My first career came with many difficult choices. Working as a woman in the film/TV industry meant I was often the only woman in the room, a room that regularly resembled a high school locker room more than anything.
Sometimes the choices were seemingly small, like “Do I let this misogynistic joke slip by without saying anything?”
Other times I couldn’t see that there were options to choose from. Such as putting in extra hours without compensation when all my coworkers were doing it.
There were times when I was caught by such surprise, I couldn’t consciously make a choice. I recall one instance early on in my career. I was 21 and driving from L.A. to San Francisco for a documentary gig I had landed. The producer (who was an older, married man) put on a blues station and informed me that blues music always got him aroused. I nodded awkwardly before silently turning to stare out the window. What was I expected to do with that piece of information?!
Now many years older, I would have no problem changing the station to talk radio with a firm yet graceful comment about propriety. However, in that moment, all I could see was that I was going to be trapped with this guy for several days with no other way to get home and a rare opportunity to build my resume. In a catch-22 industry where you have to have experience to get experience, I was convinced I needed this job if I was ever going to make it. I didn’t want to “risk it” by “making a fuss.”
I was 21 and driving from L.A. to San Francisco for a documentary gig I had landed. The producer (who was an older, married man) put on a blues station and informed me that blues music always got him aroused. I nodded awkwardly before silently turning to stare out the window. What was I expected to do with that piece of information?!
Though I didn’t see it during these times, in reality I always had options, and the situations were never quite as complicated as I made them out to be. It can be tough to see that when we’re right in the middle of it though.
After a 12-year career with many more instances like these and two entrepreneurial endeavors, I have discovered a wonderfully simple tool for navigating decisions in work and every area of my life.
It all boils down to one truth, one question and one catch.
The truth: You are the only person responsible for your experience, your satisfaction, your life.
Yeah but Jace, you don’t understand. My circumstance is such that… fill in your excuses here. It may not be a pretty thing to say, but you, and you alone, are complicating everything with these excuses.
And believe me, I do understand. I have gone through the poorly timed emotional breakdown the morning of a big presentation only to have to pull it together, put a smile on and close the client. I’ve experienced major health issues, big moves, deaths and relationships torn apart. All while having to show up at work with my A-game and making sure no one was the wiser.
As women, I know so many of you share these experiences. I don’t put all of it out there because my laundry needs some airing, but to empathize with the many – sometimes seemingly impossible – circumstances that arise in life.
I stand by the simple truth that we are the only ones responsible for our career because we are the only ones who control the filter through which life is experienced. I realize that is a big responsibility, but it’s also a big privilege.
Now that we’ve gotten that sticky bit out of the way, let’s get down to the magic!
The question: Is this aligned with who I want to be, living the life I want to live?
When faced with a decision, I asked myself this simple question. The decision may be as little as “Do I partake in a slice of that birthday cake in the breakroom?” or as big as “Do I continue working for this employer?”
This is when people tend to want to complicate it with all those excuses and stories, we tell ourselves. Steer clear of that trap! Keep it simple (and don’t worry, there’s still that catch that will complicate it for you). This little question bypasses all the unnecessary worrying and gets right to that truth we talked about earlier. It is a powerful tool.
I’ll explain in more detail, but before you can use this deceptively simple tool, you have to address the catch.
The catch: In order to answer this question you have to know who you want to be and the life you want to live.
If you aren’t clear on this, you will have no compass to direct the question.
Once you know who you want to be and the life you want to live, you’ll know what to do in every situation. You will stand empowered in action for your experience, your satisfaction, your life. Without this, you will be a victim in reaction to whatever happens around you.
I stand by the simple truth that we are the only ones responsible for our career because we are the only ones who control the filter through which life is experienced.
This tool works for every decision, every circumstance and every relationship – including your colleagues and employers.
I absolutely know this notion can feel tricky when applied to work relationships.
Sometimes the only choice seems to be between the better of two evils.
Other times a choice may not appear to be present at all (even though it’s certainly there somewhere).
Still yet, there are times when it seems shocking that a situation has come up where you even have to make a choice – like riding shotgun in your boss’s car while sultry blues music plays and he gives you the eye.
No matter what the time brings, you will know what to do and who to include in your circle so long as you understand and prioritize who you want to be and the career you want.
In some cases, the change can be made right there on the spot. Jumping back to the cake in the breakroom, if you want to be an energized person living a healthy life, you’d choose to join in the camaraderie but skip the cake this time.
Other cases may call for some planning. For instance, if your current employer/job is not aligned with the career you want, living the life you want to live, you’d choose to start job hunting or preparing a business of your own.
Some cases may be murky. Perhaps you love your job but your officemate, Martin, is toxic. You find yourself making only negative comments by the end of the day, and you keep volunteering to watch your 3-year-old nephew hoping to pick up a virus so you can call in sick to work. This definitely isn’t aligned with the career you imagined, living the life you want to live.
So, you choose to meet with your boss to request an office move, or you choose to go for that promotion to get an office of your own, or you choose to frame Martin for murder to get at least a few weeks of solitude. Hey, this is a judgement-free zone – I’m just saying you’ve got options. There are always options.
Anyone or anything that does not align with who you want to be has to go. Period.
It may be uncomfortable, but it’s not complicated.
I share this with you as an invitation to consider that there is, indeed, an alternative to the status quo. You always have options, and you’re the only one who can do anything about them.
Wherever you are right now – whether sneaking a quick break from emails at your desk, reading this on your phone in line at the bank, or using HERdacity to get pumped up for the week – I encourage you to honestly examine your life.
Is it the life you want to live? Are you the person you want to be? If not, you’ve got some decisions to make.
About the Author
Jace Downey is a fiery advocate for intimate Self-discovery. She is a tireless rebel of the status quo who lived through over two decades of abuse and addiction before discovering the innate power and beauty of her inner being. She is often referred to as “brave,” “authentic,” and “totally weird,” all of which she is happy to own! She has been featured on-screen, online and in-print across the globe as a pioneer in battling stigma surrounding addiction and trauma and empowering others to live authentically.