Queered & Careered is a column that offers tips and tricks on how to navigate career development as a queer person — from job searching to career inspiration to dealing with straight nonsense in the office.
Hi there! I’m Tiara. I’m a Career Coach and I’m here to talk about career development.
Okay, okay: I know what you’re thinking. Career development? On Autostraddle? Why on Earth would I keep reading this when I could add my two cents to this hilarious, queer thread about favorite pizza toppings (my two cents: mushroom pizza is bomb, pineapple pizza is a hot mess, and unpopular opinion, white pizza=meh)?
I GET IT. For real, I do. Career development has not traditionally been a very sexy topic.
But, before you click away, please let me share this fact I just learned from a random Google search. The average person spends over 90,000 hours of their lives at work. 90,000 hours. And, if you’re queer like me, then you have probably spent the majority of those hours trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, reassuring your parents that you’ll figure it out, wearing itchy blazers to interviews, and praying to Janelle Monáe for strength as you have to deal with yet another microaggression at work.
There are not enough spaces where queer people can be in community together to discuss the particular issues we have to confront as we navigate our careers. My intention for this column is to create that much-needed space. Sooooo, let’s take it from the top:
Patriarchy, Heterosexism, Capitalism!
We are going on a trip together and we need to LET GO of additional career baggage that is unproductive, soul crushing, and heavy heavy heavy, like the three words above. So, before we start packing for our trip, I thought we could do a little fall cleaning (is that a thing? let’s make it a thing).
Here are some of the things I recommend we bring and leave behind for our journey!
LEAVE BEHIND: (or shove in the garbage disposal): Capitalist-Bootstrap-Career-Fantasies. Patriarchal and Heterosexist ideas about what you’re supposed to do and how you’re supposed to act.
BRING: An awareness of your identities and how they will inevitably impact your career path.
One of my most meaningful career-learning moments came in the form of a college student I worked with a few years back. She came to me in tears because she hated her major and she didn’t know what to do. I immediately offered the best career advice I could give at the time, influenced by my default can-do Auntie Oprah rhetoric.
Old Me: I know what you can do! Why don’t you just change your major and do something you really love? THEN, you’ll get good grades because you’ll be passionate about the subject.
Her (blank face, mildly irritated): My parents are paying for my education so I can’t change my major and I have to go into this field.
Old Me: (melanin developing the ability to blush).
Capitalism tells us that everyone has the ability to do what they love and get the money they deserve if they work hard enough. Unfortunately, what capitalism is also saying here is that people who are not doing the work they love or earning the money they deserve did not work hard enough. Thus the biggest thing we have to learn as we begin this career journey together is that our identities matter.
They matter when we’re choosing work, when we’re applying for a job, when we negotiate salary, and whether we accept a job or not. They influence who we get along with at work, the promotions we receive, whether we apply for a promotion or not, whether we work in a place that even offers promotions.
I am a Black, queer woman. I am also a cis person who is non-disabled and college educated. All of these identities, and many more I don’t have time to list here, inevitably impact my career path, for better or worse. And they do for you too.
As we start this journey together, ask yourself: In what ways have you internalized capitalist thinking in your own career development? What identities have been or are currently the most salient for you when you think about work?
LEAVE BEHIND: The Career Coaches, Counselors, and Guides in your head who are critiquing your resume with a red pen and wearing a business suit — probably forcing you to shake their clammy hands, probably saying something basic and heteronormative like “men should wear suits and ties to interviews and ladies should wear dresses that drop below the knee.”
BRING: Your support network — the queer friends, mentors, allies, and role models who you can vent to as you navigate your career journey.
A few years back, I saw the amazing Dr. Brittney Cooper in a lecture and she said a quote that has stuck with me since: “Find your crew and then be a good crew member.” Finding a career that works for you and your needs is a lifelong ride and one of your most important tasks is asking yourself who you want in the car.
First, be your own Career Coach! Ntozake Shange once said “I found god in myself and I loved her fiercely.” As your Queered & Careered Coach, I am here to help and I am here to guide. But, ultimately you are the one who is going to be making the decisions about what is best for you and your career. Be the Career Coach you always needed. Don’t solely rely on the experts because you’re the greatest expert on YOU.
Second, take stock of the people you surround yourself with on a daily basis and ask yourself if you want to confide in those people about your career process. It is my firm belief that different people come into our lives for different purposes. The friend who gives me amazing dating advice may not be the friend I confide in about a rough job search, and that’s okay! How do you want to feel as you grow in your career? Which friends, mentors, and role models create that feeling in you?
Third, surround yourself with a diverse group of people that can complement your strengths and weaknesses! I am a flighty dreamer (my sun, moon, and rising signs are all air if you were wondering). Knowing this about myself, I keep two pools of people around me: other dreamers who tell me to take the job abroad and go for my dreams, and more practical friends who encourage me to ask the right questions before I leap into new opportunities. What are your strengths and weaknesses? How can you find crew members who will affirm and/or challenge you?
Fourth, leave behind people who are trying to control your process. This can be a mixture of folks, but they are most often mentors and family members, both by blood and by choice. If you have these relationships in your life, these are most likely people who want to protect you from the mistakes they made. Unfortunately, sometimes that protectiveness can lead you to second guess your choices. Communicate that you want support and care from these people as you go throughout your journey, but make it clear that this journey is your own.
LEAVE BEHIND: Dry (often basic) career education which encourages you to “play it safe,” “take this seriously,” and “fit in.”
BRING: Your sense of PLAY and ADVENTURE. That dream of becoming a circus artist. Your vision board, your tarot cards, your unheard poetry.
You know what I’m sick of? Career development coaching that is devoid of joy and play. Yes, finding a job is important. Yes, deciding what you want to do with your life is a major decision.
But does it have to be so boring and serious all the time?
When I was going through a recent job search, I surrounded myself with positivity and play throughout the process. My friend and I made long lists of the qualities our perfect job would have and kept them in our journals, reviewing them together every few weeks. I also loudly sang and danced to Janelle Monáe’s “I Like That” whenever I sent in an application in order to remind myself that I’m a bad bitch regardless of the response. When I got rejections, I sang the song twice, often in the shower (back up dancers included).
What gives you joy? How do you process your experiences, and how can you make your career journey a joyful one? Once again, 90,000 hours. I know that many people are in circumstances that do not allow them to actively pursue work they love. But, the process can start here. What do you believe is possible for you? What would be the next best step? How can you have FUN while taking those steps?
Yay! You made it. I’m proud of you. Hopefully you’ve already begun the process of discarding the things that aren’t working in your career concept and packing the things that do. “Marie Kondo” that shit, and have fun doing it.
What are some of your biggest questions about career development, and what are other things you hope to bring with you and leave behind on this journey?