My dad has a broken analog clock in his office, so it shows the correct time only twice a day. One of his nerdy engineer co-workers scribbled “It’s about time” on a post-it note and left it on the useless clock. A useless clock with a timeless message.
I snapped a picture; the picture became the background on my phone, and then the scrawled message became the next theme of my life.
A month or two later, I was chatting with a friend, a creative professional based in New York City. “Over and over,” she said, “I’m have the feeling that it’s time.” Funny. I told her about the little message on my screen for the last few weeks. If a gut feeling counts for anything, that little note would soon count as more than a clever quip on a broken clock.
Three hours later, I was told that my supervisor, the head of communication at a nuclear facility, was going to be out for the next few months on unexpected medical leave. I would fill the position. It was about time long before I felt ready and prepared.
I was introduced to the world of 80-hour work weeks. I began making weighty decisions. I became responsible for a lot of projects that I didn’t understand or know how to execute. It was a steep learning curve in my professional work, and then in my personal life. In the first four months, I would burn out, fall apart, make adjustments in my expectations and priorities, and then move forward again.
I would be coached to start wearing masculine clothes to be “taken seriously.”
I would be mistaken as another college intern. Over and over.
I would learn to maintain my composure while my face burned a deep red.
I would be humbled by the kindness and patience of co-workers throughout the mistakes I made before an audience of 600 employees.
I would learn to accept responsibility, take ownership, and find solutions when it was easier to point fingers.
I would learn to express appreciation even when the blunt corrections were laced with cringe-worthy slights.
I would grow to value my own perspectives and insights and better respect the professionals around me.
I would learn to show up day after day and choose to do my very best work when the tasks were mundane.
I would learn that it’s never perfect the first time. Ever.
I would grow a lot.
I’m still in that position, and I’m still growing.
In a culture where comparison, criticism, and personal branding are rampant, it’s hard to remember that there’s no such thing as overnight success, dreams granted without growing pains, or excellent work that isn’t proceeded by not great work. Doing stuff and taking action is messy—and rewarding—business.
If I have anything special going for me, it’s the belief that most learning and growing happens outside of what feels comfortable. I’m willing to sit in that sense of discomfort a little longer than many folks. If you’re saying, Me too, then welcome to the club.
Sometimes people ask me if I love my job—I think they mean, do you want to do this for the rest of your life?—and even though that’s a normal question, I don’t think it’s a good one. A better question is something like, Does your work challenge you to be more excellent at your craft; are you contributing to the world around you; is your worldview expanding and maturing? Is it that kind of worthwhile?
In answer to that question—Yes! Very much, yes.