"If you could be anything you wanted or do anything you wanted to do, what would you do? What do you want to be when you grow up?"
What started as a comment to the question quickly turned into more than a simple reply. The result was this blog post, a chronicle of a Skillologist's never-ending journey to find fulfillment in his career and purpose for his skills.
Once I earned my B.A. in English I already worked with several large corporations as a Technical Writer (my area of focus within the English dept.). I knew my strengths, and I knew that writing was my ticket to a steady career.
I felt I didn't have the luxury to pick a more competitive field like journalism or a major that didn't have strong prospects for steady employment, like creative writing. I had children at a young age and knew I had to adjust my priorities toward stability and immediate earning potential. Most other writing-related careers required lengthy unpaid/low-paid internships to be considered without experience. I didn't have the resources (time + savings required to live on such low wages) to take such risks.
I took an introductory course in Tech Writing and decided it was just challenging enough to keep me interested, but more importantly tech writing required use of my more-developed, stronger skills, mainly writing and gathering/organizing complex information. I can't lie though, I had (and still have) a tough time getting interested/motivated with the content/subjects most tech writers dealt with. I often fell asleep in my tech writing courses; working full-time, raising a family, and going to school full-time will do that, but the dry content of the course certainly didn't make it easier to stay awake.
I was faced with a dilemma: pursue a subject area that I was genuinely interested in but might not have very strong job prospects, or pursue the subject area I knew had great job prospects but could possibly bore me to death.
The field of Tech Writing at the time (end of '05,' pre-Great Recession) was projected to have a 33% growth rate for at least the next 5 - 10 years. Today, job prospects for Tech Writers are still very high, and job growth is projected as a double-digit net gain in the field. During my short career, I've worked for 6 different companies in 5 years, most of which were short-term contract positions, but at least two of the positions I was laid off from. In any case, between each position I had very little downtime, less than a month. That's pretty astounding considering what the economy has been through during that time period.
Of course, the downside of that is that only one company I worked for developed products or services I really believed in. All of the others were defense contractors, and as a pacifist that raises lots of issues for me and my morals. But my family comes first, and luckily my actual duties don’t require me to compromise my morals (at least not directly).
I've always maintained that Tech Writing is not the field I imagined retiring in. I knew very early in my education that Tech Writing was a means to an end for me. It’s what I’m good at, not necessarily what I want to do for the rest of my career.
Currently, I’m at a crossroad. Next year my children will all finally be in public school, which means regularity for my family. I also landed what has turned out to be the best position of my short career, financially and in terms of where I fall within the company’s hierarchy. This all spells “stability,” which is something any young parent will tell you does not happen often, if at all.
I’m not going to claim, as many young adults do, that I’m unfulfilled with my career or my field. Like I mentioned earlier, I enjoy many aspects of what I do, and I’m good at it. I have lots of hobbies and interests that keep me entertained, but what I’m doing at work leaves lots to be desired.
As I’ve noted in some places on Skillology, I’m still trying to decide what my next move is. I’ve entertained several options: law school, grad school, the military, or testing my luck changing careers without any additional training. But all of the options reflect my interests and means to achieve my long-term career goals.
Much like Caoihme wrote in her original post, I feel “There are things in me, beyond being [a Tech Writer] that I would still like to accomplish.” And like Caoihme, I’m comfortable where I am and recognize how well the position suits me, and I have no regrets about choosing this field of work.
What Caoihme’s posts reveals about her, and myself, is that no matter what your degree is in or what your work experience is, you’re never locked in to any career for life. Your interests are likely to change during your lifetime and it is likely that changing careers will be appealing at one time or another. This notion is often overlooked discussing career choices or choosing a major during college.
That’s kind of a shame isn’t it?
A wise friend with an upstart website once published a blog post that helped identify the unrest I felt professionally and gave me the mindset I needed to survive and eventually thrive in my career. Skillz put it best when he said:
“Recognize… that you have great value, and thus many options. Play the field,”
He went on to suggest,
"[If you feel you need the stability] work a traditional 9-to-5 in the short-term.”
Thus my professional modus operandi was born from a Skillology blog post and my belief in the Skillology way of life was ignited. Skillz and I rarely get the chance to speak face-to-face, but once during a rare in-person discussion about what I wanted to do next and my difficulty choosing he asked, “Why choose? Do it all.”
So, Caoihme, below is my answer(s) to your question “What do I want to be when I grow up?” (in no particular order)
I refuse to put a cap on that list or to pick one career and go with it. I just can’t. There isn’t anything I can picture myself doing forever. So I keep all my irons in the fire, and when one gets hot (a new job opportunity or training program becomes available) I’ll take that iron out and use it until it gets cold. Then I’ll take the next hottest iron and repeat. I don't want to close any of my options, ever.
Caoihme’s question inspired me to finally put out there what I tell my family and friends when asked about my plans for the future. I always must follow such an inquiry with another question, “How much time you got?”
But I must defer to the Doctor to best describe what this all means. In the same blog posting I quoted several times above, Doc Skillz accurately and beautifully describes us Skillologists as follows:
“[Skillologists] don't mind necessarily working for others while taking the long-term approach towards nurturing our business ventures on the side. But, here's the thing. We want our work to be somewhat meaningful, to stimulate our minds, and to utilize our creative, diverse talents…
[Skillologists are] resourceful, always on the quest for knowledge, highly creative, and most importantly, driven, particularly when challenged. As a result, we're… capable of delivering value in any role we serve…. we find ways to solve problems.”
Such insight. Skillz offers the best explanation of the restlessness felt by creative people such as Caoihme and I. That restlessness ultimately leads us to constantly monitor and inventory our job satisfaction and forever dream of what's next. No wonder I need to see The Doc whenever my creativity bone is aching.
DocSkillz goes on to reflect:
“It's the challenge we live for. We're ideas people. We make things happen.”
Well-said Doc. Well said.
Professionally, I aim to be many things as I grow older, but Skillz showed me, and in no small part with the help of this wonderful website that
I am exactly what I want to be: complex, creative, intelligent, hard-working professional that has many interests and talents, some of which have yet to be discovered.
A Skillologist is born.