What I’m Doing – Figuring the most cost/time efficient route for travel in Europe this summer. Half of the fun is logistics!
What I’m Binging – Season 3 of Kim’s Convenience, pretty great finding out a Canadian-Korean family has a lot in common with my Chicanx childhood.
What I’m Cooking – Vegan Saag Paneer
I’ve recently been thinking about where I would like my career to go. I’ve been working closely with just about every aspect our water utility these past two years and found water to be a really compelling sector of public service. I have the ability to focus on water finance or resource development and so I naturally played out that path in my head.
The natural conclusion of that thought experiment ends up with me in an executive role at a water district. They tend to have the most resources and reach to make significant impact on our public. I’ve always envisioned myself leading an organization and could see that opportunity there. Also, water districts are especially attractive because wages and benefits are far superior to what my City or local cities can offer. Commute would be about the same. Water it is! Slam dunk right …
Thinking about applying for another organization gave me some time to reflect on why I would want to leave my organization in the first place. I found that even though I’m content with where I am now, it’s not really aligning with my values. Torrance is financially stable, I get to work with three enterprise funds ($$$), and employee turnover in my department is rare.
But… innovation, employee development, data-driven policy, and a million other buzzwords aren’t prioritized over stability and satisfactory service delivery. Individual assignments and special projects definitely scratch my itch but none of the work is exactly “cutting-edge”. So it seemed obvious I needed to start looking for another organization. I updated my resume and applied to a few different positions.
That was five months ago.
I applied to four agencies and landed three interviews with varying results. I was second choice for a smaller community nearby. That rejection hurt because it was my first chance to interview and it went better than I could have hoped for. In between the second interview and the rejection email, I began to envision myself working for that city and thinking about all the great projects I was going to do in a forward-thinking city. I know the person who got the job instead and it was a great choice. “You’re not the best unless you compete with the best” – Torrance Shipman, Bring It On.
The second interview was Terrible. I went in completely unprepared and bombed the interview. The whole 10 minutes of the interview replay in my head from time to time when I’m stuck in traffic. I just shake my head in disbelief and try not to let it bother me. “It was a learning experience,” I tell myself. I basically want to erase this experience from the face of the earth.
Third interview was not a replay of the second. There is no way that will ever happen again. I rehearsed my responses to possible questions. I did my homework on the city and the people who worked there. I was extra early to the interview and was pumped from the 5 playthroughs of my game-day song. I. ROCKED. THAT. INTERVIEW. The questions they asked were almost exactly the same ones they has asked in my second interview (unexpected). I nailed every question and spoke with confidence. I was on cloud nine when I went home that evening.
I got a Thank-You-Next email in less than 24 hours. I asked for feedback and got radio silence. I was bewildered by my results and felt defeated. Frustration would be more a accurate description. Self-doubt was at an all-time high.
At home, my partner could sense my frustration and offered some advice. She asked me what the point of building a network and all my involvement with professional organizations was if I didn’t utilize it. Why wasn’t I asking for help. She thought it was F-ing Bananas.
Despite the fact that I love making connections, encouraging people to find joy in public service, and chair a Mentorship Program in Southern California, I didn’t think reaching out was an option (I know!). I had gone through the usual motions of googling some possible solutions, watching a TED talk, and updating my reading list. I didn’t think myself much of preacher, but there I was.
It took a lot of effort to get myself to reach out to people I thought would be helpful. They had made themselves available in the past and have always been open with me. They weren’t strangers but we had not really shared personal experiences. Reaching out for help felt like a sign of failure on my part.
In my search of answers on google I came across a piece on mental health and dealing with depression. Although the questions were geared towards finding a mental health professional and the barriers to being honest about mental health, I found them to be poignant in my hesitation in asking for help.
- While you were growing up what kind of messages did you get about asking for help?
- Did your family place more value on “doing it yourself” or “letting others in?”
- When you did attempt to reach out in childhood, how did the people in your life respond?
Do you ever read something and then realize it’s hitting way too close to home? I grew up in a household of self-perseverance and exceptionalism. “We’re all special, but some are more special because they work harder”. It was a long time until I was comfortable enough to talk about my feelings and if those feelings stemmed from perceived weakness, then it was better to not acknowledge them. I’m better about my feelings and finally reached out for help.
I looked through my contact list (linkedin and old emails) and found some people nearby who I was comfortable talking to outside of a professional networking event. No one refused! They were all ready to offer some solid advice or just listen to what I was thinking. They helped me come up with options I had not considered.
Torrance has 1,600 employees and 9 different departments. There is probably another department that will be a better fit.
If I decide to apply for another position they encouraged me to come back with questions about that role and organization.
And while I’m reevaluating my whole life and having an existential crises they made me realize I had not been open with my manager about my expectations and the type of assignments I wanted. With some help, I was able to reframe my requests to work on something a little more “innovative”.
Takeaway: Breath. You can do this. If you’re stuck in hard place, ask for help! It is not a sign of weakness. I promise. Ask for guidance right now on that project you’re working on. Reach out to someone just bounce some ideas around. Whatever you’re thinking about, it’s probably a good excuse to get better at asking for help. Ask me if you need an intermediary!
And if you’re all set right now, take time to Be Who You Needed When You Were Younger.
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