the only two jobs i’ll ever have

“You’ve only ever had two jobs,” my husband said to me one day, about a year ago, trying to comfort me. Having been promoted recently into a role about which I knew absolutely nothing, my faith in myself was wearing thin. Now my faith in my husband was starting to shake. We had, after all, only been married a couple years. Maybe he had actually forgotten that my career extended wayyyy back before we got married. Does he not know me at all? Has he not been paying attention?

I completed my bachelor’s degree in Computer Science longer ago than I care to admit, about the same time I started my first “real job” as a computer programmer. I was so green that when they offered me a full-time position with what they called a cafeteria benefits plan, I actually responded, “But I bring my own lunch.”

Nevertheless, I accepted the job – my first salaried position – with all the confidence of someone with no clue what they were doing. I soon realized what I had learned in college was not going to apply to the work world. I had to learn new skills and new programming languages, and how to work on real projects with real people and real deadlines. By the time I left that job, I had changed technologies so many times that my resume looked like alphabet soup.

Over the next few years, through the Y2K hysteria, the dot-com bubble, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, disastrous accounting scandals, and any number of mergers, acquisitions, and selloffs, I was forced to take new jobs at new companies, and learn new programming languages at a furious pace. The companies shut down, closed offices, changed ownership; jobs evaporated. I would usually receiving my walking papers about the same time I was hitting my stride. Finally, during the height offshoring trend, I grew tired of learning the latest technology, only to be underbid six months later by firms overseas.

I decided instead to learn everything I could about the offshoring process my employer was undertaking. I learned how to train across cultural barriers and traveled to India as a trainer. When I took a new role in business analysis and systems design, I had to learn to understand and give instructions to people rather than computers. When I grew restless from the repetition of the process, I started a Toastmasters club at the company and was soon promoted to manager of my team. I knew nothing about management, but read enough leadership books to keep both the club and my team running smoothly until my department was later eliminated.

My next move was inevitable: I became A Consultant. Consulting is an exercise in perpetual imbalance. Every company’s culture, business model, processes, technologies, politics, and expectations were different. I enjoyed moving from challenge to challenge, and I got accustomed to always being “new.” Soon I was asked to mentor and manage others in my firm. I got an award and everything. It was pretty cool.

But on a long-term consulting project, I began to feel restless again. When someone approached me about an open management position at the insurance company where I was assigned, I jumped at the opportunity to learn a new aspect of the business. Saying “I work in Insurance” was difficult at first. I felt like a fraud! I had so much to learn about insurance and the claims processes I was supporting. I started taking classes for The Institutes Associate in Claims (AIC™) and Associate in Management (AIM™) designations. I soon began to feel comfortable in my ability to lead the analysts on my team, and then realized that I had stopped growing in the role.

After a brief internal job search, I was fortunate to accept a director position within the company’s underwriting systems department. I didn’t know what underwriting meant at the time. I had responsibility for user support and change management, two functions I had heard of, but never managed. I read everything I could, sat with experienced underwriters, and completed Prosci’s Certified Change Management Professional (CCMP) program and began working on my CPCU® designation. I relied on my team to help me navigate the vocabulary and the politics. They were gracious and energetic. Together we accomplished so much that within a couple years I felt had worked myself out of a job.

Now I was in yet another new role with my company, supporting advanced analytics and data science teams. The hiring manager assured me that understanding the job description wasn’t a requirement for the position. I passed about a dozen interviews, got the job, and actually calculated the odds that that many smart people could all be wrong about the same thing at the same time. I’ve spent the last year reading books about data management, predictive modeling, actuarial science, and insurance finance. It has been difficult and exhilarating, and I still have so much to learn. But at the beginning, before I even knew what questions to ask, I wondered whether I should have taken the job at all.

All this history played through my mind in the instant my husband said “You’ve only ever had two jobs.” I stared at him in disbelief. I heard myself say, “TWO JOBS?!? What do you mean I’ve only had two jobs? I’ve had dozens of jobs. In fact, this is my third job at this company alone. And do you know how many companies I’ve worked for?”
“No,” he repeatedly confidently, “you’ve only ever had two jobs: ones you’re learning, and ones you’re bored with.”

Turns out my husband knows me better than I know myself.

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