Through Twitter, I discovered an interesting site on Tumblr yesterday. It’s called 52Cups and is the work of a young senior at Michigan State, Megan. Her premise is that each week she sets up a meeting with someone she’s never met before and has a discussion with them over a cup of coffee. And she’s writing about what she learns from each interview. Since I love learning from other people (and I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of that), I started reading and discovered that this 60+ year-old guy and that 22 year-old have a few things in common beyond blogging. However, even if you don’t have the same sort of connection, I encourage you to go there and read a few of her posts. It’s good stuff and what she’s learning is worth knowing – or reinforcing, if you already know it.
One of her “cups” asked her what her plans were for life after college. She doesn’t have a good answer for that, and as you might expect, that causes her some stress since she’s so close to graduating. I totally understand that and that’s something we share. Neither did I back then – even after I graduated – even way after I graduated.
There was no “I want to be a brain surgeon or a lawyer” epiphany light going off in my head back then. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up and no clue how to figure it out – and that’s fundamentally unsettling when you’re on the verge of starting a career. Careers are supposed to be the most important thing ever, aren’t they?
Actually, not. My experience has shown me that enjoying what you do and enjoying life itself is way more important than that career. Sure, it’s better to be able to afford a roof over your heads and food on the table, but roofs and food come in a wide host of varieties. You don’t need make it into the top 5% income bracket to be happy (and it’s a good thing, too.)
What I learned was that I’m blessed for some unknown reason, because being absolutely clueless about a career path, even after over 60 years, has brought me to the right place to be in my life. I do things I love and have for most of my life. When I graduated, I had no job (or prospects for one) but I’d received an invitation from Uncle Sam to go to work for him for two to six years – I’d been drafted. Rather than moving to Canada or going to jail I opted for joining the Navy. Once I’d spent four years doing that, I went back to school since I had the GI Bill to pay for it, figuring I’d do what a friend of mine had done, get a PhD and teach in college somewhere.
What I discovered was that I’d developed a lowered tolerance for the BS of academia (probably brought on by the level of BS in the Navy) and I could no more stand sucking up to professors long enough to get that PhD than I could have stood reenlisting for another four years. I ended up moving back home and finding a job working in an entry level job for the state. Through that job I met the love of my life, married her and somehow stumbled into a job in aerospace. That job ended with a layoff when President Carter ended the B-1 bomber production and I found my next job literally by running into an old friend from the state. Once I helped her up off the floor (I did say I’d run into her), she introduced me to someone who needed a grant writer.
Writing grants eventually led to a job in corporate America supervising writers for technical manuals. My writers needed graphics work done (my wife had been a graphics designer and I’d helped her with some of her work for years) so I figured I could learn to do that better. So I became a manager/forms designer. But we needed more creative graphics before long and, next thing I knew we were designing brochures and document covers and books – first in black and white and one or two colors and finally four color work. And damned if I wasn’t winning awards for it. Who knew?
We (by then I’d hired a few more designers) got busy doing increasingly more sophisticated designing and marketing work and “multimedia” came along (Macromind Director). We began to design complex interfaces for internal projects.
Along the way, the company sent me to be trained with some of the best in the business (people like Bert Monroy, Jeff Schewe, David Biedney, Kai Krause, and a lot of others) and I actually got to be good at what we were doing.
Multimedia morphed into designing interfaces for other computer platforms (like Lotus Notes and SharePoint) and eventually we began to create marketing pieces for the company used on the website and finally designing websites. Through it all, every couple of years or so, what we were doing morphed somewhat and we were always doing and learning how to do new things. I love that aspect of it. You can never learn too much or enough. From being a designer of websites to being smart about the designs we were creating - making them easier to use – was a pretty short step, leading me to a career in user experience. I’m still learning and growing. We’re designing things for iPhones, iPads & Android phones now. It’s been a constant change.