The lost decade.
This is how I jokingly refer to the period that lasted from my mid-20s to my mid-30s. I was churning through different roles in different industries, and moving to different cities, all without any clear goal in mind. With each new role, I fully embraced the possibility that THIS. COULD. BE. IT: the thing I was going to do for the rest of my life. I was passionate but fleeting.
After graduating from university, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. As the years flew by, I was growing up, and I still didn’t know. When I was around 35, there was no seismic shift, but there began to be a more noticeable pattern in the work I did. I was still moving through industries; however, the roles were more closely associated with data. That was a bit of a shock for anyone who knows me as the gregarious, “let’s break out into a musical number,” ham-it-up-for-the-camera person that I am. Yet there I was. In fact, data had always been part of my professional life; I just didn’t recognize it.
Relieved that I had finally found my calling, I was determined to pursue data work head first.
Right into a brick wall
I spent the next decade building up expertise in a world that did not yet realize how important data was going to become. Whenever someone asked what I did, my reply was that I was a translator — I enabled IT and Business to understand one another. Of course, there was much more to it than that. I learned how to manage, operationalize, and monetize information, but saying things like that put people to sleep.
It was time for me to climb the corporate ladder in Data Management. What I didn’t understand was that my career compass was broken. I was pursuing someone else’s ideal corporate image of who I should be. I felt miserable, untethered from the work I was doing, checking boxes, and gaining no real satisfaction from doing so. I moved companies, hoping to regain the spark, but all I felt was empty.
This past January, I thought back on those years. My 45th birthday was fast approaching, and life was a lot different now. I felt energized to share words of encouragement for my fellow late bloomers, so I posted a short video in the hopes of inspiring them, and the feedback was joyous.
I know exactly how aimless it can feel when you are working without a clear goal, or how pointless it is to work towards a goal and achieve it only to realize that it gives you no satisfaction. This is especially challenging if you have people in your life that seem to know exactly what they want to do the minute they learn how to talk, and are so focused and driven that you cannot even relate to them.
Here’s what I want you to know about those aimless years:
I never stopped learning.
My experience was not built in one industry or one type of company. I was building up a suitcase full of experiences that I could unpack when the situation called for it.
My expertise was being crafted, and not only in data. I realized I was creating a reference library full of lessons learned in leadership, diversity, and change — especially change. Unfortunately, I had been blindly pursuing a corporate path that was not only unfulfilling; it didn’t permit me to make the most of this collection of experiences.
I set out on my own
I set out on my own and began sharing my stories — stories about successfully going rogue as a manager for the benefit of my team, but also how my inexperience once permitted inequity. I spoke of losing a colleague to cancer, about mistakes I had made as a woman working in the technology field, and of overcoming fear to stand up to the sexism of a senior leader. My professional life had its share of unfortunate moments, and moments that grew clear in hindsight. I hoped others might hear those experiences and avoid making the same mistakes. Sharing these stories resonated with many or stoked ire in others, but I just kept at it, and life changed.
Today, as a consultant, I still work primarily in data, but on my terms, and without the desire to climb, climb, climb. The corporate world is one I work with, not for. Over the past year, I have become a paid freelance writer, paid speaker, and best-selling author. I tapped into my natural aptitude for performing, combining it with four-plus decades of a unique life, and turned it into a new reality for myself.
So I say to anyone reading this who feels lost, or who is anxiously waiting for an opportunity to knock: Stop wondering when it will happen, just get busy building your expertise, figuring out how to tell your story (whether on stage or at the boardroom table or at your next job interview), and recognizing if checking those boxes is really satisfying for you. Then, and only then, will you be ready to make the leap when opportunity comes knocking at your door.
What is a late bloomer anyway, if not a successful person with loads of experience and expertise to back that success up?
Glendalynn Dixon guides business transformations focused on data strategy, leadership & change management. She is a bestselling author, speaker and mentor who champions women in technology and uses stories from her wild ride of a life to challenge preconceived notions. Glendalynn is a featured author sharing the story of finding her voice to create change in Carpe Diem
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