Thursday, January 14, 2010

Career Counseled

When I was a kid, I never had dreams of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I somehow think I lack a bit in the imagination realm. I love to read fiction and fantasy, so I guess I live vicariously through other people's imaginations. In any case, this means that I never really dreamt of being an astronaut or a princess or a doctor or anything. So if you have no real dreams, how do you choose to become ... whatever you become as an adult?

When I was in college, I started out as an "international business" major. What IS that? I didn't know then and I still don't now. I think I liked the "international" in the name. In any case, I majorly messed up my statistics class and hated taking economics, so I dumped that major when I changed universities. (For the record, I started at the University of San Francisco and ended up at California State University, Northridge. Going to a state school is waaay cheaper than a private Catholic university.)

At CSUN, I started in as a math major. Yeah, I'm pretty good at math, like algebra and trigonometry. What I totally suck in is geometry. So the hardest class I took in college was Calculus, which is half algebra and half geometry. Pretentious students in my class would pipe up with the correct answers and when the teacher would ask how they got the answer, they'd say things like "well, that's obviously an isosceles triangle" (sounding in my memory like Thurston Howell III). Blech. Definitely not where my "skillz" were at. Thus a change in majors to Computer Science.

Now back in those days (we're talking the days just at the end of the punch card era and starting the [gasp!] dot matrix era) Comp Sci was mostly a male dominion. So I had lots of guy friends who could help me with my homework, because honestly? I'm not a programmer at heart. I could never see the illogical things I was writing when I wrote wee little programs. (I do realize now, though, that since I've been working with computers since the early '80s, I'm a damn good computer USER.) Comp Sci as a major lasted about ... two years, I think. Then I realized that I'm just not good enough to get a degree in this field. Too stressful trying to write programs.

What to do, what to do? ("Put some mustard in your shoe, drive a nail through your foot, fill your stocking full of soot" ... sorry, I digress. That was a little thing my sister taught me when I was a kid. OOOH! I just Googled this and it's a poem by Shel Silverstein!! I rock!) I looked at all the classes I was taking (many were general ed classes) and I discovered that I was pretty darn good at German. Now I took German because it's similar to Dutch (a language I grew up speaking) and I figured "easy A!". It kind of was, so I kept taking the classes. Finally, I just claimed German as my major and after 6 years in college (which included a summer stint working in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and a year of "study abroad" in Germany), I finally got my BA in German.

Uh ... now what? I briefly toyed with the idea of being a university professor, teaching German to willing little students. HA! I taught a "German for travelers" type of class for a place called the Learning Tree (one of those 8-week, adult interest classes) and I loathed it. One of my students even told me (via the end-of-class survey) that they wished they'd learned something. Nice. Thus, teaching was not for me.

The big question for me, and I guess a zillion other people in the world, is what do you after college? I mean, I had a degree that wasn't good for a lot of things, so how do I earn a living? In my case, you start out by signing up with a temp agency. I then got a receptionist job at a company, which lead to an executive secretary position with a printing company. I got this last job because I spoke German ... hot damn! I actually could put my college degree to a bit of use. The printing company was owned by a German conglomerate, and the president was a German who wrote lots o' letters "auf deutsch". This was actually a good move for me, as I was able to move out of being a secretary into a customer service position.

Over the years, customer service morphed into what people today call "project management" or "program management". Now I'm a program manager. Basically, I'm a super-duper anal retentoid who can organize the shit out of just about anything, and good program managers do exactly that. I admit that I'm very, very good at my job and people really like how I manage my work. I don't necessarily get along with everyone, but I know my stuff.

Organizing apparently comes naturally to me, because I organize all sorts of things at home, too. I pay our bills on a regular schedule, I keep receipts and shit like that, even the spices in my pantry are in alphabetical order. Sometimes being anal retentive is a curse, too. It means that I organize all our vacations, so it's never really a true "rest" for me, because I'm always wondering what the next thing is that I have to remember. I admit that kind of sucks, but at least I get to go on vacation. Lots of people end up staying at home when they take time off. Silver linings, people, silver linings.

I guess that education doesn't always prepare you for a particular job, at least it didn't for me. What it did prepare me for is routine work, understanding how I work (for example, I work better with a deadline than without ... still do so today!), knowing my strengths and weaknesses (like the fact that I work better early in the morning than any time in the afternoon) ... things that make sense to me now as I work at my "career".

No comments:

Post a Comment