Those of you who live in the land of public servants (Ottawa), you know that an “indeterminate” position is the holy grail of positions, but for the “young professional” entering (or re-entering the work force), they are seemingly as rare as glimmering unicorns (and just as treasured). Among other things, not the least of which being “you have a job”, an indeterminate provides you with mythical advantages, like benefits, pension, and vacation days. They also allow you to apply to other positions within the government, which enables you to make strategic career decisions and ensure a certain level of financial security necessary to make long-term financial decisions. These are indeed rare and mystical finds for most people in their 20s.
For the past year, I have been working at as a student for the government and the stars seemed to be aligning beautifully to allow me to be “bridged” into one of these mystical positions. Things were looking good, that is, until last week. In an epic and unexpected move, all progress on the position has been halted for an unspecified amount of time, pending a bureaucratic and arduous HR process.
When I heard about this “wrinkle”, I felt blind-sided and a bit betrayed. I have invested a lot of time in this work, including taking time away from my studies to explore this opportunity in the hopes that it would lead to the green and glorious pastures of employment after graduation.
I was stressed, and frustrated, and then I got sick. And I am not talking a case of the sniffles-watching-netflix-and-eating-crackers sick, I mean the two days flat-on-your-back-sleeping-sneezing-and-mouth-breathing kind of sick that required me to stop everything and just be sick for a while.
And as I slept for two days, waking only to work my way through two boxes of tissues, a magical shift began to happen in my brain. My neurons started holding hands with different neighbours, and I woke up, congested, but with a re-calibrated outlook on the state of my life.
I have, and might always be, a “planner” (aka control freak). I like to be able to explain, predict, and prepare for future events (which might also be why I have fallen in love with epidemiology, a science based on explaining and predicting complex phenomenon). In Grade 10, I won the Career Studies award, and I was “that kid” in the guidance counselor’s office in the first month of grade 9 saying “I want to do ___. How can I get there?” I have always had a plan (and a plan B, C, and Q).
Until recently, I have always viewed my future-orientation as a great strength; this perspective has allowed me to work towards some pretty exceptional opportunities. However, 2014 has so far been an exercise in finding buckets of uncertainty that I am not able to control, really important pieces of my life that I can’t “nail down” and plan. And honestly, this has been driving me to the brink of madness!!
I have started to realize that my obsessive need to plan and control might not be the best thing, and in fact, may be related to an underlying pathology and a struggle with anxiety. In my reading about generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), I found this description: that people with GAD deploy capacities to constantly search for clues of potential future losses, thus leading to the failure to enjoy life or to live in the present moment (1).
So in all my planning for my next step, in my chasing after the unicorn of certainty, I have not been able to drink in the nectar of life, to enjoy the great things in my life, to find contentment. Also, when I have been channeling my energies to future events, I have not been able to concentrate my attention on the actual task at hand (*ahem* thesis).
As tacky as it is, I have come to a serenity prayer-style realization: that there are a bunch of things that I just can’t control right now BUT there are a couple things that I can. By concentrating on the things that I can actually do something about, I can both move forward with my life, and also re-discover my bliss.
So I am planning to be more flexible, by embracing the short-term contract world, realizing the unique opportunity that these contracts afford for me to:
(a) get my thesis done (through arranging for a 4 day work week!)
(b) do awesome things (asking for a couple big chunks of time off to have lovely adventures).
And for now, this is excellent.
So maybe I won’t be triumphantly riding out of this month (and this degree) on a sparkly unicorn of permanent work, but maybe that is OK. Perhaps a little uncertainty creates the space for a lot of wonder and maybe even joy.
Slow down you crazy child
You’re so ambitious for a juvenile
But then if you’re so smart tell me,
Why are you still so afraid? hmmmm?
– Billy Joel
Tiny Lovely Observations
A few points from outside the mean of daily life; a sparkle that darts out of the standard deviation and dares to make life a tiny bit more beautiful.
1. Mueller EM, Nguyen J, Ray WJ, Borkovec TD. Future-oriented decision-making in Generalized Anxiety Disorder is evident across different versions of the Iowa Gambling Task. J Behav There Exp Psychiatry. 2010 Jun;41(2):165-71.