The Poky Little Hustler

I'll get there, just on my own time

The Poky Little Hustler | APW

Hustle. It’s been talked about at length here on APW, what it means to be a hustler: the drive, the well of pure rage that fuels you. Merriam Webster defines hustle as a transitive verb, meaning to move or work in a quick or energetic way.

That is so not me.

Flipping through the highlights of my life, you would see someone who does not fit the definition of hustle. Growing up, my nickname was Poky, and for good reason. I talked slowly. I walked slowly. Everything I did, I did at a snail’s pace. For awhile, teachers tried to explain my pace as ADHD: I couldn’t help it, I just got so caught up in how many things there are to look at, smell, or touch when walking down the hallway between class and recess that I couldn’t be counted on to pay attention to how quickly lines moved. But that reasoning didn’t mesh well with the fact that I could concentrate just fine on a given task, and was pretty much the opposite of hyper. Still, my sedate pace singled me out as an educational risk: I would not keep up with the class, I would fall behind, and I would fail, eventually, because of my inability to move at the same high speed as my classmates.

And so, at the hands of my mother (if I were the tortoise, she would be the cheetah) and others the work began to mold me into someone who could at least move a little faster than average. I had time limits for nearly everything, and I rarely met them, but over time I did learn to be a little more efficient in weaker subjects. I never ended up falling behind in school—on the contrary, in most subjects I was better than average. Not exemplary, but better. But one thing that has remained constant: I never saw myself as a hustler. I never believed I was all that ambitious. That fast moving, grab opportunity and hold on for dear life kind of person that will jump at a chance and then fight tooth and nail to turn that chance into something? It still isn’t me.

The person that I am is the diligent worker. I have always excelled at the seemingly mundane tasks, and my efficiency with my time makes that excellence notable. In any workplace, I’ve always become the proofreader, or the person that people practices their pitches on. Where people look at a forest and see only the forest, I see the forest and point out all the birds in the trees. I’m an observer, and I’m fucking good at it. I’m good at dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. Not necessarily in a copy editor way, but in a connect the dots of life and make sense of things way. In short, as Meg and Maddie put it, I’m good at being a second banana. Or a third banana!

But being a second or a third banana also meant being singled out, yet again, as someone who wasn’t “ambitious.” I always dreaded being called into a manager’s office to talk about “my future.” In the corporate world, graphic designers have a fairly limited ladder if all they want to do is design work. You can be junior, mid-level, or senior, and that means a different thing based on the size of the company. After that, you go into the field of management, leaving behind some of the design work as you go. I’m fine with managing people, but it gives me no great joy to do it. This pegged me as a non-starter. I can show you reviews from several different managers that all say the same thing. Lucy is diligent. A hard worker, and very amiable. But. She has no ambition. She doesn’t work to make herself a part of the company (I still don’t know what that’s supposed to mean), so she needs to work on that.

For a while, I accepted these reviews. Climbing corporate ladders or running my own company never made it to my life list. The things that did make it: reading 1,000 books (I probably already have, but I want to list them now and see how many I read in my adult lifetime), or creating some ridiculous number of paintings. Iterative goals, that will take me months or years of dedication to a seemingly mundane task like reading or painting.

It wasn’t until watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi that I fully realized not all ambition looks the same. For so long I believed that the drive which shot people forward like they’d exploded out of a cannon was the only one available, and I was just that person who didn’t really want to be shot out of a cannon. I am not a person who scrambles up the mountain as fast as possible, racing against some ticking clock or another person next to me. My drive is a slow burning thing, an ember where others might have a bonfire. What I was lacking, though, was a mentor who looked like me. So I started looking. Not at the people on the thirty under thirty list (or twenty under twenty, and I’m sure one of these days we’re going to get all the way down to ten under ten), but at people who were simply diligent. People who worked like I work:

“I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.” — Jiro Ono

I’ll always want to do just a bit more, and that is where my hustle lives: inside that desire to improve myself. It’s a hustle that isn’t fast or flashy, but it’s there.

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  • This sounds really familiar. I did get diagnosed a few years back with ADHD primarily inattentive (I’m definitely not hyperactive at all) but back in school, I was just a pokey, goes-at-her-own-pace daydreamer. My sister, who also lacks the burning drive to climb any ladders, recently took a personality test which said she was ideally suited to working in special ed (which we both do) because her laid back personality makes her patient with kids who make glacial progress. So we’re not slackers! We’re just made for doing a job where hustle happens at a snail’s pace.

  • Juanita

    “For so long I believed that the drive which shot people forward like
    they’d exploded out of a cannon was the only one available, and I was
    just that person who didn’t really want to be shot out of a cannon. I am
    not a person who scrambles up the mountain as fast as possible, racing
    against some ticking clock or another person next to me. My drive is a
    slow burning thing, an ember where others might have a bonfire.”This. So much. This is why I love A Practical Wedding. I connected with almost every word you said. I have such a fierce passion for the things I do, even though my aspirations aren’t especially “ambitious” and while I am still sorting out what I’m doing with the rest of my life (graduating in May) I also know that I’m not seeking to race up the mountains and clamber to the top. Meandering around and investing in the valley of the mountain really works for me.

    • Cathi

      “Meandering around and investing in the valley of the mountain really works for me.”

      These mountain metaphors are just killing it. This is so great.

  • lady brett

    this is wonderful!

  • Price of Tea

    I LOVED Jiro Dreams of Sushi! Definitely the best watch instantly option on Netflix.

    • Laura C

      Adding to my watch list… We’ve talked about watching it a few times and I don’t know why we haven’t. Especially given that A’s desire to watch food-related movies is such that we’ve watched Today’s Special three times in 13 months.

      • Rebekah

        I really enjoyed “Haute Cuisine” if you’re into the foodie movies.

        • I’ll add that one to my list. Jiro Dreams of Sushi was amazing!

  • Lauren

    Wow, this post made me realize that there ARE different types of ambition and hustle. My brother has always been considered the “driven” one (because he’s climbed the corporate ladder with a fervor that hasn’t been matched in my family), but, dangit, I am driven, too! I’ve got the Sunday afternoon drive :)

  • Stephanie B.

    Thank you. I needed to read this SO MUCH. Some of my closest friends from high school and college (I’m in my early 40s) are VPs, CFOs, division directors, etc. I am not, nor have I ever wanted that. EVER. And not wanting to climb the corporate ladder and fit into that mode of “success” makes me feel like a failure. A dual failure, really: once for not doing it, and yet again for not even wanting it.

    In a way, it’s like not wanting kids: my whole life, people told me of course I would want them, I’m a woman, obviously I’ll want to be a mother. I’m 42, and I’ve never wanted kids. But I sure want to want them, if that makes sense, because it’s what I’m “supposed” to do.

    In the same way, I wish I wanted to be a corporate go-getter, racing up the career ladder. But I only wish I wanted it because I’m “supposed” to want it.

    • KC

      What you’re “supposed” to want can mess you up so much. Augh.

      Even weirder: There have occasionally been areas of life where I pushed back hard enough against what I was “supposed” to want (because I knew *that* wasn’t what I wanted, or sometimes just out of sheer I-don’t-know-what-I-want-yet-quit-shoving-me stubbornness) that I’m not even entirely sure what I actually want in those areas anymore; saying “just because I’m supposed to want it doesn’t mean I actually want it!” enough times also doesn’t mean you maybe don’t want it or won’t want it. I guess: it messes you up if you internalize the supposed-to-wanting, and it messes you up farther if you oppose the supposed-to-wanting, internalize that, and *also* internalize the supposed-to-wanting. Confusion.

      • Yep. Add in all the internalizing of supposed to and the rebellion of who you are and throw in a dash of fear, procrastination, being told you were smart when you were a kid but now what are you, social expectations, need to pay rent, need to buy food, and….
        I feel sick.

        • KC


        • Sarah

          I hear you!!

    • Meg Keene

      I talk about this a lot, but the weird thing about moving up the ladder (so to speak) is you have to want to, and be good at (well, hopefully), being a manager. And the thing about being a manager, is you do the actual work less. Which is weird. Like, our cultural idea of success means doing less of the work. My dad is a mathematician, who’s brilliant at math, but not a manager type. It’s so weird to me to think that in theory he didn’t “move up the ladder” in corporate work, because he kept a job where he… did a lot of high level math. But I happen to be good at interpersonal relationships, so that’s more rewarded than being a genius at math? It’s so damn illogical. (Or, in another iteration, if I had all the same core skills that I have, but was good at computer science, not writing, I’d be a zillionare-ish. Why?)

      Which is to say, the things that our culture rewards with money and status don’t necessarily make any sense.

      • Louise

        Yep. The only thing I am good at is teaching. I teach kids to read, write, and understand math. I teach them to reflect, consider multiple viewpoints, have empathy, ask questions… If I cared this much and worked this hard at designing apps or making money, I would be…making more money.

      • Stephanie B.

        Like many people, I’ve had managers who were terrible at managing. In my case, it was mostly because their primary duty was the actual work (editing), but due to expanded staff, *someone* had to supervise the new staff. And it’s really frustrating to have a manager who is horrible at managing; having worked in that scenario, I absolutely see the value in someone who is good at managing! But it’s weird how “becoming a manager” = “success” but (in your dad’s example) “brilliant at high-level math” /= “success” (in those terms).

        • Meg Keene

          Funny story: my dad was never a big fan of managers ;)

          Which is now weird, because I grew up thinking managers were… not so great, and now I am one. I’m old enough and experienced enough now to get WHY though.

          • KC

            My favorite managers:
            1. handled the difficult ground where expectations (of workers or projects) meet reality (of what can actually be accomplished), basically being a buffer between higher-up and workers
            2. knew their people and their capabilities and matched projects to them as well as possible (and noted when it was not a good fit and semi-apologized for it)
            3. got the tools their people needed into their hands, whether that was information or actual physical stuff or five minutes in person with the person who wanted the project done
            so that the people doing things could… do what they do. It was magic.

            Of course, that primarily describes *one* working experience. Ahem.

            Separately, I don’t think I could be a manager, since managers also have to fire people sometimes, and sometimes don’t have enough autonomy to accomplish all the things listed above. (and, frankly, my very favorite manager quit after a number of years managing, because he wanted to Do The Stuff again. He was a *brilliant* manager, but it’s just not a very nice job for most people. I expect that some lousy managers start not being very good at it, and some burn out to it, and some rare gems can be good at management all the way through, getting the best out of their workers [which I think requires some degree of actively shielding them from people who would otherwise be sucking their blood, etc.].)

          • Sarah

            “My favorite managers:… 2. knew their people and their capabilities and matched projects to them as well as possible”
            This has improved my experience of coming to work each day by 1000%. In the first couple of years, I didn’t enjoy work much because of a mismatch between my skills and the projects that I worked on, and it seemed I was always overlooked when it came to allocating staff to new projects. I knew that I had potential to do go work, but I felt invisible. Eventually I got a new manager, and everything changed. I got the opportunity to work on projects that utilized my skills, and this meant other people in the branch started to notice me. I’m not that ambitious and don’t need people telling me how amazing I am all the time, but the fact the people do now seem to notice my work means I continue to get more work that keeps me engaged. Basically all of this is to say that people management and being able to understand your workers is highly under-rated.

        • emfish

          I feel like this specific issue has become the major theme of my career in my 30s. In my ideal world, there would be two totally valid career paths in a field, one of which allows you to become an expert (someone who is incredibly good and very experienced at the doing/making part of the business) or a manager (someone who is really good at facilitating the doers and the makers and helping them work together). And, ideally, all the managers would also have some experience with the doing and making so that they understand the nuts and bolts of how things happen. So that’s my ideal.

          Here is my reality: management is always the goal, and doing/making is always considered the thing you do until you are “good enough” to manage others. Also, lots of managers enter the workforce as managers because they are consultants or have MBAs or other educational qualifications (this is particularly true in DC, where people tend to rely too much on credentials as proof of competence, instead of experience). This means that in pretty much every job I’ve ever had, I’ve had to deal with a lot of managers who may or may not be good at the thing I’m doing, and may or may not be good at the job of managing. The result is chaos. I constantly have to explain what I do to the people I work for. They often have funamentally poor management skills, making me spend more of my time self-managing (and less time becoming an expert at doing/making). And my pay has stagnated over the last 5 years because I’m a doer/maker, not a manager, even in jobs where my manager isn’t managing me at all.

          There has to be a better system. Or, you know, an actual system.

    • Class of 1980

      If you cave in and do what you’re “supposed” to do, without any passion for it, people will start noticing your lack of passion and the whole thing will backfire.

      My niece was encouraged to move up in her company, but it would have meant interacting with the public. She stubbornly refused to do something she hated. Her company found a way where her talents could be utilized without her having to do the parts she hated. They created a hybrid position for her. She was valuable enough to them that they paid to have her moved to the Chicago area where she could shine.

      Knowing herself and sticking to her guns was the key to her success.

      • I totally agree. Trying to do something that you’re supposed to do, will only make you miserable and still unsuccessful.

  • jashshea

    ZING. Don’t confuse hustling (being so ambitious that sparks fly off of you) with “the hustle” (being a plotting, careful, hard worker).

    • Meg Keene

      Funny, I’d actually also make the opposite argument. Don’t confuse the sparks flying off a hustler with the fact that they are doing the careful hard drudge work of hustling. In my book, that’s what makes a hustler. People with the privilege to skip the drudge work are another breed.

  • Laura C

    This makes so much sense to me, and helped me move a step in thinking about my own lack of hustle. I’d frame the conclusion I’m coming to about myself somewhat differently, but it has definite points in common: I want a well-rounded life. I want my career to be good enough and myself to exercise often enough and to cook more meals than I get delivered and have time to read some books and go out with friends. I don’t want to reshuffle my entire life around getting the most of one of those things — the meals I cook are only rarely elaborate, I go to the gym 3-4 times a week but just for like 30 minutes of cardio and 10 minutes of lifting, etc. Not training for a triathlon or trying to cook all the things in the Eric Ripert and Thomas Keller cookbooks my fiance is forever drunk-buying. But it does have in common the sense that a life goal doesn’t have to be a RIGHT NOW kind of thing or something with a definite concrete payoff.

    • Balance. My husband works in a triathalon based shop. His customers are primarily people with money, power AND time to train for a triatholon. Who are these people, how do they get there, and what are their priorities anyway???

      • Laura C

        You know, I had a boss who had a fairly high-powered career in progressive/labor/environmental advocacy, had kids that he actually had a relationship with and took care of, played in a band, and also did triathlons. It helped that while his career was for serious, it was also in progressive organizations with a fairly sane work culture and generous vacation policies, but I have no idea how he did it. He would bike to work, so that was part of his training, but…yeah. Actually, that organization had at least one other person like that: very solid career, amazing cook, and a photographer who has a book of his extremely viral pictures of himself and his daughter coming out soon. I have no clue; maybe they just didn’t need to sleep much?

      • Sarah E

        The one person I know who does amateur triathlon racing does with a full-time job and little kids. Which means he gets up at ungodly hours to train before the household wakes up and he has to go to work, trains on his lunch hour, and from my understanding, his non-work time is either family or training.

      • Meg Keene

        The formula that I’ve seen over time is: bust your ass for money and power, and then the smart members of the group that make it use that money and power to do things they want. (Which in theory, is the whole point of attaining money and power, right? We just forget the second part.)

      • Victwa

        I’m an ultrarunner with a full time job and a 21 month old and 2 stepkids. I think it’s really about prioritizing what you want to do. We don’t go wine tasting on the weekends or to museums– we figure out kid activities and runs and that’s usually the weekend. During the week it’s really managing time and making space for things that are important. I’ll go for a run in the afternoon and then work an hour later in the evening when the kids are in bed. I don’t know that it’s like hours of time all of a sudden open up– it’s really about making the hours you have work for what you want them to. I was very inspired years ago when I read about Julia Cameron talking about how she wrote a book as a single mom with a full time job– she just got really good at using the time she had.

    • Meg Keene

      Also, I think that’s not incompatible with a more driven kind of hustle (not that a person needs to have that, just that there is an ideal that it’s incompatible). I’ve always been hungry for it partially because I wanted to get out, and get somewhere happier. I’ve busted my ass to try to get a life with balance, and you can bet I’m trying to enjoy that balance now. I hung out with the baby in the hammock for awhile this morning then took him to school and settled in for the work grind.

      I just wanted to throw into the conversation that I think it’s important for those of us burdened with a lot of ambition, to find a way to mix that with balance.

      • Laura C

        Maybe that’s a key ingredient of hustle: having something you wanted to get out of. Whether it be economic or emotional or whatever else.

  • Jacky Speck

    I like this post a lot, and it sounds just like me. It’s why I hate those “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” interview questions: if I don’t say something to the effect of “I want to run this whole place!” it always feels like I’ve answered incorrectly. But I know so many people who started at the bottom of their company ladder, currently “run the whole place,” and are now completely miserable because they’re not doing what they love. I’d much rather keep doing what I enjoy and perfect the art than chase after more “lofty” goals that I don’t really want.

    I used to work at a company where every young engineer was encouraged to enroll in a company-sponsored program training them to be “leaders” (i.e., high-level managers). People seemed to forget that there can only be so many high-level managers, and you need so-called “followers” to do real engineering work. Besides that, not everyone is happy being a leader. I wish ambitions like “I want to be really, really good at my current job” were celebrated more often.

    • lady brett

      “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

      true story: when i was 17 i had an art assignment to illustrate the answer to that question. 3 agonizing hours later, i ended up turning in a completely blank page because i couldn’t think of *anything* (it was a bad day at art school).

      • How are you supposed to know anything at 17?

        • Jacky Speck

          I like that asking 17-year olds “where do you want to be in 5 years?” encourages them to think about the future, but it should be framed to get them thinking about POSSIBILITIES instead of absolutes.

          I remember being told in high school that I should think really, really carefully about my college major because “you’re going to be doing it for the rest of your life.” That’s really scary for someone that age (and also not necessarily true).

          • And maybe at one time what you chose to do for college was what they thought you’d do for the rest of your life, but I don’t think that’s true for most people now. At this point, college is what you do for your education, not for your career, at least in the humanities.
            I understand that adults want kids to take these things seriously, but for those of us that take things seriously already, this kind of framing just scares us into doing nothing. Like lady brett turning in a blank page. I didn’t know then, I had some rough ideas that were way off but, maybe if my teachers had HELPED me think about these things I would have been better off.

          • megep

            An econ teacher in high school went on a big rant about savings and investing one day, telling our class we needed to start early, etc etc. All good advice! All true! And probably, for the kids who wouldn’t have thought of it otherwise, something they needed to hear. But for a kid who was (is?) obsessed with being “responsible” and having a plan, already had anxiety about money (hard not to when you see your parents agonize over bills), this caused me to come home and collapse on my bed, sobbing and panicking. My mom asked me what was wrong, and at the oh so young age of 16, I screamed, “I don’t have a Roth IRA yet and so I will NEVER retire and I’ll die poor on the streets.” I don’t remember her reaction, but I’m pretty sure it involved her trying to reassure me while trying not to laugh.

            And yes, I still have anxiety over money. Luckily my husband is very good at helping me see things more rationally.

          • Ha! I can imagine. I’ve always been pretty worried about money. I still am. While I am currently living paycheck to paycheck, I still have some savings. And while I may not be contributing to my savings right now, I’m doing everything I can not to touch it. Sometimes I think I should touch it more, because how will I ever get to see Italy if I don’t just go, but right now, that can’t happen.

          • megep

            YES! My husband recently made up a new budget. I started a new job a few months ago, so he waited til we’d gotten used to the new paychecks, commuting costs, etc…and when he told me how much we had left at the end of each month, I felt sick. And then he told me that wasn’t a small amount! I just have such a skewed sense of money. As APW has discussed before, it’s so hard to manage your money in ways that both empower you to make bold moves and provide you with the sense of security you need.

            Add in trying to build a professional life that meets both your own and society’s measures of success and it is a goddamned miracle I can even put my shoes on the right feet.

    • Kayjayoh

      I have taken to answering that question with something along the lines of not limiting my future thinking based on where I am now, because opportunities come along and, when taken, can completely change the plotting. I am always in a completely difference place from where I thought I would be 5 years previously, and I am learning from that trend.

      • I just read an article on Monster about how to answer the 5 year question. The “expert” said that in 5 years you are supposed to be continuing the growth and learning in the same position, not to say that you want management or something else entirely. What is that? So, we’re not supposed to say we’re ambitious, but we won’t get hired unless we prove we are? WTF?

    • sara g

      Yeah, I work in banking, and sometimes I feel really stuck because I’ll only be able to get decent pay if I get promoted to a manager. But I don’t WANT to be a manager, I hate the management environment here and all the corporate B.S. and I can mostly avoid it in the position I’m in now. But I feel like no one even knows I exist, or cares about what I do, even though I am literally the only person in this entire bank who does my job and knows how to do it, and if I decided to quit they’d be screwed.

      My boss is really cool, though, and listens to my suggestions and I feel like she gives me a voice. But again, it’s only through her (because she’s a VP, people listen) that I can make any difference. And honestly she’s told me that even she has trouble getting listened to, because the Really Really Important People only listen to other Really Really Important People and it becomes a giant echo chamber.

      Ah, gotta love the corporate world.

  • Sharon Gorbacz

    I tend to prefer being part of the supporting cast than being the star of the show. I am not sure I want to move into a management role, but that’s what “promotion” means around here.

    • Meg Keene

      As someone who runs a theatre company, so to speak, can I just sing the praises of supporting cast? The show does not go on without Lucy.

      • The key is working for someone like you, who realizes that. Thank you for being that boss.

  • Diane Day

    I can def relate to this. Lately I’ve felt like I had just enough ambition to get through law school and pass the bar. Now I have a legal job that’s not practicing law and rarely requires me to stay past 5 and while I don’t make as much money as some of my friends and haven’t made any impressive accomplishments like winning a trial or something, I’m kind of like “It’s really nice having my evenings be mine own and not be crazy stressed all the time.” I feel kind of bad about this as it feels like I used to have more drive and I’m suppose to still have that, but I just don’t right now. Maybe someday I’ll feel driven to do something else but I’m pretty happy just plodding along.

    • sara g

      Right? I’m also in the legal field (at a bank though) and I work 8:00 – 4:30, always have weekends free, and my boss is awesome. Sure, I don’t make a bazillion dollars, and I wish I had more say in the company (because no one listens to the peons on my level), but work stuff gets to stay at work and when I get home I get to do home stuff like play with the kitties or cook dinner with my fiance or kill things in Guild Wars.

      • What’s wrong with wanting that schedule?? Time for yourself, your personal stuff? Awesome!

    • Not anything as strenuous as law school, but I definitely ran myself ragged in high school. By the time I got to college, I just could not push myself to do much past meeting the requirements to graduate. Finally, after like 6 years of sitting back, I can feel that drive coming back to me. So, you know, it IS possible that it will happen again for you, too. But if not, of course that’s fine as well :-).

      • NicoleT

        That’s exactly how I feel right now! I pushed myself through high school, semi-pushed myself through college, and then my work ethic just died. I’m glad to read that your drive is coming back to you; it gives me more hope for my future (my drive is still out there somewhere…I think).

      • Diane Day

        Glad to hear it does come back. Sometimes I’ll get the feeling that I want to do something more but I haven’t figured out what exactly ‘something more’ is for me yet. More intellectual? More exciting? I think part of my problem is that I accomplished what I set out to do and its not really clear what I should do now

    • Meg Keene

      I mean, that’s the dream right? I feel like we Americans forget that is the dream. That’s what you actually worked FOR, amIright? (That’s what I worked for…)

  • Class of 1980

    I relate to this. I notice 1000 details and how they fit together. I’m an INTP on the Myer Briggs. INTPs are not known for creating businesses and they are a tiny percent of the population. I feel “different” because I am different.

    Luckily, our business allows for my personality. I have other things I want to do business wise where I’m pretty sure my personality will shine. I know myself, my strengths and weaknesses enough to have figured out exactly the places where I need to be.

    I have made peace with not being the classic hustler. The hustler will “get it done”, but there are important things the hustler misses that could compromise their hard work. We need different types working together!

    • Louise

      I was just about to write a comment about the Myers-Briggs and how I’ve learned that I am more of an observer who needs to really percolate ideas before acting on them (thus lacking a typical “hustle”). Yep, I’m an INTP. I am working to grow in my field and see myself as a potential peer leader and mentor (technically I am those things now, but not very successfully), and I am still figuring out how to leverage my strengths and compensate for my weaknesses in order to do that. I do agree though — INTPs offer a unique perspective that is easy for the more efficiency-minded to overlook.

    • Erin E

      Another INTP (tips glass for celebratory toast)!! Interesting how we’re all relating to this…

    • Also an INTP. The Myer Briggs test continues to impress me with its ability to suss out personalities.

      • Class of 1980

        Your post immediately made me think “INTP!!!” ;)

    • Sara P

      Another INTP here :)

    • jashshea

      ENTP for me, but the definitions here are fairly close:

      Likes puzzles, seems detached to others, likes to argue/discuss.

      • Class of 1980

        “The INTP mailing list, with a readership now in triple figures, was
        in its incipience fraught with all the difficulties of the Panama canal:
        we had trouble deciding:

        whether or not there should be such a group,
        exactly what such a group should be called, and
        which of us would have to take the responsibility for organization and maintenance of the aforesaid group/club/whatever”

        That kinda says it all. ;)

        I’m also not surprised that such a minority type would have higher representation on APW. It’s all about analysis for an INTP.

    • Kara

      I’m an ISTJ, and I’m very strong in each category. While I was driven to get the best grades and do all the activities in high school and university, once I got into the “real” world, I no longer felt that level of ambition was necessary.

      I have to do my job, and do it well. I get things done, manage details, and organize the crap out of what I have to do for my projects. I take pride in getting my sh*t done. It may not be the most innovative, but it’s got to get done in a timely manner. Also, I have to manage people–which is tough, because I don’t want to interact with them most of the time.

      We get yearly appraisals, but we don’t get grades, so I don’t feel that drive to be the utmost, best, etc.
      Plus, I work with 85% – 90% solutions, so perfection is not required—yay!

      • Jess

        ISTJ Fistbump, although I’m on the slight I side. I love people, but they drain me out. Other than that, exactly. I get my sh*t done, done on time, and with all the check marks. But I am not innovative, and that’s ok.

    • INFP :)

  • This is so me. But I wish I had the focus that Jiro has with his sushi. I have always felt like, if I don’t decide on one thing then I can’t accomplish anything, but I’m looking at the big picture. I’m looking at the forest with the birds in the trees. What am I accomplishing? I’m not sure. In the last year, I did a timeline for my life, and looking at it like that, I’ve accomplished a lot! But I need to do this again for the last year. Create mile markers for myself, recognize my progress!
    Honestly Lucy, when I’ve read your bio, I thought you’ve accomplished so much! In fact, will you be my mentor? No really, your lit degree and your graphic design work… (I have a creative writing degree and I’m teaching myself graphic design very very slowly). And I’m a diligent worker. A solid, sometimes slow, but definitely moving forward, diligent worker.

    • Sure! I can’t promise much, but I respond to emails and I love to ramble. Maybe that’s how mentors start off anyway. Technically, my degree is just in art with a focus on design. For everything else, I stumbled into it by way of moving forward, so you’re on the right track in my book. ;)

      • I’m sooooo going to email you. You can always ignore it. ;)

      • Ever since I wrote that first comment, I’ve been thinking about what kind of mentors people really need. Do people like us need each other as mentors? Or do we need super driven people like Meg? I admit, I often find myself comparing myself to the driven ambitious people and wonder what is wrong with me. Reading the other comments, that seems to be the case for a lot of us second bananas. What does everyone else think about mentors?

        • Meg Keene

          YOU GUYS ARE PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER. Seriously. You should totally be a team.

          • Welp, Meg yelled at us, so now it has to happen! (If history has anything to say about it)

          • OhMyGoooood, I just sent you the most rambliest email into your And She Loves You email box. And now I’m pretty embarrassed and mildly concerned that it will be sucked into the internet ether.
            Did I mention that I am very tired and today is day 11 of working 14 days in a row?

          • Sarah E

            Only 3 days to go!!!

  • Julia

    I would just like to say that I love, love, LOVE how many great posts there are on APW (like this one!) about career. And married life, and kids, but mostly career since that’s what’s top of mind for me personally right now.

    I first discovered APW during my pre-engaged days, became an addicted reader during my engagement and wedding planning, and now that I’m a married lady I still keep coming back precisely because of posts like this. Thank you so much APW! I’m probably going to be a devoted reader until I’m a cranky little old lady. :)

    • me too!!!

    • Stephanie B.

      Same here!

  • Ant

    Yes to all of this. I am currently stuck having to decide where to move next in regard to my career as a graphic designer.

    After 5 years of self-employment I realised that I am just not made for this way of life (oh the joys of bureaucracy and self-motivation!). So where does that leave me, being over 30 and accordingly moving towards that ominous borderline of turning 40, beyond which every properly ambitious graphic designer becomes a corporate manager or their own boss? What happens to the rest of them? They just seem to disappear.

    Actually, I‘m not even sure how important I want my work life to be in the bigger picture. Sometimes I think that „success“ is overrated, other times I feel guilty for not being that [insert fancy job title here] with a large income.

    At the moment I only want to keep working as a graphic designer, because that is what I am really good at. My hope is to find a job in a nice little company where I am allowed to play my strengths and by that eventually find out what my own next level looks like.

    • Erin E

      Yep. Totally agree with you – another designer here. I just decided not to interview for an open management position at my company because it would shift my workload from “all design” to “some design + lots of organizational management.” Yuck. I got into this field because I love art and creation – that’s what I’m good at. I’m not so great at tracking spreadsheets. But sometimes it seems like the only way to advance is to either own your own agency (which takes all kinds of hours and hustle) or wind your way up through corporate management.

      I fear I’ll be making 40k for the rest of my life at a mid-level designer job… but it’s what I LIKE to do! And I also feel sad that my skillset happens to be one of the lower-paying ones out there. Why do we celebrate/reward some skills so much higher than, say, art and teaching?? Sigh.

      • megep

        I will be making around 40K (plus or minus a bit) for my career. No question. I feel your pain.

        Hooray public librarianship and disappearing municipal budgets! (I love my job, but seriously please start lobbying your elected officials and telling them how important libraries are to your communities. Thank you.)

  • Lauren I

    This post could not have come at a better time for me. I needed to read this.

    Coming from a successful family with a corporate executive for a father, I was always told that being good at your career meant always striving to climb, climb, climb that ladder. So I threw myself at it within my field, hot a master’s degree, and finally worked my way into one of those coveted manager positions–with my own office and everything.

    And you know what? I don’t like it. I really, really don’t like it. I miss doing the so-called grunt work that it is now my job to dole out and delegate, and dread the time-management and worker-efficiency analysis that now makes up the brunt of my daily work. I really don’t like, because I am now a leader, I’m expected to put in long hours and skip my lunch, because I am supposed to lead by example and having a skewed work-life balance is apparently what good leaders do.

    But as I watch my fellow master’s program grads rise to ever-higher positions at corporate behemoths, trying to convince myself that I’m not professionally “broken” because I enjoy working as an “underling” keeps getting harder and harder. My family thinks I’m nuts because I recently applied for a lower-level (read: non-manager) position at a company in my dream industry, because it will inevitably mean a pay cut and, of course, a resume setback. But I know that’s where I belong and where I’ll be happy, and now I know to own it instead of be quietly embarrassed of it.

    • Go for what makes you happy!!!

    • jashshea

      I don’t think you’re crazy! I’m took a different path, but am where you are. I manage people and it’s…fine? This is my second go-round as a manager – I begged out after 14 months the first time – and I also miss the grunt work. The funny part is I actually LIKE leading people in an unofficial capacity (being the expert, helping people out of ruts, avoiding conflicts, etc), but actual management feels like such drudgery.

  • Sara

    Recently I interviewed for an administrative assistant position and the interviewer (the COO of the company) asked me what kind of job I would like. I honestly said that I like being the person behind the scenes, the one keeping the ship on track. I equated it to when I stage managed at my community theatre – I love details and keeping notes, making sure everyone is where they need to be. I don’t mind being strong when I need to be, but I’d rather leave the stage for someone else. The guy said ‘that sounds a lot like what I do! I run the meetings but I’m basically making sure everyone is doing what they need to and be where they need to be.”

    It was literally the first time someone has told me that my interests align with something more than administrative assistant. I thought I was going to be stuck in admin land forever, and now have to seriously reevaluate things.

    • Lauren from NH

      Oooo….I may try to steal or repurpose that metaphor. That’s super. Also though my mom makes 4 times what I make, she says her job is actually very similar to mine, keeping things running smoothly and client relations are huge. Behind the scenes juggling is just as important as front of house.

    • Interesting… Actually, I do think Admin is similar to Management, it isn’t a specialty work expertise, it’s an all around get things done. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in certain industries, like hospital, Administrator is actually the top person. My last title was Project Administrator – occasionally people thought that meant I was in charge. That was always nice.

    • Sarah E

      My cousin, who is a development director of the Midwest region for a national nonprofit, said much the same thing- that being a leader was really about letting your people shine and use their skills and giving them the tools to succeed, not always being the idea person yourself.

    • Meg Keene

      You know, that’s the good part of being an admin assistant. And high level administrative assistants make **a lot of money**, with really good hours. Don’t let anyone fool you on that. When I was admin in an investment bank, the top admins made lawyer level salaries without lawyer level jobs. I worked assisting about five guys, and also running a department. I was good at it, and there were parts of it I really really enjoyed. Also, I got to listen to a lot of This American Life while doing expense reports.

      So anyway, while it’s not typically prestigious, it’s a damn good career, particularly if you can get into a high paying field.

      • Sara

        I currently spend most of my time doing reports and listening to This American Life, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Freakanomics Radio and How Did This Get Made. Podcasts make the time fly by.
        I don’t mind the admin career path, but I thought I was stuck in the lower levels of it. I’m just starting to realize that there are so many more levels than I knew of and that I am actually qualified for!

    • Beth R

      Yes! It took me a long time to realize that “behind the scenes” is exactly where I want to be. Growing up, I always wanted to audition for the plays, but when it came down to it, I found it far too stressful being out front and always ended up backstage on the crew. I love seeing what is happening behind the scenes in pretty much any circumstance – museums, zoos, movies – and it finally hit me that that’s where I want to be. I have no interest in being the face of a company or meeting with the big important people. I would much rather be the one who is quietly working hard in the background to keep things running. This really isn’t super compatible with “career growth” and I’ve struggled in all my jobs to find what that means for my chances at higher salaries, etc. My manager recently set a goal for me to take a leadership class, which I will totally do, but I do worry that that means she is grooming me for a role I probably have no interest in.

  • Emily

    There are so many comments here that have made me think “YES!” I couldn’t decide which one to reply to (so sorry, all! Your comments resonate).

    “I’m an observer, and I’m fucking good at it. I’m good at dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. Not necessarily in a copy editor way, but in a connect the dots of life and make sense of things way.”

    This describes me so well! I am the observer, to the extent that I can tell you where you left your coffee cup and how it came to be that only one of your shoes was tied. I just don’t know what to do with this… lately people keep saying “But what do you *want* ?” I don’t have a huge driving want.. or at least I don’t seem to. I want to mess around with my photographs and writing and watching people and commenting on the world as seems appropriate. Growing into myself.

    As a side note, I am an INFJ.

    • kari

      This is exactly me! Totally struggling with figuring out what I want to do/am passionate about and feeling like a bad egg for not having intense amounts of drive and motivation. And, I’m an INFJ. What do observers DO (besides, observe, of course)?

      • Emily

        My hope (I’m the same Emily as above) is that this observer writes down her observations in a way that connects with other people. I’m still trying to make that reality.

        I have been thinking about this post all day. I’m getting married for the first time–at age 37. This is also the first time that I’ve even considered getting married although I’ve had other serious relationships. It surprised me in the past when my peers got married. “Really? Already?” I thought. I didn’t feel anywhere near the right time in my life, even though people-most people- obviously get married much earlier than I am.

        All this to say, being a late bloomer feels very right to me and I’m hoping it works as far as career also. I have learned it takes me a long time to learn and understand something (from committed relationships to school subjects like chemistry), but when I do learn it, at my slow pace, I know it very well; at a deep level.

        I have to believe that slow (glacially slow) is okay.

  • Bets

    I’m in design as well. Isn’t it funny how designers are attracted to the design field because it’s creative, and yet those at the senior level do very little creative work? I actually know a lot of young designers who have no desire to get professional certification in my field for this reason. I don’t see this as unambitious at all, though — many talented designers don’t want to be managers because that doesn’t interest them, not for lack of ability. I think it’s more of a problem of a corporate office hierarchy than with individual ambition, and in smaller offices that I’ve worked in (where everyone, including junior designers, get to manage their own project, instead of having an office assembly line) the divide between manager vs. minion isn’t as great, and neither are the ego trips.

  • Audrey

    As someone currently struggling with “what is my long term career plan” at the moment, I really appreciate this article and all the comments. I’m solidly in the middle of my career, and specifically told my manager 6 months ago or so that I *don’t* want to manage. I enjoy most of what I’m currently doing!

    The weird thing is that I DO like thinking about the big picture, talking to the higher ups, going to meetings where I discuss things with them (I do web data analysis so there’s actually a lot of interaction with other people in the company). I just *really* don’t want to manage people and I don’t want to lose the part where I get to look at data and have insights! Basically that means my current job is perfect for me and it’s hard to see where I “should” be going from here. One option would be to eventually do my own consulting… but… I really LIKE working for a company. Hmmm.