Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

As the last round of graduation parties the younger kid is invited to wears down in fizzle and sputter –  like a sparkler that’s almost spit out all fire, but still flashes and makes a subdued, menacing bang as you get near to pick up its remains – I find myself returning again and again to the matter of career choice.

It doesn’t help that this being graduation season there are articles everywhere about careers, how to pick careers and how to set the course for “the rest of your life.”

It also doesn’t help that I never picked my career, or rather, that my career choice went spectacularly, imaginatively – not to say astoundingly – awry, or that the main guiding principle leading me to pick what I picked makes me giggle now.  Of course, I am, to begin with, odd, and just like they say hard cases make bad law, so do strange people make bad patterns.

Still, I find myself increasingly discomfited with the way we’re advising people to pick careers, and all the more bothered by the fact that I don’t have any advice I can give people.  Not that it’s useful in my kids’ case.  The older boy wanted to be a doctor by the time he was ten, and, yes, has an almost as strong, backup pick if he doesn’t make it into med school.  The younger boy wants to build stuff that will go out to space and will be starting aerospace engineering this fall.  In both their cases, there is a clear interest, no secondary “pulling” interest, and the only issue is how to get to doing what they want to do for a living.  (Due to our rather stick in mud rules for training doctors – only partially tongue in cheek, though my concerns are not fit for this blog nor short enough to condense into it, and besides, they relate more to the doctors I’ve dealt with in recent years than to Robert’s future – Robert has only one path.  Marshall otoh seriously considered not getting a degree and just trying to find work in engineering, then working up from there.  Given who he is and what he wants to do, he finally decided on the degree, just before I pulled off all my hair at his blowing several application deadlines.)

However, for kids who need the advice, things must be puzzling.  At this point I’ve heard – on their behalf – the following advice: Don’t pick a safe career, because it’s safe; follow your passion; do something that comes easily to you; do something that challenges you for the rest of your life; don’t get a job just to have a job…  It goes on and on and on.

So, let’s start with the odd career path.  When faced with a choice of careers, I chose what was possibly the safest path in Portugal in the seventies.  Though my interest was – had always been – in engineering, I thought I couldn’t do it.  Part of this was because I was severely number dyslexic.  Given a teacher who understood the occasional transposing had nothing to do with my mental prowess or understanding of the matter, I could get high bs or low as.  Given one who went by “the result on the page” I struggled to get c.  Complicating things further was the fact that at the time the Portuguese universities only had space for about the top one percent of graduates.   Your entrance was determined by the combined results of an exam and your last two years in highschool.  If I had bad grades at Math, one of the core courses, I could never enter engineering.  So, that wasn’t really an option.  (And in an example of things changing, though my problem is still there – perhaps complicated by my being away from math for so long – it was manageable by the time I left highschool and I could do very well indeed in math, provided I made a little extra effort at concentration.  Apparently it’s a developmental issue.)

Also, against engineering, was the fact that both my brother and a cousin who had engineering degrees, had been unemployed forever, and were teaching in highschool (in Portugal you don’t need an education degree, though you still have to go through a “transfer” process.)

Well, I liked teaching.  In fact, in the “like the work” and “do something that’s easy” teaching was the obvious choice for me.  The only other thing I liked as much was writing and – duh – no one would ever pay me for that.  In fact, I was fairly sure it should remain in the drawer, where it belonged.

There were courses you could take that would prevent my having to go through the change over process to teaching which my relatives were enduring and so, sensibly, with my eyes open, I picked one of those alternatives.  As well, with the difficulty in getting into college in mind (many people had to wait and try the exams again two or three times) I picked something that came easy – English.  Of course, English came with a “mandatory” minor in German, which was nearly as much of a bete noir as math.  However, the alternatives: a minor in French or even in Portuguese both had the feel of failure and inability to cut it – something I have trouble with because of my inner teen boy – and wasn’t in that privileged path to teaching.  Which truly, in the horrible job market of the seventies, in Portugal, looked like my best chance at supporting myself before thirty.

So I went with the safest of the safest possible options, took English and German, and it worked perfectly.  I got into college at first try, the grades weren’t too bad (though German drove me nuts and literature was way too easy.)  The path to a secure career, hired straight out of college and working a safe job till retiring with great benefits was open before me.  Other than mom’s insistence that – since I had great grades in the languages – I should take up the diplomatic option, I was in fact in no trepidation for the future.

The thing about the future, though, is that it’s a total unknown.

In my sketchy imagining fo the future, I had left the option of coming to the states, possibly as a graduate assistant (something I, in fact, had an offer for from an ivy league school back east, when I decided to throw it all over for marriage and domestic bliss.)  However I knew in the end I wouldn’t want to leave forever, because it would break my parents’ hearts.  As much as I loved the US, I felt I had an obligation to my family.  So I figured with longer or shorter sojourns here, I would end up going back to my oh-so-predictable career, teaching languages to high school students.

They say the devil is in the details, but one thing you can say for me.  When I’m blown off a planned course, I don’t do it subtly.

Just before I finished my degree, I started talking to Dan, who proposed to me three months later (without us having seen each other in four years, yeah.)  We married that summer.  

While Dan understood the “security” thing that had led me to pick my career path and offered to move to Portugal, I thought that made no sense.  First, he spoke no Portuguese, so finding a job there would be extraordinarily difficult.  Second, even after he learned Portuguese, the job market there sucked.  And third and more importantly, I wanted to raise my kids in the States if and when we had kids.

So I came to the states, with my degree (almost, but that’s too complex to explain) a box of books and 20 lbs of personal effects.  And rendered my safe, secure, career path totally useless.  Not only does the US not accept Portuguese teaching degrees, but my secondary translation abilities are even more useless, since my major is in English, which is of course the easy, cop-out degree in the US.

I won’t say my degree has been completely useless.  It (or the other language courses I took while taking it) has provided support at times when things got desperate enough for me to go that way.  I’ve done technical translation, and I’ve taught at times when we really, really, really needed the money.  But it has provided neither security nor a clear career path.  

Mostly, though, and due to things like babies and moving, I found myself working at writing.  While the payoff hasn’t been what we expected – and that probably because the field was already sick onto the death – it also hasn’t been totally horrible.  In fact, within the field, money wise, I’ve done exceptionally well.  And though at this point I’m pegged at “underpaid secretary” I’ve also been able to be home to raise the kids something that it’s hard to put a price on.  Also with Indie and all, if I can find an extra day a week to do the publishing, there is a good chance I’ll be able to retire comfortably (maybe even very comfortably) on the writing.  Since my husband has made enough to support us so far, that’s not a bad option at all.

Yesterday while discussing choices of career, my husband said that I can’t really tell people not to follow their passion, because I have.  Which I suppose is true… backwards, sideways and  oddly.  He also asked me whether or not I like what I do.  I told him of course I do.  I can pull a book over me like a security blanket.  Writing a novel, seeing the character become real, is still my very favorite activity in life.  I just hate my career.  

Dan says that’s not something to influence the choice.  You can’t control the career.  BUT you should do something you can’t wait to get up and do every day – and that I do have.

So, what advice do I give kids?  What do I tell people wondering what to choose?

Part of me still hankers for security.  In fact, part of what has made my career path so difficult, is that I can’t have any.

If I had a kid stuck where I was, I’d say “do get a degree in something you can fall back on.”  For one, writing degrees are useless, and if you have another specialty, you can do that on the side while you bring the writing up to speed.  Of course, these days with Indie being available, if you’re an aspiring writing, you SHOULD be finishing stories and posting them, as early and as much as you can.  Given the long tail, you’re adding to your future income.

The point though is that despite all the “don’t get a job just to get a job” if you don’t have another support system you don’t mind using (I’d have minded sponging off my parents.  As was the only way I could justify to myself letting Dan support me, was to work my tail off at things like furniture refinishing, cooking from scratch, etc, and keeping our expenses really low) you still need to pay for the peanut butter and – occasionally – the jam.  So you should have a paying specialty that keeps you in food and roof.

The “follow your passion” thing makes me curl my lip – that inner teen boy again – and go “pfui.”  BUT there is something in it.  Something about doing what you can’t wait to do, anyway. Except I’d modify it “look at what your passion can be used to do.”  If I’d grown up in the states I would probably have taken the courses needed to be a tech writer. And I’d have been okay with that.  (In the early eighties I was too short on the “tech” courses for companies to hire me for this, though I tried.  It’s also entirely possible my accent freaked them out.)  Or say your passion is art… art teaching might not be a bad idea.  You sort of get to use it, and you have three months in the summer to work on your own stuff.  Or say you’re mad about computers.  Pure programmer seems to be passing from this Earth as a profession, but how about you take one of the hard sciences and a strong concentration on computers.  Look at the end result in terms of “what I’d do” and make sure it’s not something that makes you want to slit your wrists.  Yes, some research is encouraged.

However, more importantly and in a way that’s both a curse and a blessing, remember the MOST important thing is that you never know.  You never know how you’ll do.  You never know what you’ll do.  This future you’re charting for yourself can become completely different, if you fall in love with someone from another country; if your country goes to war; if a global crisis hits really hard; if you change enough you discover what you loved now bores you to tears; if technology changes and puts your chosen career out of existence.

Crystal ball is all broken, but given the level of change going on around us (catastrophic change, they call it) AND the careers of my friends and colleagues around my age – most of them taking place in times of slower change, mind – I’d almost guarantee one of these things – at least – will happen to every kid graduating high school this year.

So the best advice I can given them is what’s kept me working in the writing field through some of the most horrible times in the industry: Stay flexible.

To use my own career as an example, while your love might be space opera with a secondary interest in cozy mysteries, be prepared to do anything else, including historical, literary romance.  Be willing to work for or without the glory (in my field, be prepared to do write for hire, if needed.)  Work hard (who needs weekends, anyway?)  Be – sorry, I know it’s a slogan, but it’s true, too – the best you can be.  The future is not for slackers.  Work – always work – at getting better.  Keep your eyes open for opportunity and cast to the future, so when change comes you can grab it and let it carry you to a good or at least safe place.
You can’t predict the future.  Picking now for the next eighty years in a world you can’t even imagine, is foolhardy.  Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow till bring all of us more surprises than sure things, before dusty death which is the only certainty in the end.

To all the grads of 12 and of the next few years:
Pick the best you can, for what will give you a steady perch now.  And when the storms of change start shaking those branches, be ready to jump and maybe even grow wings.

May you live long and fly far.

45 responses to “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

  1. Oh gawd yes. A thousand – a MILLION times yes. I’ve wanted to write – and earn enough to make that the full-time career – pretty much since I realized that was an option. But I was smart enough to realize I had about a snowball’s chance in hell for that to actually happen so option 2 was get a degree for something I liked doing so I could enjoy the day job and write in my spare time.

    I think Himself Above laughs at conceits like that. My “career path” is even messier than yours, which, yes, takes talent. Of the inverse, bizarre kind.

    Let’s see… After I finished high school mumble years ago, I did a Geology degree. Graduated in the teeth of a hiring freeze caused by a stock market crash. After 2 years with a 4 month stint as a junior geo and a 2 week contract stint, I went back to college on a 1 year teaching conversion course.

    And graduated into possibly the only time there were too many teachers looking for work. Then got the teaching job from hell, and ended up completely useless within a year of starting to teach. And by useless I mean suicidal. I’ve been on antidepressants ever since.

    Eventually recovered enough to take degree #3, this one in software engineering. Graduated in – yes, the inverse Midas touch of careers holding true – 2000. Eventually got work, only to see the company go bankrupt six months later.

    Changed plans and started towards moving to the USA instead of my fiance moving to Australia. Eventually got work in software in the US, with hiccups caused by the glacial speed of immigration processing. I ended up becoming the de facto testing lead, before things went ugly there.

    Around then, I finally made my first writing sale, and started seeing a trickle come in from the writing. It’s never been more than a trickle, yet, but – of course – I finally broke into something at about the same time as the whole thing started imploding.

    Meanwhile I finally got a good job, testing software. Which I happen to like even more than I like programming, so all to the good there. That field has managed not to implode on me – and for the first time I’ve been able to hold a job more than a year. I was worried it was me – now I know I was just unlucky – or maybe that inverse Midas touch thing transferred to where I’ve always wanted to be, namely writing.

    So, yeah. Have backups. And preferably backups to your backups. It’s a rapidly changing world out there, and I’d bet there are going to be a lot more upheavals before a new stability emerges.

    I just hope they’re not going to upheave on me.

  2. And some passions are so strong they haul a kid off into areas with poor job prospects. Ah well. Music is nice, but his second love–languages–may be the bread winner.

  3. Marshall otoh seriously considered not getting a degree and just trying to find work in engineering, then working up from there.

    It may be moot since he is going to E school, but I did it that way, and I would summarize my experience with the advice “have you lost your freaking mind?”

    • Yes, but these are different times, Charlie. We just think since what he wants to do is DESIGN the stuff, school will help.

      • Methinks you have mistaken what Charlie’s saying.

        When I was first employed as a semi-adult, over half of the senior engineers and middle managers in the aircraft manufacturer I worked for didn’t have engineering degrees. They’d started out as draftsmen or craftsmen, and learned on the job — and their experience counted. Like an idiot, I thought that would go on forever, and aspired to follow in their footsteps. Charlie’s “have you lost your freaking mind?” sounded like the result of much the same experience.

        That was the Sixties. Shortly after that came the Engineering Crash of the Seventies, more or less coincident with the abandonment of the Government space program. Much more could be said about that, but the direct effect on me (and probably Charlie) was that people with engineering degrees became much more plentiful compared to the number of available jobs; employers could then dispense with the tedious business of discovering whether or not an applicant could do the work, and with the even more tedious (and expensive) business of “growing” talent, and simply require a degree as a requirement for entry. Which is where we are now, except that as tax policy drives more and more engineering work offshore and immigration policy allows more and more immigrant engineers to compete for the remaining jobs, employers are able to up the ante at essentially no cost — jobs that would, in the Fifties and early Sixties, have been hire-off-the-street apprenticeships now often require a Masters, not just a simple BS. If you want a job in engineering nowadays, even a scutwork job like computer design entry (the modern equivalent of drafting), you have to have a degree to even be considered.

        A few pockets of resistance do exist. You might see if you know somebody who knows somebody who might get him an interview with Armadillo Aerospace in Dallas (Grand Prairie, actually). The work is cutting-edge exciting and closely related to the robotics he enjoys, and knowledge and skill are valued over credentials — but the pay is low, the possibilities for advancement small, and if he ever wants to change jobs the lack of degree will be a killer.

        • Ric
          You just expanded on what I meant by “these are different times.”

        • Oh, I see. Sorry, I wasn’t very clear. What I MEANT was “in those times it might have limited your career but you could do it, now he needs a degree, and since he wants to design things he must have the right degree.” Argh, sorry. I’ve been half asleep all day.

        • Ran into the same problem in Software Development. After the Helpdesk I had worked at for 7 years got transferred to another company, one of the routes I went to look for work was a contracting agency. After interviewing at a local telecom to do development and testing on their internal websites, the contracting agent emailed me that they really wanted someone with a degree.

          I sent back a strongly worded email asking why in the heck they would care if I had a degree from over 20 years ago, when the things I was learning then were practically irrelevant today. I wound up getting the job, and I wonder if they were afraid I would sue them, but they didn’t extend my contract when it ran out in 6 months.

          • This is the reason why the right time to get a degree is before you need it. There are correspondence schools (OK, Internet schools these days) that let you study while you are working.

        • My father-in-law was one of those people that managed to “learn on the job”. He had an 8th-grade education, but after so much time at the Martin/Watertown facilities, he had enough experience to be the senior quality-control engineer for the X-24B project there. Can’t do that any more…

          • I’ve worked as a surveyor since a couple years after I got out of high school. All on the job training, worked with several guys that had both 2 and 4 year degrees, and they all agreed that six months on the job taught you as much as a 2 year degree, and 8-9 months was worth a 4 year. The degrees did cut down some on the number of hours experience required to apply to take the test for your license, however. I was never really interested in getting my license, because I didn’t want to run my own business as a surveyor (I do other work, part-time as my own boss). In fact I had kind of got out of surveying somewhat, but with the economy the way it is I have went to working part-time for an old employer, whenever they need extra work. I now wish I would have applied and got my license however, because last year they changed the law and require a 4 year degree to to get your license, and your options are better for employment with a license.

            Moral of the story, hedge your bets. Oh, and be willing to work at other things if you can’t find the work you are passionate about. There is a lot to be said for putting in hard days work and going home and forgetting about it. A job at something that doesn’t excite you but puts food on the table is far superior to either a career that you despise, or a career that you can’t make a living at.

        • Here’s the thing: companies are scared. HR is scared, the Hiring Manager is scared. One question NOBODY wants to be asked is: WHY did you hire that !@#$*&?????

          So HR screens by credentials (much faster and easier than evaluating skill sets for a job HR doesn’t even understand.) And Hiring Managers understand that “He has a degree from [FILLINTHEBLANK] Tech” covers their behind better than “the kid was bright, eager to learn and really talented, so I overlooked the fact he hadn’t jumped through the hoops all the other applicants did.”

          And, if you’re honest you will admit you use the same shortcut yourself, say, by hiring a CPA or Tax Attorney to file your returns rather than the neighbor’s kid who eats the tax code for breakfast and craps loopholes after lunch.

  4. You’ll never know what might happen, very true. I have written about this before, but anyway, I got into university to study something that interested me a lot, geology, and which might have led to a pretty decent career in spite of the fact that at that time there were not many jobs involving actual geology in my country, however people with a masters in it could get hired by all kinds of companies needing people with a background in natural sciences. Except I had to drop out without getting my degree, because of that seasonal affective disorder, which first started to give me trouble during the winter months when I was about 22 – 23. I struggled for several years after that, finally giving up when I was near 30 (one thing about universities here, you can’t be kicked out, you either drop out, voluntarily, or stay long enough to get your degree. Or die.).

    But while my jobs have been a bit on the ‘not much respect’ side, cleaning lady and so on, I don’t think my life has been all that bad. I found that I mostly liked that kind of ‘boring’ jobs, because when you do something you can do without thinking about it it leaves your mind free, you can daydream a lot. And while the pay may not be that good, you can make a living on it. The big drawback is that you may end up in a pickle once older, but not old enough to retire yet, like I have – my knees are going so I can’t really do most of the physical stuff anymore, not well anyway, and being my age and without a degree or work experience in anything which you can do sitting down I wont be hired to those jobs. Well, several more respected jobs do have the same problem, dancers for one, as do several other professions which require top physical condition, so I suppose the only advice one can give here is that you should try to plan something for that in advance, try to get some other schooling on the side or something. But by the time I knew what I could try to do about the SAD I was satisfied with I was doing and just regretted not knowing earlier, I didn’t think to start planning in case of future bad health. But not many do when they are still healthy.

    So: learn to adapt to unexpected changes would perhaps be the best advice. Never, at any age, get stuck thinking about only route, or even two or few, always try to keep on looking at all kinds of things and what you might do, even when you think you are currently doing just fine and don’t intend to change anything because there is always the possibility you will be forced to change. It is easier to switch if you have at least thought about it beforehand, and not just start looking after you can no longer avoid it.

    Damn this got long. Sorry about that.

  5. ppaulshoward

    Interesting.

  6. I’d add a couple of points.

    1. Always work on increasing your skills. The time to learn a backup career is before you are out of a job and desperate.

    2. Be flexible. You said it, but it bears repeating. And again.

    3. Have skills that DON’T belong together. It is relatively easy to find programmers. It is easier to find people who can teach. It is very hard to find people to teach material that requires programming skills.

    • Thank you, Ori. I was clearly very sleepy when I wrote this, because that’s the point I meant to make — develop ALL the skills you might be interested in. You never know what two weird skills, combined, will get you a job even in the worst economy. And listen, now, with coursework on the net, there’s no reason you shouldn’t pursue your love of physics, even if your degree is in horticulture.

      • One other point I forgot. Humility has its place, but the workplace isn’t it. Develop business bragging skills. If at all possible make sure at least some of your output is publicly available, so you will be able to brag about it to future employers.

        • That is cultural and it’s pretty much US and a few other places and in the US I’d contend it’s less than fifty years old. It will get you in real trouble under British culture as they tend to assume those who brag have no substance. Both Dave and I fight with this daily.

          • Bragging has to be done in a culturally appropriate manner. There is probably a mechanism in British culture to show your achievements to other people. It is just more subtle.

    • Agreed. I got a BA in history and German because I wanted to go into the diplomatic corps or military (and so I could read Clauswitz in the original). I took a flying lesson to see if I could cure a fear of flying and . . . well, a career and aerobatics and glider flying developed. Then along came 9/11 and the Great Furlough and I went back to university, graduating in time to see academics as a career go “pffffft!” But I’d been writing on the side for decades, so I got a writing fellowship, which led to a book, which led to another book. And I can substitute teach, and go back to flying, and get the books and more books and stories out there. And pick up a few speaking jobs, because translating from Engineer into English into Interesting appears to be a rarer skill than I once thought.

      I’d say follow your dreams . . . in a way that lets you move sideways if you need to, while following Ori’s advice. And learn to do something with your hands, if you can. Small engine repair, wood working, cabinetry, sheet-metal or welding work, cooking and baking, needlework, gardening, all can become side-jobs if the need arises. And if not, they are very satisfying hobbies.

      • I am good enough at cabinetry, furniture refinishing, cooking, baking and needlework to make a living from them, even if in lowly positions. IF I had a way to send my mind to my 22 year old body, I’d have enrolled in a community college class and learned proper woodwork instead of my improvised methods, then got a job doing that for a while.

  7. Laying down a marker on this, to ensure I’m on the distribution.

    1) Your career, if you stay in a single one, will change massively during your lifetime. Be prepared to race the Red Queen until you retire. Accept that about half of what you learn starting out will prove useless (or worse than useless) by the time you’re at the top of your career.

    2) Develop skills that require your willing cooperation. It will protect you against all sorts of abuses.

    3) Learn to love learning, no matter what kind of boring crap you have to learn. It is easier to learn enthusiastically, so the more necessary what you are learning is, the more enthusiasm you will have to con yourself into having.

    4) Managing chaos is ALWAYS a transferable job skill.

  8. As someone only one year out of the wonderful world of college, I can tell you that the best advice is to be flexible. Did I ever in a million years anticipate that I would graduate with a BA in English, and then go work for an airline? Um, no. Am I miserable with the way things have gone? Not a bit.

    I have a job to pay the bills and support my writing habit. I realized in about 2008 when things were going south that my grand plans of being an editor or an agent or a teacher might have to be modified. The teacher thing would’ve worked if I graduated a year early, but oh well. I’ve got a good job at a great company and I can still go home at night with enough brain power to write.

  9. My wife realized in 1969 that her grandfather had been born before the Wright brothers flew, and had lived to see man walk on the moon. She wondered then how much change she would see in her lifetime. Yes, flexibility is the key. The advice she, as a professor, gave her students about careers was, “Find something you love, and something you’re also good at. Don’t get fooled by trends. If things turn bad in a certain field, having a job you hate means you’re the first to be let go, but having a job you love and are good at, you might be able to weather the storm.”
    You are blessed (and probably partly responsible) that your children have such clarity about what they want to do at their age. Even if they veer off in different directions later, it will stand them in good stead.

  10. One crucial thing to remember is that we do not live in a world of “the rest of your life” careers any longer. Of course taking something like doctor is different as it still entails years upon years of formal training. But the days of getting a job and being either with that employer, or even in the same field, until retirement, are long gone as baseline norm. I’d go so far as to say those people are becoming the outliers.

    • I’m glad you said that. It’s something I also meant to mention… if I only had a brain.

      • :)

        Not a problem. I, myself, have gone from military (USAF) to radio to logistics broker and, maybe someday, author.

      • I was a typesetter for a newspaper, an ad paper, and a publisher, a clerk/cashier, a CTM in the Navy (electronics tech), a repair tech with Lockheed Martin and other companies as a contractor, a Xerox machine repair person, a tutor, a typist, a data clerk, a technical writer, and lastly a CW author.

  11. That’s OK, Tinman, we’ll get you to the Wizard…

  12. I can’t say anything about your boy who wants to go into doctorin’ but I figure that if he makes it through med school without being a perpetual debt-slave to Sally Mae, he’ll be cool.

    The aero-engineer son is more interesting because I know for God’s Own Truth that The University of Michigan is the best aerospace engineering school in the solar system. (No, I’m a MSU alumnus-warring tribe.) Besides, they are fun guys who tossed paper airplanes en-mass during commencement a few years back. Google Kelly Johnson and Skunk works.

    A sneaky way to get your way into space is power systems. My daughter the Nuclear Engineer (UofM) says that is done in a unnoticed corner of the Idaho National Labs. They’ve got an interesting problem, all RTGs use a plutonium isotope that’s left over from bomb making. And nobody’s making nukes… There’s some interesting stuff going down at SpaceX and Scaled Composites that’s bound to keep a few aero-engineers busy for the next few years.

    Nobody can really count on a straight-line career. The best thing to do is emerge from college without crushing debt possessing useful Science Technology Engineering & Math knowledge in your head with minimum grumpy-minority-studies propaganda. (A friend’s daughter called him a Gender Essentialist last week.) Then it’s a matter of hustling to find what opportunities are out there for you to do what others cannot. I recommend Jon Acuff’s book Quitter.

  13. Since ALL jobs are (eventually) free-lance, words of advice from Neil Gaiman as posted at PJM Lifestyle:

    via Neil Gaiman Shares ‘Secret Freelancer Knowledge’ – GalleyCat.
    Here is Gaiman’s secret freelancer knowledge:

    You get work however you get work, but keep people keep working in a freelance world (and more and more of today’s world is freelance), because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it is good and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.

    [ http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/05/19/neil-gaiman-on-the-3-secrets-of-freelancer-success/ ]

  14. I posted a response here yesterday, but it disappeared. I think I’ve remembered enough of it to post it again.

    I have been very fortunate to do things I’ve liked most of my life. I LOVED imagery analysis, and still practice from time to time using Google Earth. There aren’t many jobs for non-degreed imagery analysts except in Washington, DC. I worked there for six months once, and have no desire to go back – ever! After I retired, I had a three-year period where I didn’t work, then began working as a software test engineering technician and team lead. My physical problems ended that career about ten years ago. Luckily, I get enough in disability, social security and military retirement that I can now pursue a new career as an e-published writer.

    Sarah, both of your sons appear to have a strong work ethic, and have a pretty good idea of what they want to do in the future. I think they’ll both do just fine!

    • I don’t think I was as clear as I needed to be in my earlier comment, and Mike has kindly given me the opportunity to address that.

      The idea is NOT to follow your passion, nor is it to “do what you love.” That has it backwards: be passionate about what you do, love what you do and do it to the best of your ability.

      Psychologists have found (supposedly – I read this years ago and the research was not documented, may have been refuted — but it makes a certain logical sense) that when a person’s motivation for doing a job becomes money then, almost no matter how much they loved doing it as an amateur, as a professional their passion for the job fades. I believe that. I also believe the secret to employment happiness is to be found in discovering the little ways to enjoy your job, the small pleasures to be taken as they arise, and there is always the pleasure to be derived from knowing you are doing top quality work.

      Some people in this world understand that there may be menial jobs, but there are no menial people — except those that choose to be, and while their jobs may be quite high status (cough*editor*cough) the person holding the job is very menial indeed.

      There; I hope that confuses things completely.

      • I wholeheartedly disagree. IF you can find something that you love doing, and IF it will provide you with a “living income”, and IF you’re good at the job, then do it. However, if you cannot satisfy ALL THREE of those variables, it might not be the best choice. I love stamp collecting. I’ve been collecting stamps since I was 10. I tried working as a stamp dealer for two years, and failed miserably at it. That’s when I got the job as a software test technician, and found another thing I loved doing. When you’re doing something you love to do, that you’re good at, and that provides enough of an income you don’t have to worry about money, you’re miles ahead of 90% of the people in the workforce. I know my father hated his job, but it was all he could get at the time to put food on the table and provide us with a place to live. My mother rejoined the workforce when I was 12, and followed her high school dream of becoming a nurse. Even when things got really bad where she worked, she still loved the job, and it didn’t drive her crazy.

        I spent 26 years in the Air Force. There were many things about the Air Force I didn’t like (still don’t), but I dearly loved what I was doing, and felt I was making a significant contribution to keeping this nation free. I put up with the stupidity in order to do what I liked. I’m sure my dad put up with the stupidity and monotony of his job so he could enjoy all the things he did outside the job that made him happy. Each of us have to make compromises in our lives. The key to happiness is making the RIGHT compromises — the least ones that you have to make in order to do what makes you happy. Being miserable may be okay in books, but it really sucks in real life. It also makes for really MISERABLE people, especially if you have to be around them very often.

        • I don’t know if I agree with you, it is true for some, at least to an extent, but I believe RES is more correct in stating that making a profession of a hobby you love decreases your passion for it. For example I love hunting, and for a short time I worked as a guide. I found I still liked hunting, but did not like doing it for a living (largely because I don’t suffer fools gladly, and an amazing number of clients can be classified as fools). Now I enjoy taking out people I know and like, and have often thought of going back to work as a guide, but never do. Much of the reason I enjoy taking people out is because I WANT to, if I HAVE to it is no longer nearly so enjoyable.

          Now that I have made that as clear as mud, I’ll take a page from RES’s book and hope it confuses things completely ;)

          • I’m not sure Mike & I were actually disagreeing, as the point I wanted to make was: whatever you do for a living, find ways to enjoy it. Look for the positives in any job and don’t dwell on the negatives.

            Take the advice of Msrrs Mercer & Arlen:

          • Bearcat, I agree that turning a hobby into a profession isn’t always a good idea. I tried that as a stamp dealer, and it didn’t work. But what I was talking about was finding something you really LIKE to do that you can do as a profession. I found several things I can do, and do rather well, and succeeded at them. I stayed with both of them, even though there were things about them I didn’t like. What I did like was far more satisfying than the things I had to put up with were disagreeable. There are very few “perfect” jobs.

            A lot of people end up in jobs they thought they’d be good at, but eventually learned to hate, for various reasons. I have a friend who took a job because he could do it well, and it paid well. He quit after three years, because he HATED what he was doing. The paycheck wasn’t worth the heartache. He also found he wasn’t doing his best at the job, because he DID hate it. I’ve been there myself, after I retired and was looking for a civilian job. I cannot STAND repetitive, low-skill work. It drives me crazy. I can do it, and I can do well at it, but it’s totally frustrating for me.

            YOU are the person that you’re going to have to live with for the rest of your life. No one wants to be miserable. If your job makes you unhappy, you’re not going to be happy at home. What I’m saying is that you need to find something that will put bread on the table and pay the bills, but that you can be happy doing. Many of my friends are teachers, ranging from elementary school to tenured professors. Most are happy in their jobs, but not necessarily in their circumstances. A few have quit teaching because it turned out to be something totally different than they thought it was going to be, and they found themselves terminally unhappy.

            If you have a passion, whether it’s medicine, engineering, teaching, or accounting, and it makes you happy to work in those areas, do it. If it’s just a hobby, or a fad, the passion will pass. If it’s what you truly want to do for the rest of your life, you’ll have a good one.

            As someone else said, the chances of your working at one single area for the rest of your life is pretty slim these days. Even doctors are changing their focus, either narrowing down their field, or widening their area of expertise. The same goes for engineering, and even teaching, although the teaching “profession” is resisting the changes. Even if you change careers a dozen times, if you face each job as something that interests you, a challenge to succeed at, you’ll do well. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. There are plenty of opportunities to start over.