What Would You Do with a Clean Slate?

chalk-eraserWhat would you do, if you could start your career over? What you do with a clean slate, a tabula rasa, or a young mind not yet affected by your older self’s experience? Would you take a different career path? Would you take the same one, but tweak the experiences? Do nothing?

I know I what I would do with a clean slate. I would return it, saying, “No thanks. I’d like my life experiences back, thank you very much.”

Young, Not-so Self Aware Version of Myself

You couldn’t pay me enough to relive my twenties and early thirties. Why? Because I’m a late bloomer; it was hard getting to where I am now. When I say “hard,” I mean that I had no clue in my early twenties, on what I wanted to be, when I grew up. I didn’t finish my bachelor’s degree until I was in my late twenties. I went directly to my master’s degree, right after that.

During the last quarter of my master’s program, I realized that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so one of my professors set me up with one of her regional senior vice presidents for a year. Even during that time, none of the projects were compelling for me; except for one. It was a market assessment. Because I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, it was huge. I mean, my deliverable turned about to be a three-inch binder, but it was interesting. And it helped me get started in marketing. God bless my senior VP for being so understanding.

Office Politics and Other Survival Skills

Okay, so I figured out what that I like marketing, then I stumbled onto the healthcare technology industry. I still wasn’t as focused, as I could have been. I was busy meeting wonderful people, getting distracted by hanging out with them after hours. I certainly wasn’t developing my skills or knowledge, like taking things seriously that would help me manage my career.

However, at least I had to learn about office dynamics, like politics and interpersonal communications. I was also lucky to have my job change from product marketing to product management. And it was the late nineties, so the music was awesome. I was also becoming aware of IPOs and was fortunate to have stock options (not that they were worth anything).

Reading Smoke Signals

The late 90s was also the time when companies were recruiting like crazy. I jumped shipped from healthcare technology to a non-healthcare technology company by leveraging my exposure to product management, taking another job as product manager. The difference this time? I was finally self-aware. I started developing my skill set by reading business books like crazy as I learned to think three steps ahead in the work environment.

I eventually returned to healthcare technology, when I saw smoke signals of a massive layoff. I managed to avoid it by being proactive, calling on one of my former colleagues. By now, my training in management and leadership people from my master’s program was useful. I finally managed a little department. My reading changed from developing practical skills, like marketing and communications and product marketing, to managing and leading people.

Getting Here, From There

It’s been thirteen years, since I graduated from my master’s program. A lot’s happened since then. Actually, a lot has happened since 2006. I was fortunate to become self-aware. I was also fortunate that the money followed, especially in last current gigs. There were times when my mother and I are hanging out and I realized, “Wow Mom, do you realize that my salary is 352% more than what I was making back in 1986? And 205% since my first job out of my master’s program? Cool.” My mother’s eyes got big as she proudly flashed a smiled back to me.

It’s been satisfying realizing that my commitment in managing my career and personal goals paid off. Would I love to have a clean slate again? No. Why? Because it took me too long to get here. I don’t regret the journey, but there are some things I wish I would have done differently. I wish I wouldn’t have wasted as much time having fun in my first few jobs. I wish I would have learned Microsoft Office products inside and out before graduate school. I wish I would have applied myself in the first year of my MHA program. But all these disappointments make me the person I am today. That’s why I wouldn’t like a clean slate to start my careers over again.

Would You Use a Clean Slate or Keep Your Disneyland-like Career Path?

Why am I thinking of this now? One of my friends is just starting her knowledge worker career now that she’s finished her MBA program. She has a clean slate, so to speak. I often find myself reflecting on what I would do if I were her. What would you do? Would you take a different path? Not take the job you accepted that set you on a course you regret? Would you have stopped to smell the roses? Would you have stayed a knowledge worker? It’s worth thinking about, because we learn how we would have built our lives differently…or not.

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