Growing up, I had a rich interior life. I drew up plans for my dream tree house. Then I drew up new plans, again and again. I told my teachers I wanted to be an actress. A marine biologist. A paleontologist. An author. My ideas changed depending on units we were studying, books I was reading, movies I saw. I never stopped coming up with new lives and the new places where I was going to live them.
I was thinking about all the careers my childhood-self envisioned while at work the other day, analyzing data for a machine learning model. Of course my day-to-day ended up quite differently than I originally imagined it to be, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not only do our personalities evolve as we grow older, our skills evolve too. In the industry I work in, people tend to change roles quickly, seeking knowledge like the supposed pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This is quite different than the career paths of my parents’ generation, where people selected a company, or a company selected them, and then they stuck with it for decades. Much can be said about growing in a company, being a tenured member with years of learning, imbibed with the history of what went right and wrong in that particular sector. And if the company feels right, you ought to stick with it, as long as personal growth opportunities are still present.
As seniors in college or recent grads, we spend a lot of time worrying about our first “real” professional opportunities. Are we making the right choices? Should we negotiate our starting salaries? Will we be happy living in a new state, a new country? But little is ever said about when we’ve outgrown or outpaced the original opportunities we were given. Some tend to think that switching roles is somehow a breach of loyalty or a sign of selfishness. But you should never feel goaded into staying in a position that no longer suits you the way it once did. You should feel empowered to keep dreaming.
I recently read on Quora, an online database of questions and answers, that a person should evaluate their career every two years, regardless of happiness level, and check whether they are still learning or are merely, in the author’s words, comfortable. As I’ve been with my company for over two years, I took this exercise to heart. I thought about the skills I’ve acquired in my role, and the learning I could accumulate over the coming year. Are the projects I work on now fulfilling? Would I appreciate a different type of work more? I looked up new cities, researched open roles, and felt satisfied when I came to the conclusion that at this point I still had room to grow and learn in my role. Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side, but sometimes just peeking over the fence reminds of you of how great you have it. The exercise felt silly at first since I’m happy in my job, but ultimately it served as a refreshing reminder that, in a world of opportunity, I am making the conscious choice to live in this city, to work in this job. I am in the right place for me at this moment.
Tara graduated in 2010 and moved from Massachusetts to Texas to work at Facebook Austin and try out being a Texan. Though she still hasn’t seen a live armadillo, she has eaten chicken fried steak and gone to two rodeos (Austin isn’t like the rest of Texas anyways). Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about working in tech or if you need Austin restaurant recommendations!
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