My Second Career

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!

Holy cow.

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?

Blogger/Reader conference

Last night was my first ever “Parent Teacher Conference” with my sons’ teachers. Grey’s held few surprises. His teacher hadn’t managed to peg his reading level, but stumped him on ‘refridgerator’. Since Grey self-reports well, it was nice but not groundbreaking. I was more curious about Thane’s. While he talks a ton for a not-quite-two-year-old, it doesn’t involve a very good answer to “How was your day?” (Thane’s reply: “BU CAR! BU CAR VROOM! Thane’s BU CAR! My turn!”) The funniest moment’s of Thane’s were the note that Thane does not accept correction. For example, he will misidentify a color “Bu Car!”. You will correct him, “No, that is actually a black car.” “No! BU! CAR!”. He will wear you down until you give up, and he will never admit that it was indeed a black car. This is SO TRUE.

Anyway, afterwards I had a phone conversation with my sister where I updated her on some of the stuff I’m doing, and she was surprised. How can anyone be surprised about my life? I have a blog, which OBVIOUSLY everyone reads with bated breath! (Or not…) So I thought I’d give you an update on what’s been going on with me lately.

1) I’m thinking about running a 5k. (My sister’s response “What, did you fall on your head recently?”) I’ve been working out more often than I have since, hmmm… well, maybe since the summer before my wedding? Or maybe since I managed to lose my baby weight from Grey (a feat I have not yet managed with Thane’s baby weight). Anyway, I’ve been doing this two mile loop, and I’m getting faster and better. Like after I’m done now, I feel good, instead of feeling like I just got out of the tumble dry cycle. And I don’t wish I was dead at the 1.2 mile mark any more. There’s a 5K in Melrose that Grey has been BEGGING to go to… and I think I might try it. Crazy, no?

2) We fixed stuff on the house. Four days of Mr. Handyman’s time and all our window sills are hardened, caulked, repaired and painted. So is the rotting wood on the porch I totally didn’t know about and the basement window cover that was caving in. My husband finally fixed the overhead light in the living room. (Seriously, remote controls for lights? I bet it sounds brilliant when you’re 70 but what a PITA when you have small children. And when you lose the remote, and your light mysteriously turns off, your husband spends his ENTIRE Columbus Day trying to figure it out to no avail. Then you finally go buy a new light fixture, because it is getting dark these days ya know. Then while your poor, put upon husband is taking down the old light fixture and putting up the new one, he finds the little bit of wiring that connected to the remote control you lost two years ago, and now the light works FINE. And you have the new one on your dining room table, but it doesn’t quite fit back in its box. But hey, LET THERE BE LIGHT.

But hey! Our window are no longer rotting! The porch has been structurally rescued from water damage! I won’t have a guilty pang at the basement window every time I walk past! And I have a light in my living room again!

Next up: bats in the attic. At least Mr. Handyman put up the bat house I bought, so I won’t feel quite so horrible evicting them.

3) I got a promotion at work. I’m now a Business Analyst. I’m actually very excited about this, since it is really what I’ve been trying to articulate as the perfect job for me for the last several years. Who knew there was a job title (if a generic sounding one) that means that?! And like books and certification and stuff. I mean, it’s almost like a real job! I like my new boss. I like my new job description. There’s still tons of uncertainty during the reoganization, but my brain is fully engaged at work, and I like it. (I’m also pictured in this year’s benefits package. The picture tells me I badly need a new haircut.)

4) My husband has talked me into doing a solo-player RPG. He let me pick the system, so we’re playing Pendragon. I think it’ll be a lot of fun — I’ve never played a generational game before. He’s been reading this blog non-stop in his free time, which has inspired him greatly. (He says I shouldn’t read it because it’s spoilery.)

In related news, I’m trying an MMORP (LOTR) for the first time with a fellow gamer-parent. Because I need to have fun, that’s why. How bad could it be? I mean, MMORPGs aren’t addictive, right? Right? (If this paragraph didn’t make any sense to you at all, don’t worry. Go read this and feel comforted.)

5) I’ve started wearing makeup. Woooooo. OK, this is actually more of a big deal than you might think. Given #3, and another significant number (32), I have decided it’s time to figure out what level of makeup I can live with every day. That’s the danger of makeup. You start to get used to seeing yourself like that, and then it’s hard NOT to wear it or you look bad. And given #1, I will often have to apply said makeup twice a day. But I think I’ve gotten it to a level I’m comfortable with and I think it does help me look more grownup.

6) Possibly in rebellion to #5, I’ve decided to start liking football this year. You may not think that’s how it’s done… who DECIDES they’re going to like something? But that’s exactly what I did with baseball and it turned out wonderfully, thankyouverymuch. So you may now feel free to invite me to your football watching parties because I’m game. I’ll cheer with the best of them when the Patriots get their first downs, and marvel at their tight ends, and, um, stuff. OK, so maybe I still have a lot to learn….

So that’s what’s up with me. What’s up with you?