If You Give a Kid a Day Job…

For years, I’ve been contemplating a career switch. While I currently enjoy my work in quality assurance, I can’t help but long for something more than documentation, compliance, and perpetual wrist-slapping. I think I would enjoy something more tangible, with an end product or a happy customer.

I remember many years ago hearing the suggestion that your interests around from seven to ten can offer a guide as to what you’re most drawn to. By that age, you’ve been exposed to countless people, places and idea, and some may be have been particularly intriguing.

When I was five, I wanted to be a veterinarian because I loved animals, but quickly changed my mind when I found out I may be working with sick and dying animals. I considered becoming an artist because I enjoyed Friday art class, but lost interest when the teacher made an off-handed comment about being paid in joy. I already had enough of that and even as a naive kindergartner, I knew joy doesn’t buy candy.

By age seven, I was obsessed with Spirograph, K’NEX, Sunprints, Perler Beads, garment sewing, mystery books, and America’s Most Wanted. So, in essence, building, design, and criminal justice. I was testing, seeking patterns, and figure things out. How can I construct a mechanical Ferris wheel? How can I arrange items on the solar paper to ensure the final image looks neat? Based on the evidence provided, where did the bad guy run off to?

Within a year, I had taken a deep dive into the criminal justice field. I picked up an 500-page encyclopedia of crime and a book on forensic anthropology from the discount rack at Barnes & Noble. I read both repeatedly, intrigued by the Chicago mafia and how bodies are identified after a terrible plane crash. I think my mother was a bit disturbed and worried about my morbid curiosities, but I soon outgrew them. As I got a little older, I realized how depressing it would be to investigate crime and the resultant environments. Hard pass.

When I was nine, I was sent to a STEM camp, which I still consider one of the most fun weeks of my life. We built bridges using CAD software, played with magnets, went to an observatory, and built roller coaster using foam half-pipes, marbles and physics. We also talked with doctors, scientists, and technology creators. At that time, I decided that I wanted to build miniature roller coasters for a living because I had absolutely no concept of extrapolation. Looking back, I wish someone had encouraged me to pursue engineering beyond merely building random Rube Goldberg contraptions to test the laws of physics.

My brother was obsessed with architecture for a solid five years, insisting on designing floor plans for anyone who happened to visit the house. He now designed board games in his spare time, changeling that same approach to design that marries functionality and fantasy. My sister would befriend strangers anywhere we went and could often be found reading to her dolls and stuffed animals. She now works in the non-profit sector, teaching undeserved communities how to access and utilize technologies. And, then there’s me, with seemingly so little carryover from my childhood interests.

What am I interested in today? I love reading, I appreciate thoughtfully designed and handcrafted items, and I enjoy just about any outdoor activity. When my brain is firing on all cylinders, I adore crafting fiction and conveying wisdom through relatable anecdotes. I like working with my hands–sketching, painting, gardening, building, and sewing–no matter how poorly the final product turns out.

The more I think about it, the less it matters that the work I do on a daily basis right now isn’t that meaningful and doesn’t necessarily tap into my inherent strengths or lifelong interests. It’s easy to strive for some all-encompassing, fits-like-a-glove career. Yet, I have met numerous people who have found both success and misery in their dream job, so perhaps there is more to the equation.

At the end of the day, regardless of what you’re paid to do, I think it’s important to identify your priorities and then set aside time for both the items deemed important and those classified as fun hobbies. While the only real element that’s carried over from my childhood to my career is a propensity towards structure, patterns and detail, my life beyond work is filled with creativity, exploration, pattern-seeking and an abundance of journeys down the rabbit hole.

I remember the sense of social pressure in my early-to-mid twenties to apply for the right job start climbing the right ladder towards the perfect, made-for-me career. I found imperfect job after imperfect job, but all felt inadequate despite the post-recession economy. In retrospect, in the ten years since graduating from college, I’ve had many invaluable experiences and learned a lot about what I don’t want in a job, along with all the things that I now look for in a job.

Do I feel fulfilled in my job? Not necessarily. But, do I feel a sense of fulfillment in my life? I absolutely do. And I am slowly coming to the realization that finding happiness in life beyond work is more than enough. Someday, I would love to do work that absolutely makes my heart sing but, for now, I’m perfectly content authoring standard operating procedures and laughing about my childhood dreams of building roller coasters and fighting crime.

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