We 30-somethings have spent our lives being prepared for a working life that looks very different than our parents’ and grandparents’. I remember when I graduated from High School hearing that a person my age could expect to have seven careers over their lifetime. Of course, at the time, I had no clue what one career I might pick. In retrospect, I had a blithe confidence that whatever career I ended up doing would be awesome and I would be awesome. Perhaps I would be a wealthy scholar, of um, something. Ah, the hubris of youth!
I went off to a fine fine liberal arts college and got my incredibly useful double major in English and Medieval Studies. You’re almost holding your breath waiting for the cold reality-bath that I seemed destined for at that moment, aren’t you?
But…. my esoteric studies in Wind Instrumental Ensembles in Italy from 1450 to 1620 had inadvertently inspired me to get some useful skills. (NOTE: That’s actual heritage 1999 HTML going on there folks! AHAHAHH! I’d forgotten the Web Rings! Those were all the rage….) I’d built on this experience to have, by the time I graduated, roughly 3 years experience doing websites. This was in the year 2000 (pre-bust), when very few people had more than three years, and anyone with a pulse could get a programming job. That’s exactly what I did.
I tell this story nearly every time I have to explain to someone how an English/Medieval Studies double major ended up programming.
The entire first decade of the 2000s I spent on variations on that theme. I learned a medium-niche programming language called ColdFusion. I got pretty good at MS SQL Server development (coding queries, etc.). I can do an inner join with the best of ’em.
Across three separate jobs, I kept trying to move from programming (which I was unexpectedly pretty good at at) to a job that required talking and writing. If you were to draw up a list of the things I’m best at, talking and writing are probably right up there. I once won $1000 in a contest doing impromptu speaking on the Constitution. I am unafraid of presentations. I like meeting people. I like talking. I’m a rampant, unrepentant extrovert. And I spent ten years programming?
So in February I got this new programming gig in a totally different language (which I didn’t know) in a much larger company (going from a 16 person company to a 6,000 person global company). There was talk of the “succession planning team” (which I think must be mythical since I’ve never heard of it since). I thought that maybe this was finally time for me to break out of the code-mines. I’d become… I dunno… a project manager! Or maybe manage a small team of coders?
Since then, it’s been a whirlwind. I did to a tiny tiny bit of programming in that new language — exactly one function. Then I suddenly got assigned two large, really large, projects to manage. And we got acquired. And I got moved around. And suddenly everything I thought I was working towards I got. Bing! Your first genie wish arrived!
This is it. I’m into my second career. There are no IDEs in my new career. I do not write code. I am expected to know a bit about all the acronyms and be in depth about none. My key skills are multitasking, interpersonal relationships, paperwork, fantastic note-taking, question-asking and presentation-giving. It’s a moving, spinning target with words that I thought were generic buzzwords suddenly taking on terrifyingly specific meanings. I am the one who tells people how we take an idea and make it happen. I have to update the budget. I talk a lot about making sure we’re in alignment.
I am learning so very much. I flip between terrified and excited. I don’t even know how to talk about what I’m doing. Do I sound bombastic and self-centered when I talk about the people, the politics, the circumstances of my job? This new career is of the kind that can suck you in and demand your entire personal life if you let it…. how do I not let it? I have a gazillion and one friends who are programmers. I could bounce things off them and my husband if I felt out of my depth. I have, well, pretty much no friends who are doing what I’m doing now. Who do I bounce things off? Or do I tie them up tightly and keep them inside? This new career is Corporate with a capital “C”. Nylons and ties Corporate. I have a Blackberry. Everyone seems to have a BMW, unless they have an Audi. How does that relate to my personality and identity… to who I really am?
When I was in high school, I did Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), mostly because you got out of class and went places where you could meet cute boys. I did extremely well at typing (my typing speed is still one of my secret assets). But I could never even imagine myself in the buzzword world of the Keynote Speakers, the swank unreality of plush hotel lobbies with fountains and glass elevators and stultifying conference rooms. Now I find myself wondering if I should find out if there’s a local chapter and volunteer with them.
All this has really shaken me. It’s hard to talk about, because it’s a very good change. Any sort of “working through” this sounds like bragging in my head, so I don’t do it. And I really can’t blog about the specifics because, uh, that’s career suicide and stupid to boot. But work is taking a tremendous amount of my intellectual energy. I come home really tired. I hardly ever have “extra” time at work that I can spend doing things like blogging. You might have noticed by my frantic “Please, at least one update a week!” pace here. I’ve held the line on hours worked, but somehow it seems like my days are even more compressed.
And I still don’t know if I will succeed at this, if I want to succeed at this… what success looks like and whether I’m willing to accept the consequences of success.
Thus my transition from Career 1 (programmer) to Career 2 (Business Analyst).
Have you made career transitions? What career number are you on? Have you found them hard or easy to make? What was your favorite and least favorite career? What did you do when you found yourself succeeding faster than you can adjust your self-image? What’s the biggest career-related adjustment you’ve ever made, and how did you do it?