Opportunities

Thanks to everyone for giving me a week off blogging. I needed some time to get my life in order before focusing again on things to come.

For those of you who were curious, due to some unexpected management restructuring, I lost my job last week. It was a very rough few days as I hit full-out panic mode and wondered how I was going to get through the next few months without a source of income. There was a lot of distraught crying involved, worst-case scenario paranoia, and some serious lows in personal self-esteem, all of which I imagine are pretty normal for people who have lost something so central to their lives.

But after the panic subsided, I had a chance to look at the silver lining, and thanks to some severance and wise advice in the past from Suze Orman, I've ultimately decided that things aren't as bad as they could be. In fact, I have begun to think of my newly acquired free time as an opportunity to reassess some life decisions and decide what I want to do with my life.

Isn't that the trickiest question there is? My generation in particular, as we reach this quarter-life-crisis time in our lives, can find it particularly difficult. Our parents generation, after all, had a much different life plan than we do. They finished school, often got married young (ish), started a family, started a career, and created life therein. I know so many older adults who have been in the same career path for 30-40-50 years, watching their family grow up while moving steadily toward retirement. Stability. A house, a family, a steady paycheck.

It's a daunting act to follow. Because things just aren't like that anymore. It seems people job-hop much more frequently these days - career paths change, job markets change, people change.

In grade school we were asked:
what do you want to be when you grow up?

In high school we were asked,
what do you want to major in?

In college we were asked,
what career path do you want to pursue?

But what if there isn't just one answer? What if the ten year old kid who says,
I want to be an astronaut, and a fireman, and a doctor can be all of those things? What if the high schooler who likes her art classes as much as algebra doesn't have to choose between them? What if the college student who majors in architectural design suddenly decides he wants to pursue a job in business management?

Why does our society push us so hard to pick one career path? Suddenly that ten year old kid with four dreams is forced to abandon three of them. Until, perhaps, he loses his job. Or life takes a unexpected turn. Or he decides he's not content with spending 40 years at the same company.

I have never really known what I want to do with my life. Or perhaps I've just had too many things I've wanted to do, and society makes me choose between them. But I don't want to be categorized. I don't like the question, what do you do for a living?

Rather, what don't I do? I didn't go to school to be a doctor, or an engineer, or even a designer. I didn't pick one predetermined path. I enjoy being a jack of all trades, master of none, even if it is frustrating sometimes.

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When I was in grade school I wanted to be an author and illustrator of children's books. I picked up reading and writing very quickly as a child and spent every day journaling, writing stories, reading books, and drawing. I won several writing awards as a kid, got placed in special enrichment classes, got published in different local books and articles, and was the study of a college thesis on my aptitude for word comprehension as a kindergartner.

When I was in high school I wanted to be an astronomer or a marine biologist. I taught myself the names of the constellations and stars, studied biology and marine sciences in my free time, applied to participate in a two-week canoe trip to the Boundary Waters to paddle and portage through 100 miles of wilderness, and considered taking up an internship as a dolphin trainer at the Chicago aquarium.

I majored in physics my first two years of college so that I could be a cosmologist. I was told point-blank by my professors that my math SAT scores weren't high enough to be in the physics major and that I should consider a different field. I refused to switch and proceeded to ace every one of my math and science classes that year.

After two years I grew so frustrated with the rigidity of the physics program that I switched to theatrical design for the rest of my college career. I was tired of people telling me how to be a woman in a man's career, so I started stage managing shows and volunteering in the local carpentry shop building sets. Pretty soon I was more competent with a chop saw and a screwgun than most of the other volunteers, and they offered me a job. I worked there for four years, always covered in sawdust and paint, and loved every minute.

Since college I have worked in freelance theatrical design, as a carpenter and set painter, as a stage manager, as a lighting designer and stage hand. I have worked in the outdoor field, and in teaching, and retail, and business management, and non-profit enterprises.

Every six months or so I get bored with whatever I'm doing and need to learn something new. I once left my job to work as a deckhand on a 140' tall ship for six months. I took up yoga for a while. I enrolled myself in guitar classes. I took up skiing to perfect the art. I joined a sailing club and became a competent racer in two years - I helped win second place in the national Buccaneer regatta. I took evening art classes. I re-taught myself basic French. I've traveled to almost all 50 states and six different countries. I started backpacking every month and have hiked most sections of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. I started writing a blog. I opened my own Etsy site and business last year making greeting cards. I moved 3,000 across the country to a place I had never been.

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The funny thing is - I'm terrified of most of these things. I'm a walking dichotomy: I'm scared of heights but I've spent most of my careers at the top of one thing or another: 30 foot ladders, 100 foot sailing masts, 7,000 foot mountain cliffs. I'm a nervous wreck about big changes but I make big changes to my life every year or so. I hate physics but I love astronomy. I'm petrified of rollercoasters but I love skiing at top speed. I struggle with math but I love solving mathematical puzzles. I love science and art. I'm OCD about being dirty/messy/unorganized but I love camping and working in shops. I get horribly seasick, but I love sailing. I hate the beach but I love the ocean.

I feel like I spend most of my life overcoming one fear or the other. I'm essentially the most introverted, obsessive compulsive, non-risk Adventurer there is. Is that even a thing?

Anyway, I didn't really mean to ramble on this much about my own personal evaluation of my life. The point I wanted to make is that every change in my life (warranted or not) has always led to something amazing. And this particular job layoff merely points me in a new direction and opens my life up to some new possibilities. In the past it has led me on some grand adventures, and now it leads me on another: next month I'm going to hike the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail.

More to come!