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October 2nd, 2015

Embracing V.U.C.A

By Addie K Martin

In 2002, I started a career in restaurants.  I had earned a bachelor’s in culinary arts along with a master’s in hospitality administration. I enjoyed the work at first but that all changed after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Restaurant work became unbearable for me because it became about “surviving,” versus doing meaningful work. We usually had more than enough customers in our restaurants but rarely ever had the optimal number of workers to excel in our daily work. I’m a high achiever and one whose payoff comes in part from the actual achieving. Being subject to the survival mode mentality for an extended period of time helped me realize I wanted (and needed) more from my work and that it was time for me to move on in search of “more.” Working for over a year in survival mode was my breaking point. By late 2006, uncertain of my next move, I walked away from the restaurant industry feeling burned out, craving a change of pace, and in pursuit of the elusive “more.”

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Through a contact, I secured an internship at a prominent local advertising agency in early 2007. With my master’s degree nearly complete, I was searching for deeper meaning in my career, which I thought a professional job could offer. However, after working in advertising for almost six years, I left for reasons similar to why I left restaurants: it ended up being about survival, not about strategic work. I also hadn’t found much meaning or satisfaction in my day-to-day tasks. While I learned how to utilize the web as a work environment, I never felt at home in the agency. Toward the end, I even realized that I was fundamentally opposed to advertising and selling services and products that I didn’t believe in or support. My thinking and my approach to work changed: it became about my values and living in alignment with those. With that, I left advertising to forge my own path: following the paths of others had left me deeply unsatisfied.

Since leaving advertising in 2012, I’ve been developing a career path on my own, one project at a time. In that time period, I’ve started (and still maintain) three blogs, along with freelance writing work and creativity coaching. I even researched, wrote, and published a book with my husband Jeremy last fall. It’s an in-depth study on the food culture of Southeast Louisiana. While personal development is my top work priority, food and culture are still a part of my work. I’m a multi-passionate individual. In the end, I’m better positioned in the marketplace and happier because of it.

However, I’m not diversified in my work because I feel need to be. It’s a choice I’ve made on my own since my interests are varied. I embrace the adage that variety is the spice of life, and I’m more deeply fulfilled when I produce work in multiple areas. As a result, I not only experience more joy in my life, but I have the freedom and flexibility to pursue a myriad of freelancing options. By extension, this positions me to be resilient in a V.U.C.A. world, something I couldn’t say earlier in my career. V.U.C.A. (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) is an appropriate way to describe the current state of affairs, not only in the workplace or our nation but worldwide. Naturally, the world has always been this way, but it’s only recently that I’ve understood and have been intentionally shaping my work and life to embrace that reality.

When I look back on my first two careers, I clearly see how I wasn’t wired to deal with V.U.C.A. during that phase of my life. Restaurant work was quite volatile and uncertain in the time following Hurricane Katrina. The advertising world, which I dove into knowing nothing about, ended up being more complex and the assignments and job descriptions more ambiguous than I ever thought possible. Back then, I simply didn’t have the coping skills or mechanisms by which to thrive in environments largely controlled by outside forces. In neither of those careers did I ever feel that I was in the position to follow my own path and control my own destiny. I ended up feeling like I was always working in reactive mode, which is quite draining for me. Once I realized that just didn’t cut it for me, I moved on to pursue deeper meaning and the more satisfying work that I was craving. I embraced V.U.C.A. and decided to forge my own path. In doing so, I’ve positioned myself to shape my career path and be proactive in guiding the trajectory of my life.

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