How To Ruin Your Career With A Highlighter

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This is a guest submission by Illana from Makeness.com

I woke up one day and realized that, not only was I not going to be the first female shuttle commander for NASA {thanks a lot, Eileen Collins!}, I was also probably not going to be the first female president of the U-S-of-A. The funny part was, it was the first time I realized that I actually didn’t want those things either.

What I really wanted was the feeling I thought I would get by achieving those things. The power, the prestige, the ooo’s and the wow’s. I wanted to be a pioneer, a trailblazer. I wanted to be the quarterback, the captain, the CEO. I wanted to be the unassuming underdog that played with the big boys and commanded a room a-la Melanie Griffith in Working Girl.

Of course, there is no post-script at the end of that movie after the girl gets the corner office. No one tells you that middle management at a huge corporation is probably not going to inspire the sweeping choir-backed power ballad that Ms. Griffith’s triumph did.

No one tells you that investment bankers that look like Harrison Ford are probably not going to forgo their rich girlfriends because you are just so adorable and quirky. They will be too busy working ninety hour weeks and trying to come up with ways to make more money.

No, they just let us go on believing the, ‘working hard = money and security,’ fairytale.

So back to that morning…

I was working at what I thought was my dream job. I had it better than most – good hours, ridiculous pay, fancy title, the whole tamale. But that morning, my boss (the CEO) sent me an email explaining the importance of keeping my desk clear of clutter, and asking me why I had neglected to return a highlighter I borrowed from his secretary the previous day.

And something short-circuited in my brain.

hate your job, enjoy your life

I realized, in that moment, that I had it all wrong. All of it. I didn’t want to be president of anything, let alone America! I can’t even get the guys at Starbucks to agree that ‘Frappuccino’ is a made-up word. Can you imagine having three-hundred million people wanting to know why you didn’t return their highlighter?

OK, so maybe I realized a little before then that the oval office wasn’t in my future… but I was on a collision-course with the American Dream. I had the MBA and all the debt that comes with it, and the career that was going gangbusters. But what I didn’t have was a life.

Sound familiar?

I had what I pretended was a life.

I had a job at a place that used my ideas and never gave me credit, a relationship that made me feel safe (and not much else), and a house in the suburbs that I talked myself into because it made sense and was the logical next step.

It wasn’t a life. At least not MY life.

I was wearing someone else’s life like a cable-knit nightmare because I thought Melanie’s corner office would make me happy.

I didn’t have a life because I was selling it to someone else so that I could afford to buy a bunch of stuff to fill the void that losing all control over my future had left.

So, I quit.

And then the sky fell on my head.

{Insert the-economy-crashed-and-I-lost-everything-and-couldn’t-pay-my-rent story here.}

And then it got better.

It got better because I realized that I couldn’t fix this with another job. I had to redefine what making a living meant to me.

Like most people, I started with what I didn’t want: no more mean bosses pushing me around, no more commute, no more 4am conference calls, no more monthly reports, no more meetings about meetings, and no more highlighters. Ever.

I felt really proud of myself. I had a LIST! Lists are manageable! A list will tell me what to do!

Until I realized that I had absolutely no idea what I did want.

That list was harder.

So how do you figure it out? I mean, when you really stop and think about how short life is, how to you really decide how you want to spend it?

And beyond that, how are you going to make that life?

Do you want to make a living or a life?

Traditionally, making a living is what you do so you can afford the life you want, right? But what if those two things didn’t have to be separate?

What if you made your living doing something that felt good AND facilitated the life you always wanted?

So I started breaking down my skills and passions, and I made four lists:

  1. The first list was the things I did in the past that I was really good at, but hated doing.
  2. The second list was all the things that I was not so good at, but really enjoyed.
  3. The third list was the things I was pretty ambivalent about; the more mundane skills I had acquired over the years that I was competent at, and that didn’t make me feel ill to think about using, but that didn’t really light me up either.
  4. Finally, I made a list of the things that I was brilliant at, AND that I LOVED doing. The stuff that made my soul sing. From dancing in my underpants to Tina Turner to helping business people create better branding… nothing was off the table.

The first thing I did was tack the list of things that I hated doing to the wall above my desk. That was my no-no list; the filter I ran all of my further decisions through. If an opportunity came up, I would run it through that list. If it involved something on it, the answer would be no.

If you don’t agree to do things you hate, you have a lot more room for things you love, right?!?

hate your bog, enjoy your life

Then I looked hard at my other lists and started to look for connections.

Some of the key pieces that came out were:

–          I had a good eye for design, and loved the creative process, but wasn’t a great designer.

–          I loved helping business people make their dreams happen, and am really skilled at that.

–          I have a knack for helping people look at problems in new ways, but don’t really like working one-on-one all that much.

–          I’m a solid writer, but had never really cultivated that as a marketable skill.

As these do’s and don’ts started to take shape, I started making decisions that would grow into the next stage of my life, and would help me make a living at the same time.

I decided that the things that floated to the surface would guide me to what I needed to learn, and how I needed to grow to feel fulfilled in what came next.

I looked for opportunities to learn in the things that I loved, but wasn’t great at.

I looked for value propositions in the things I was great at, and also planned for my higher level of skill in the areas I was learning.

And a business started to take shape.

Well, maybe not a business, at first, but a blog, at least.

I started to realize that I had something of value to say, and now I knew the framework in which to say it.

See, an amazing thing happens when you only do the things that light you up: People can tell, and they flock to you because you are lit up like a Christmas tree covered in highlighters.

Pretty soon, my blog became a business, and my business became my living…

…and my living became my life.

So, what does making a living mean to you?

Illana Burk is the mover and shaker behind Makeness.com and ShortAttentionSpanGuides.com. She helps people go from idea to business in the fewest steps possible. She uses her considerable and varied business experience to help you find hidden business ideas in every corner of your life so that you can make the living you want and have the life of your dreams.

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21 thoughts on “How To Ruin Your Career With A Highlighter”

  1. Great post. I am glad you touched upon the realization that the way to “fix” the pickle you found yourself in was not through fixing it with another job. That would have just been another version of wash-rinse-repeat.

    I found myself in a sort-of similar situation this year. I had a contract job that I worked for years, and hated but tolerated it because I made LOTS of money and worked with good people and I didn’t have to put up with typical office politics. That said, it was stifling me. But I was too chicken shit to quit. So when the contract ended, I was forced to leave.

    Scared but utterly DELIGHTED, I knew that the way to redefine was to NOT run out and replicate the experience in a similar form. So I did not join up with the recipient of the new contract, even though that’s what almost all of my teammates did. I did not run out and find a traditional job. I did not go back to running my other practice the way I had been running it in previous years because conventional wisdom said that’s the tactic I *should* take. I took my old practice and spun it on it’s ear.

    Yes, there have been financial ramifications. No, it has not been the end of the world. Yes, I’ve discovered that I am crazy happy almost all the time and the energy and momentum I’m experiencing is almost indescribable.

    So thank you for articulating this so well!


  2. What does making a living mean to me?

    Freedom from working. Freedom to just jump in a plane and fly to Australia for a few weeks with no worries that I’ll run out of money or my business will crumble without my presence.

    I’m not into fancy cars and expensive gadgets. I just want plain simple fun.

    Making a living for me is doing what I love everyday and getting paid to do it. Simple, unimaginative, but that’s the life I want.

    Thanks for the inspirational post.

    Jared Kimball recently posted…3 Ways to End Email Marketing Procrastination! Now and ForeverMy Profile

  3. What a great post, Illana! Very inspiring for me and I’m sure for many others as well.

    I’ve been in two jobs I hated and after ending the second one I finally realized that there’s more to life than just suffering and tolerating a job.

    I may not be making a lot right now doing what I love because I’m just starting again and the transition is kind of hard but I know that things will get better.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I love your making a list idea and will also be making one for myself.

    Have a nice day!
    Theresa Torres recently posted…How to Dispute a Credit Card ChargeMy Profile

  4. LOVE this post Illana! It seems like people generally fall into 2 categories: Those that feel like you did about work and actively change their situation, and those who feel like you did about work and tough it out because “that’s just part of growing up.”

    I’ve been working a lot on discovering my true passions lately. I’m trying new things to make sure they don’t just look good on paper. And it’s a ton of fun!

    One great tool that’s helped me is using my DISC profile as a filter. Did you ever do any personality tests to help out?
    Deacon Bradley recently posted…One Bad Idea Away from HoboMy Profile

  5. Hi Illana,

    I loved your story – and such a captivating headline! Figuring out my marketable skills is exactly where I started as well. I have an knack for writing and marketing – so copywriting made sense. :)

    My favorite line? >> I can’t even get the guys at Starbucks to agree that ‘Frappuccino’ is a made-up word.

    I almost spit out my Mochachino-latte reading that one :D


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