23 March 2011
Fancy a little story? I promise, it has a good ending.
When I was 16, buckled down in the task of applying to colleges, doing the usual sort of essay-writing, subject test-taking, who remembers what... something kinda unique came up: one of the schools I was applying to required you to declare your major in advance of enrolling. Not after two years of exploration, maturation and general ed. No, at the age of 16. What do you want to study for the next 4 or 5 years... and, consequently, what do you want to BE? Dun dun dun.
Of course, the way these things always work, this school was the one I fell in love with and attended for the next 5 years. I had, quite randomly, decided I wanted to be an architect. Not just because it was near the top of the alphabetized list (I promise), but I checked that box. Yes, the girl with a knack for English, languages and statistics (not calculus)... I was going to be an architect. Ah, 16 year olds.
By the time I was 17, I was deep into an assigned Summer reading list. Thankfully, it was a list meant to scare non-serious future architects out of an impacted program. Ahem: me. I realized, thankfully, that I adored the art-form and history of architecture but, alas, I didn't want to be an architect. OK, time to move into the dorms! Here we go.
Fast forward a couple of years: I side-stepped, portfolio in hand, into the Art & Design department and found a niche I quite liked: fine art, technology, and a little art-school hi-jinks. The usual routine... and then, after the requisite backpacking in Europe, I was off into the working world. The world of my newly selected profession: graphic design.
Desks, cubicles, offices, presentations, commuting, annual performance appraisals, endless joke emails, office chit-chat, after work drinks, bagel Tuesdays.
But, the question stuck with me: was I really supposed to pick my life's direction that young? And, more importantly, was "which career" even the right question?
At such a young age, who really has a clue what it's like to work as an architect, a graphic designer, a lawyer, a writer? Heck, how about what it's like to not work as any of those things? You don't see that on the career day agenda.
My youngest brother, ages ago, took a job as a photographer's assistant in a department I managed. It was a busy media company and he did all the usual organizing, running around and rigging. But, he also spent a lot of time in the office, experiencing that particular corporate way of spending 8 hours. Let me say, he hated it. He was miserable. He knew, intuitively, that he did not belong in that environment. I thought I did. He quit after a time, and I continued on, my life getting "crazy" "busy" and more than a little out of balance. For me, it was only becoming responsible for another person (a baby-type person) that finally forced me to think intentionally about what my life, my days, should look like.
I think my revised, correct "right question" for young people envisioning their lives is not "what do you want to be when you grow up" -- it's quite simply "what do you want the moments of your days to be like?" Think about not just what interests you, but also what setting you want to do it in. Do you want to be in an office? Do you want to be outside? Do you want to work alone or with people? How much bullshit do you want? Do you like bullshit? Do you even want to work full-time? Work at all? What options do you actually have? Like, really think about it.
Last Summer, I went back and asked my 16-year-old inner self these questions, and sprinkled on the experiences of the following 20 or so years... and I came to a few new conclusions.
What I used to want: artistic work, recognition, success, joining.
What I want now: freedom, artistic work, choice, flexibility, self-determination.
In a week's time, I'm commuting downtown to an office for the last time. I've quit my job.
I'm making room for other options, other life paths to materialize.
I'm 95% thrilled and 5% nervous. I'm both excited and anxious because I'm not continuing on in my current career. I've done the freelance-from-home thing, but for me, it's almost worse than working corporate in an office. I need a bigger change than that... I'm working on some new ideas, in all-new contexts.
Ideas, not coincidentally, that are more friendly to family and home life.
More on that soon. Right now, in these gray, wet days, I'm meditating on the image below, from last Summer, on the first impossibly gorgeous, warm, hopeful day after all those dreary months of woolen fogginess... I'm walking toward the light and new possibilities which, if given space, can sprout and bloom.
Stay tuned, and I hope you'll cheer me on, friends. xoxo