My professional life has been kind of a journey. Jobs have often been just that, a way to pay the bills. The path became clearer as I continued making changes, and figuring out what I wanted. People who know too much about who they are, are often the same who have a concrete definition of “how things SHOULD be”, and those are the worst kind of people.
Of course that’s not at all meant to say we should not pursue self-knowledge, but that it’s a constant renewal and discovery. We should always be asking why.
I read this quote from Mark Twain yesterday, and think it applies a bit here: “… when a razor has seen long service and refuses to hold an edge, the barber lays it away for a few weeks, and the edge comes back of its own accord. We bestow thoughtful care upon inanimate objects, but none upon ourselves. What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our edges!” (and The Innocents Abroad should be required reading, and you should read it.)
Starting out with questions is kind of why it’s so important to think about what it is you would like to accomplish from the get-go. I mean, anything is possible. “Whatever you want” requires that “what you want” is defined, so that you know what you’re trying for. (I kind of miss saying “whatever”.)
For a long time I had no idea what I wanted. Well, I had a pretty good idea short term. Long term not so much.
John Lennon, I think, had it about right: “When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
The first career goal that I remember was Coast Guardsman. Riding around on boats with machine guns? For a job? Sounds great! Then there was obviously astronaut, because Star Wars, and Space Camp, and every book or show I was ever interested in watching. The military wasn’t right for me, though, and I still regret not having done any national service. (Good citizenship counts, though.)
By 17 I was pretty sure about how the world worked, and I was going to be … an Artist. Just as soon as someone recognized my blurry brilliance. Film school was my first choice, but programs were lacking in my limited choices of school. Coincidentally, and ironically(?) given where I ended up, my mom wanted me to go to journalism school and be a photojournalist (ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER). After some… disagreements about my path, I went to art school for photography.
But wow, I was pretty terrible at making pictures. That didn’t kill the passion though. People were just too dumb to understand. I kept doing it. More pictures of nothing. More videos that stayed on the tape. Maybe I liked being different and the attention it brought. I sure never thought about all the hard work involved in making a living from pictures and didn’t take it seriously. My shortcomings were everyone else’s problem to deal with. I was perfect. That’s part of the entitlement I guess.
Or maybe it’s just the journey of life, and whatever it is that you keep doing no matter what, without reward, is the thing you ought to be doing.
After college I was OK at making pictures, but had no idea how to get a job or make a living. I went out West for more finding myself, worked retail and restaurants and one-hour photo (remember those?). Finally, I had enough of part-time work (and pay) and started temping. I learned (again) that I was pretty good at computer work, and surprisingly (to me, at least) at leadership.
My temp gig at an insurance company in Portland, Oregon turned into a full-time project management and tech support job. I had an idea to improve process, applied for reimbursement, and they sent me to community college to learn about this “Internet” thing that was getting some press back in the 90’s. I learned some HTML and created online forms that took the new employee computer setup process down from more than a week to a day or two (resume line!).
Eventually I moved back home and applied for a job building websites for Savannah-area businesses with the Morning News. My portfolio was pretty thin, but then the guy who interviewed me recognized me immediately. He had worked with my dad. I was in, just had to figure out how to turn on a Macintosh computer.