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How to build a career around what you love to do

"I asked myself, 'What would make me enjoy my job more as a woman in technology? What would make me stay?' I had no idea that these two questions would set me on a course of advocacy," writes civic technologist and consultant Eva Reid.

Women at work. (Photo by Pixabay user rawpixel, used under a Creative Commons license)
This is a guest post by Eva Reid, a senior analyst in geospatial technologies at the Office of the Chief Technology Officer and consultant for women in tech careers.

Most people would probably agree that the idealized progression of a career works something like this:

  1. Start at a job at an entry level (maybe in your career or choice, maybe not).
  2. Work for a few years and move up to a senior position.
  3. Maybe move into a job that’s more related to your career choice.
  4. Work for a few more years and move up to management.
  5. Work for some more years and then retire.

At some point in the last 10 or 15 years, I realized that I was not interested in moving up. Maybe sideways or parallel, but definitely not into management. Been there; done that. I had no interest. I was a manager before I took my current job, and when I decided to leave and move back to the East Coast, I purposely didn’t look for a management job. I started by looking for jobs that I thought would feed my passion for helping people. I wasn’t really sure what “helping people” meant at the time, but I knew that I wanted to be in government, and I wanted to do something that made a difference.

It all started when I had to prepare for my employee performance evaluation a few years ago. My supervisor and I had just closed out the previous year, and I was preparing for the next year. I started thinking about where I was in my career and what came next. I knew that “helping people” didn’t describe all that I was doing. I made myself sit down and think about what I was doing to “pay the bills” versus the other things that were “lighting me up” — the work that I was passionate about.

I had no idea that this would take me on a new journey.

As a woman in technology, I was seeing fewer women enter the field, and fewer women staying when they did arrive. It wasn’t just my experience, and not just in my organization. All across the United States, the numbers of women in tech have been declining, despite efforts to get women into technology and STEM in general. My own team of 25 people had only one woman on the team for a very long time (me). I saw women on other teams, but not teams that I tended to work with, and every time a woman left, it seemed like she either wasn’t replaced or was replaced by a man.

Eva Reid. (Photo via Facebook)

I asked myself, “What would make me enjoy my job more as a woman in technology? What would make me stay?” Maybe my experience could be of some benefit to others.

I had no idea that these two questions would set me on a course of advocacy for women in technology, and a whole new career as a coach for women in technology.

While I still work at my day job, I spend my other hours coaching women in technology around work/life balance topics, and as a speaker on various topics, including diversity in technology and women in technology. Eventually, I plan to take my business full-time, but the point here is that the questions I asked myself so that *I* could take my work to the next level have had the unintended effect of setting me on a course to build an entirely new career.

Now that I do this work, I get asked frequently, “How can I create a career that I enjoy?” My answer is always the same to start: “What do you LOVE?” I mean really love and feel like if you could “do” that thing, you would look forward to getting out of bed every morning — not just “what you could be doing that would be better than right now,” but what would really light you up? If you can answer that question, you’re most of the way to building the career that you love.

The next part is to figure out if this is something that you can do in your existing organization, or if this is something that will take you outside. Where you need to make changes will impact how you move forward. If you are making a change within an organization, you can make some incremental changes that will move you forward fairly quickly and easily. If you are looking to make a more radical change, there are other factors that will come into play – do you need to think about leaving your organization? Will you go part-time at the same job?

The rest? The rest is a process that will take some time. Having done it myself, I would recommend hiring someone to step through with you, or at least join some supportive communities. But this is the part that will come, once you know what it is that you LOVE.

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