Thursday, May 08, 2008

What do you do?

I have always envied those people who went to college for something with a purpose. I'll be 29 in five days and I'm still trying to figure out what I want to be when I "grow up".
I think back to those final years in high school when all of a sudden you were expected to decide what you wanted your job to be for the foreseeable future. After 17 years of childhood, in a flash you were supposed to make this huge grown-up decisions. I had never held a job or interned anywhere, I had no idea of the spectrum of careers that were even options to me and here I was filling out forms asking me to declare a major. With no other ideas or experience, I chose theatre lighting design. I had worked on some community theatre productions and figured it was as good a major as any. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Don't get me wrong, the University of Illinois theatre program is difficult. The classwork and practical experience combined hours are intense and our projects were actual, realized performances. As I used to like to say, "People pay for tickets to see our HOMEWORK". Not many other majors can say that. The coursework is intense, but the education is very specific. If you don't end up wanting to be a theatre lighting designer, there is very little else you can do with that degree. Late in my last year of school, I realized that I did not in fact want to be a theatre lighting designer and I felt lost. I had no skills to do anything else, no energy to start over and very little guidance. I fell into a deep depression and though I had a perfect academic standing, I dropped out of school.
I was fortunate to get an interim position doing event planning at the University after I dropped out. I enjoyed my two years in the position and it was the first time I truly felt good at what I was doing. The balance of creative aspects and analytical skills appealed to me and I found the transition from being a student to employee effortless. I got myself in a better mental place and eventually finished my degree in summer school. At the end of my two years though my position was up and there was no longer a place for me. At the time I was also suffering through some difficult times in my person life and in the end was forced to make some choices that I will regret for the rest of my life. I was once again at a very low point in my life and I felt like I had no opportunities. I tried to find other event planning work, but my resume wasn't yielding any results. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or even where I wanted to live. After months with no work, and several failed attempts at following through with plans. I packed my things and moved to NY. I say "moved" but I think what I really did was escape. The physical place and mental state I was in was toxic and I needed out. After a rough year I found a job in entertainment law and for the past 4 years I've been ok. I don't love my job, I don't loathe it. The pay is decent, but not exceptional. The hours are long, but the actual work is pretty easy and doesn't require much thinking. I'm stuck in the mediocre. I want to do something else, but I find myself at the same impasse I was in at 17. What do I want to do and where do I want to do it? Aside from a new zip code, 12 years hasn't gained me much. I know I don't want to stay in legal work, I've been applying to event planning jobs, but haven't gotten even a callback, and truth be told I don't know if I want to go back to that work because it's my passion or because I want to go back to the life I knew before I altered my conscious. I have been seriously considering photo editing, but I lack the skills for even an entry level position and have so far been able to find information or guidance on the education or background I need to break into the industry.
I feel myself slipping into bad thought patterns. I feel that sense of being lost creeping up on me and I feel powerless against it. My job history is too jagged, my skill set too narrow. I don't want to go through life wandering endlessly and would like to have a job I felt proud of and passionate about, but lack the ability to achieve it.
I am afraid I will never have an answer to life's most frequent small-talk question: "What do you do?"


KathyR said...

In this market/economy, I'd go back to school. If that would be too expensive or impossible, then take a class or two in something you like a lot, are interested in, or think I could be good at.

You must have gotten some good basic education at Illinois, so it isn't like you'd be starting over. You're in New York! There are so many schools where you could pick up some new skills and meet others working in those fields. I'll bet there are even event planning classes somewhere, if you really want to do that. Brush up & meet people doing it. Add the class(es) to your resume.

OTOH, I'm 47 and I don't know what I'm going to be when I grow up, either. So, you know, grain of salt and all that...

ccw said...

At 33, I still have friends who haven't figured out what they want to do. I can't even figure out what I want to do but I know it's not stay at home forever.

There's no need to be down on yourself. Something that you love will turn up.

Seeking Solace said...

As you know, I struggled in the career I thought I wanted. Now that I am doing I want I am passionate about, it was worth the struggle.

You are still young. Go for it!