Cynthia Salgado Design
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Blog

Having a career vs having a job

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I spent 10 years of my life building a “career”, or at least, that is what I thought I was doing. I studied Advertising Design and from day one all I wanted was to work as a designer. To help pay my education, I worked as a retail seller, in a bookshop, a music shop and finally my “big break” came when I got a job as a designer for an outdoor signage company.

I was 22 years old and I was the only one with formal training there. Yet I was underpaid and put up with it for 3 years because I needed the “experience”. When I decided that my time was up there, I found another job, this time on a beach, far from home, because I wanted to experience life away from home and was fostering a big desire for traveling and getting to know the world. This experience ended when I was offered another job in the capital, better paid, better prospects, better schedule. So I took it and moved back home, thinking this is how you advance your career.

I was confused, I admit, with the amount of advice I was getting. On one hand, I had some telling me “you must move fast, and don’t stay too long on a job”; on the other hand, I had people telling me “no, you must stay as long as you can”. So when I found a job with a gambling company (first mistake) and the problems started, I stayed. They delayed our salaries, and one by one all my colleagues started to leave. I stayed, until the moment they offered me a position in another country, with a bunch of perks: housing, studying, tickets, visa, everything was going to be covered by them. So I said, let’s go!

I left my country and traveled to this new land, where I thought I was finally going to make it big. What happened? Well, it turns out I only had a job, not a career. But it took me 10 years to realize that.

This company deliver only half of their promises. Soon enough they sold the company and me with the rest of the “assets”, but the new owners had no intention of helping me grow as an employee, despite the fact that I was fully committed to them: I bought my own computer when the old ones we had failed; I worked on weekends and nights with no payment, except for the promise of a pizza or day trip. The company was sold once again and once again I thought I was fine, even though I only received one increase in 10 years. They hid on the company policy to not give bonuses or other incentives. They were the type of company that makes you think you should be grateful for them.

When things started to really change, when we got a new manager and new offices, I thought, this is it. I worked hard designing new websites, new branding material, all on my own, with no one asking me to do it, because I thought this company was my baby as much as theirs. I spent 2 years working with no feedback whatsoever; creating my own work because no one would bother to tell us what to do. More people left and I stayed. New people came, so again, I thought things were finally going to improve, but they didn’t, at least for me.

One day, after I literally worked for a year and finally was able to show my work to the new manager, I got the office manager asking me to give her the new brand book I designed because they wanted to send it to an agency. Then I got all my work re-done by another person. Why didn’t they shared feedback with me? Why didn’t they shared what they didn’t like so I could improve? After that, I became a wasted resource. I would go to work every day to do nothing. I was dismissed like I didn’t matter, like my work and effort didn’t matter, and it affected my self-esteem and my self-view as a designer very deeply.

After that, I started to focus on myself. I got married and got a baby, who unfortunately was born with Congenital Heart Disease. Since I wasn’t doing anything at work, but still had a job, I used the free time to be with my baby when the time of her surgery came. Once again, resenting the people of my work, who barely asked for her. Once she was home I decided that I didn’t have to keep putting up with that. It didn’t matter to me that they were still paying me because I wanted to feel useful and productive. So we reached an agreement and they let me go.

So what’s the takeaway from this experience? Know when to leave. No one can tell you when your time is up, except yourself, and pay attention to the signs, that were very clear now that I look back. Now I work for myself, very hard and as professional as possible, choosing jobs that make me fill fulfilled and give me purpose.

How do you know if you only have a job or a career? I think it has to be with the quality of your employer. When I was still a student looking for a job, any job just to have pocket money to go to class, I went for an interview for a very small position. I told them I was studying and they said: “oh no, we don’t hire students because they leave”. Now I have no interest whatsoever to work for a company, but I’d tell younger me: if you insist on working for a company, pay attention to how they treat their employees. Make sure they are interested in you as much as you are in them. Make sure they don’t see your ambition as a threat, and when I say ambition I mean wanting to be better: not only get a higher, better-paid position but to get a chance to keep studying, to buy books, to have good equipment. And try to stay away from companies comfortable with “dodgy” business.