Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What do you want to be when you grow up?

"Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they're looking for ideas." - Paula Poundstone

Having spent the past decade or so in an extended period of career drift (punctuated by brief periods of moving in directions which either failed to pan out or else turned out to be not what I had hoped they would be), I've been trying to reorient myself and move forward.  Since I have the luxury of having a steady job that pays the bills, and since my attempts to select a career based on my business skills (which aren't my strong suit) haven't been successful, I've decided to look back to my youthful dreams to see what I can come up with.  And this morning, you get to go along with me.
  1. Astronaut.  I pretty much scratched this off the list after the Challenger disaster.  That and the fact that everything I read said they wanted short people and I've always been tall (I'm currently 6'2" - not a giant, but certainly tall).  Add in the fact that I was never willing to join the Air Force in order to get into space and that I've missed my "launch window" age-wise as far as getting the necessary training, and I have to admit that this is off the list of possibles.  That being said, if offered the chance to live in a space colony, I'd sign up in a heartbeat.
  2. Game designer.  Specifically, I wanted to live in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and work for TSR.  This is no longer a possiblity in its original form (Lake Geneva's still there, but TSR isn't), but it could still happen in some other form.
  3. Computer programmer.  I wanted to work in artificial intelligence or in the MIT Media Lab or some similar interesting situation.  This is still a possibility.  I'll have to brush up my programming skills, learn some new languages, etc., but that's not a problem.  And given that the introduction of apps has ushered in a return of the era of individual programmers building human-scale programs, there's an opening for the sort of programming I'd like to do.
  4. Physicist.  To be honest (and with the benefit of experience and hindsight) it wasn't physics that interested me so much as physicists.  I'd read (auto)biographies of Einstein and Feynmann and felt that these were really interesting people - the sort of person I wanted to be - and apparently studying physics was the way to do that.
  5. Writer.  Specifically, I wanted to be a science fiction writer.  Not because - as so many authors of my acquaintance have said - I had stories on the inside bursting to get out (I had settings and ideas, but no stories, about which more in a later post).  No, I wanted to be a writer because I wanted to be an interesting person (which writers seemed to be), to hang out with other interesting people, and to receive royalty checks and fanmail and invitations to speak at conferences and conventions.
Looking back over this, I've seen a pattern, and I hope I can manage to put this knowledge to use.  There's a pretty consistent trend here of wanting to learn things and then convert that knowledge into a product (whether that product be a game, a program, an article, a book, or speech is fairly irrelevant) and wanting to be recognized (both materially and otherwise) for what I have created.  Isaac Asimov has long been an idol of mine, and though I've more recently learned of some characteristics of the good doctor that I'd do well not to emulate, I think the basic model still stands:  Convert knowledge into product, receive money and recognition.  I want to make a profession out of being a fascinating person.

Another recurring theme that I see is my weakness in business skills.  That aspect of things doesn't come naturally for me, and all my efforts to improve this area seem to have done is to hold me back in other areas.  I recently read Resumes Are Dead - And What To Do About It by Richie Norton (along with several other "how to find the job that will really make you happy" books) and the key points I've taken away are:
  1. Start doing what you want to do now and try to find a way to get paid for it later.
  2. Focus your energy on your strengths - where you can become excellent - rather than your weaknesses - where you can become adequate - so as to maximize the value of your work.
So that's what I'm going to do.  I'm going to put myself out there and be the fascinating person I've always wanted to be, starting with regular posts to this blog, and trust that the money and recognition I'm hoping for will eventually come as a result of it.  It promises to be an interesting journey; I hope you all come along with me.

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