For some people, finding the right career is easy. During formative years, perhaps one skill outshines all others, directing someone to develop that skill over time. Perhaps there is one particular area that develops into a passion, and the only choice is to follow that passion regardless of the income potential. In my formative years, I found myself interested in a wide variety of things, any of which could have developed into careers, some of which could have been very lucrative.
I can no longer recall the order of my earliest jobs. One of the first, while I was in high school, was as a computer programmer for a small consulting firm that developed custom applications for clients. I fumbled my way through the VisualBASIC programming language, which was fairly new at the time, after several years of hobbyist programming in BASIC. My assignments were relatively easy, but they gave me a chance to learn a skill that could prove to be useful — if I were to keep up with programming and turned it into a career. I studied C and C++. I spent hours of my own time writing and rewriting software for my bulletin board system that hundreds of people accessed by dialing with their computers’ modems. If I had wanted to, I could have taken my computer programming knowledge further by studying in college, but I had other plans.
Another early job during my high school years was working at Radio Shack. I didn’t know much about electronics other than computers, and I didn’t know anything about sales. I left the job knowing that I had no interest in working in retail again. Customers were generally unhappy. Although the company’s catchphrase at the time was, “You’ve got questions; we’ve got answers,” a phrase I was required to utter every time I picked up the store’s phone, occasionally people asked questions for which I didn’t have an answer. Compensation was partly commission-based, and the main goal seemed to be to push the TSP (Tandy Service Plan), which even as a teenager I could see that was almost always a bad deal for the customer. I didn’t want to push extended warranties, and I didn’t want to bother every customer by asking them for their phone number. Eventually, whatever break from school I was on that allowed me to spend time at this job was over, and I left retail never to return.
In college during the year, I occasionally allowed myself a job, but my schedule was usually overloaded with courses that prevented me from taking too much time to do anything other than academic. Additionally, I preferred to take leadership positions in several campus organizations rather than use that potentially free time to earn money. Of course, it helped that loans, scholarships, and my patient parents helped me afford my education. I also had a few office jobs during breaks to help pay, but during the semesters, my attentions were elsewhere. I spent one break working for the university’s music department library, an easy job hat gave me some quiet time to myself as the library was rarely visited.
Also, at the time I was in college, the World Wide Web was new. I developed a few departmental websites, including taking photographs of the staff, scanning various photographs in one of the university’s computer labs, and programming in HTML. I was paid for this work from the departments’ budgets. I also consulted for professors who wanted to develop their own “home pages,” teaching them how to use Netscape to design their own websites without having to teach them much, if any, HTML.
All this time, I was studying music education with the intent to teach. Despite my heavy involvement with computers, my desire had always been to teach music, preferably at the high school level. Somewhere along the way, I changed my mind, but I was the last to know.
In addition to the above, I spent breaks from school in cubicle environments. I usually worked with a temp agency, and impressed with my skills, they lined me up with jobs in corporate environments. With my computer skills, I tended to qualify for some of the more advanced entry-level jobs, sometimes working with computer databases or designing presentations.
After college I worked as a long-term substitute in a middle school while looking for a full-time teaching job that I liked. The middle school teaching experience was one of the worst experiences of my life. My next stop was a non-profit arts organization, managing projects. I had previously worked for the organization as an intern, a requirement of my music management minor. It was a nice organization to work for, except that the organization was practically bankrupt and I was losing money just by working there.
Part of the year, the job required an intense work schedule, which was fine when I was younger. But more and more, executives used cult-like techniques for rationalization of the work. Towards the end of my career there, they invited me to attend the “bring-a-guest” portion of a cult-like re-education seminar, complete with obvious plants talking about how their lives were changed after going through the program. The executives strongly encouraged to sign up for the full program. I wasn’t buying it.
My varied interests led me all over the map in terms of jobs, and made it somewhat difficult for me to focus on one particular career. I suppose one positive thing I’ve taken away from my experiences is that I can do things my way and succeed rather than following a path that’s laid out for me by tradition or common practice. After my first horrible experience teaching, I didn’t want to accept another job unless it was exactly what I wanted — and that eventually led me away from teaching. People chided me for claiming I never wanted to work in retail after a mediocre experience as a Radio Shack employee. The truth was that it wasn’t horrible, and I could have gone back to retail if necessary, but I’ve made that decision work for me so far.
If I’ve drawn any conclusions from my experiences, it would be that I’d much prefer to drive my own career, as long as I can find a profitable way to do it, than rely on employers to be concerned about my financial needs.
Published or updated September 5, 2011.