Who do you want to be today?

I finally know what I want to be when I grow up.

I’ve had an epiphany. I’m going back to school for Environmental Studies, and I want to be involved in sustainability planning for communities. Ta da!

Only took me twenty years to figure that out. I’ve never been particularly interested in anything specific as a job, except writing novels. And I certainly don’t give a crap about a career just for the sake of a career. Associate manager to manager to senior manager to associate director to director to senior director – who cares? Do any of those people actually enjoy what they do every day?

People care about the money, of course, and the status. I don’t care about status, in fact in most cases the higher up a person is in a corporation the less I respect them, since I’ve worked in that area long enough to know what it takes to advance that high. And it’s way more important to me to be interested in what I do, and to feel like I’m doing some good or at least no harm to the world, than to just make as much money as I can.

So, what to do?

Finance – vomit. Energy – blech. Manufacturing – do we manufacture anything in this country any more? Medicine, hm. Too much science, too much one-on-one with people. Same with therapy, which I’ve seriously considered. Or teaching – could I get up and perform in front of people every day? I don’t think so.

I would love to help women, children, or animals that have been abused, but emotionally, I couldn’t do it. I cry at the commercials. No help at all.

My most recent chosen profession has been web development. IT is a good field to go into if you hate computers and people. Even if you went into IT because you love dinking around with hardware or you have a passion for programming, you’ll end up in management. And as anyone who’s ever worked for other people knows, rare is the manager who actually likes people and knows how to inspire them. It’s certainly not a job requirement.

I suspect it’s like that in most fields. You go into the industry because you like working with whatever it is – clothing, books, education, numbers, design, programming, etc. – and you end up in management, because if you’re not moving up the ladder, you’re a loser. And once you’re in management, you’re no longer working with whatever it was you liked in the first place. Nonprofits are no different from corporations in this respect, though I suppose if you’re passionate enough about the issue or the industry, it doesn’t matter to you.

I’ve never been that passionate about anything, unless I’m too passionate. I could never work in publishing, for example. I love books so much, but working in publishing would be something like a person who loves steak getting a job at a slaughterhouse. No thanks.

Academia is similar, to me. I can see how it’s a lot of fun to dissect other people’s literary work down to subatomic levels, but does it do good for the world in general? Plus, academia is just as competitive as the corporate sector, if not more so. And there’s the teaching thing, too. Not for me.

Before my career got derailed, I was moving toward usability. To help the web become easier to navigate for everyone, that’s a good job.

Unfortunately my “career,” such as it was, got derailed by 9/11. I’d just moved to NYC days earlier, got laid off a few months later, with no contacts and no experience in the city, which was now in a deep recession. My field was way over-saturated, outsourced, unstable, yet still demanded that its players relearn everything, every couple of years. I could never get enough work to keep up my skills or pay for classes, so every year I’ve fallen further behind. If I were enough of a graphic designer or a programmer to be a strong competitor, I would be okay, but I’m not. And, sadly, I’ve become less interested in usability, too. In what’s starting to look like a permanent recession, no one’s hiring anyone simply to make their web site easy to use, yet a lot of education is needed to learn to do it well.

And it doesn’t do enough good in the world to inspire me.

But I can’t just work at a bookstore, my other job. Talk about a dead end. It’s been killing my body and my soul for the last couple of years, but my mind has just been churning in circles.I don’t want to be a manager, or work in the head offices. What should I do? Leave the city? Take some programming classes? I’m sick of freelancing, too, and that’s what most programmers are nowadays. Go back to school? I haven’t wanted to go back to school. I feel like I’ve done that, and I need to move forward. Of course, I would do anything if I could only pick a goal. But what goal? What should I do? What should I do?

My thinking has become kind of frantic this past year.

I just kept going on, doing my best, when I can, to figure out why I’m alive and what I’m doing here. Watching the depression grow again. Ugh.

Trying to do the thing, I did NaNoWriMo again this past November, and wrote the first draft of an apocalyptic novel that’s been in my head for at least twenty years. It was so much fun, and turned out well enough that I decided to keep working at it. I’ve thrown myself into researching climate change, epidemiology, water issues, large scale environmental disaster, and have surprised myself by getting more interested, instead of burning out.

I even considered becoming a disaster relief worker, but I don’t think that’s a full time job. Also, I think that kind of work is physically demanding and requires a person to be away from home for weeks at a time. Hm.

I kept getting a vision of myself installing solar panels. So I started to look into that. I thought it would probably be handy to know a little bit about how electricity works, should the apocalypse come along, and I thought my classmates would be interesting – would I be the only woman, the only person my age? I wouldn’t care.

As I looked through the programs at each college in New York state, I kept seeing programs in environmental studies. And I found a great program at CUNY Hunter College. You can focus either on the science-y bits or on policy and management, which sounds boring but actually means “planning sustainable communities,” which is what, I realized, I want to do. Yay!

And as soon as I started talking about it, I found all kinds of advice and connections all around me – people who know people in the field who are willing to talk to me, or who can suggest certifications and so forth to get me started. Contacts, networking, mentoring – it’s all that stuff they tell you about in career advice books and articles, but I can use it now, because I have a goal at last.

What a difference it makes!

What’s interesting to me (and hopefully to others) about this process is the idea that action creates action. Even if you don’t know what to do, you have to keep doing something in order to make something else happen – a new idea, a new opportunity. Otherwise you might as well lie down and die, which tempts me at times, believe me. It’s transforming, to have a purpose. I’m even studying Algebra, in preparation for placement testing, and actually enjoying it.

That’s where I am today. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about this whole process. Wherever you are in your life, I wish you luck, and the energy to keep trying!

6 Responses to “Who do you want to be today?”

  1. absurdbeats Says:

    Yay, epiphanies! (Should I say something about this being the time of Christian Epiphany. . . ?)

    I was going to respond to your last post with this, but do you know about Sustainable South Bronx? http://www.ssbx.org/ The founder of SSBX, Majora Carter, took part in WNYC’s ‘MLK: Generations Speak’ event (available at http://www.wnyc.org/mlk/ ); I heard her this morning in excerpts on Brian Lehrer’s show and thought of you.

    Anyway, maybe even ahead of your enrollment at Hunter you could get involved with them.

  2. soundofrain Says:

    How appropriate! (Well, kind of.)

    No, I hadn’t, thank you! I will check that out. I’m definitely jumping into whatever I can, as soon as possible.

    Seems like everyone I know has something to tell me! It’s so cool!

  3. hauntedharpsichord Says:

    my eyes watered a bit reading this. Very touching and moving in fact.
    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Action requires action.
    And I hope that apocalyptic novel gets published so we can all read it someday soon (before the real Apocalypse hits and zombies take over!).
    Oh wait, perhaps the zombies really have already taken over, but they’re in disguise and we just haven’t noticed?!?

  4. soundofrain Says:

    The zombies took over a long time ago… now where’s my crowbar?

  5. vl Says:

    Hey soundofrain,
    I have no idea on how I arrived on this post, I am also sure I do not want to come back in my browser just to know how i did. Does not matter at all.

    I read it, and it talked to me. A lot. I am now in the situation you described, trying to find a sense, a purpose. You brough your little brick to that wall I am building now, as the one you built for yourself.

    Just wanted to let you know 🙂

    good luck!

  6. steward Says:

    Assuming the breadcrumb web trail I followed was not short a few bits, and you’re who I think you are, an apocalyptic novel by you should be quite fascinating. 🙂

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