf anymore. You need a lot of computing power to satisfy the auditors. The company’s software needs a lot of documentation, and I’m ready to go to work.

A few things came to mind pretty consistently as this search for new work progressed:

  • If I can create the right opportunity, I would like to do something other than technical writing.
  • People do not want to pay you to do something you have not done before. That is especially true as you get older.
  • Your friends and family care what you want, but people out in the job market don’t. They care about what they want.
  • The amount of control you have over the direction of your life is a lot more limited than you may care to think.
  • If you have bills to pay, you need an income. You want some water – cash – running into the bathtub when the drain is open, to keep the water level reasonably steady.

These are not mysteries and insights. All these points, and others, have been ready companions in my mind whenever I think about what I must do to find other work. An active job search keeps these companions happy to say hello. They pop in all the time. You can’t get rid of them or forget about them. You want to get used to them, but they keep finding new ways to bug you.

Now you have an idea why I began this post the way I did: you can make yourself miserable if you try hard enough. The job search itself wasn’t actually miserable. I did learn to live with my pesky companions. The misery comes with landing an ideal job: small company, develop documentation for complex software, short commute to a nearby town, likeable boss, good pay, return to consulting, short contract to try the company out, and the prospect of more work with Overture – a professional outfit I’ve done business with before. That’s a long list!

So what’s miserable about that? Clearly, I failed to strike out on a new course, that’s what! I’m good at what I do, and I love being competent, but I can be competent at something new as well. It takes a long time to become good at something; for a dozen years now, on and off, I’ve thought, “Alright, so let’s do it! Start a new professional venture before it’s too late.” So many events, not least the deaths of people my own age or younger, remind me that time for anything, let alone a new venture, is not unlimited. It’s a lot more limited than I care to remember.

That’s your sixth companion. He’s actually not that pesky, and we’re used to him. He wears a big hood, and he stands off your right shoulder all the time. Steve Jobs said that death is life’s great change agent. If you’re not Steve Jobs, though, change may be harder to craft. He had a talent for change that most of us do not.

Resistance to change comes in numerous forms. For example, I’ve paused at the simple thought that by changing careers at this point, I would have to build an entirely new professional network. I’m not sure I want to walk away from the people I know, even if, currently, my contact with them is infrequent. I’ve built that network over almost eighteen years. I like my colleagues, most of them. They’ve helped me, and I’ve helped them. I know that if I go into an entirely new line of work, only a few of them will care to stay in touch. Moreover, I won’t have time start a new network, and maintain the old one.

Let me end with one lesson I want to remember from this job search. Let good things come to you. I’ve been conscious from time to time of companion number seven. God is the most benevolent friend of all. He doesn’t bug you all the time. I do feel bad, though, that I’m not more mindful – and grateful – for the good things I have. In fact, I’m constantly grateful for my wonderful, strong family. My feelings are more mixed about material prosperity, as that comes with an obvious price. Overall, though, we are not terribly rich or poor, and that’s good.

My absence of gratitude for professional talents and accomplishments is more troublesome. I’ve had outstanding opportunities as a teacher, writer, researcher, advocate, and publisher. My career has not taken the course I wished when I set out, but whose does? I ask, if my own child complained as much as I do about work, wouldn’t I feel disappointed that my offspring felt disappointed all the time? Wouldn’t I hope and even yearn for a more joyful outlook, from someone who has so many positive traits? That’s how God must see me: head down, looking at the ground rather than the sky, too constricted and unaware of the good things we have in each other.

So at the end of another vacation, this one to the warmth and color of St. John, I thought: try to be more grateful. Let good things come to you. Many good things have come to you before, unbidden. You didn’t have to try for them. Your wife, someone you hardly knew at the time, came to you one evening and said, “I love you.” The same happened with your children. They appeared. Let God’s blessings come to you. Be grateful. That attitude holds for your family and friends. It can hold for your work life as well.

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