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Finding My Way to My Professional Happy Place

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 19/10/2015 Dana McKenna

My career has taken many, many (many) turns and detours. Most of my jobs have involved writing of some sort (thank goodness), and I've worked for all types of media: magazines, television, book publishers, online, and most recently, newspapers. The only media I am missing in my career are the ones my partner T has mastered: radio and satellite. Between the two of us, we've got communications pretty well covered.
And then there's Z. Math and science all the way, baby! He's very good at English and history, and is quite a skilled writer (however, if it is suggested he write more than a second draft of anything, the wailing and gnashing of teeth begins). He just doesn't enjoy those as much as math and science.
Overall, I'd like to think we're an academically well-rounded family.
Z wants to be an astrophysicist and has had his sights set on it since third grade. And although I love astronomy, I am limited by my poor, two-dimensional thinking brain and can barely keep up with Z's scientific explanations and theories of black holes, dark matter, and all other things celestial.
I am somewhat concerned about what I think most every parent dreads when their child goes off to college: the possibility that, after three years of school, you'll be hearing him announce that he wants to "do something different," and pursue Turf-Management, or Bagpipe Performance. Not that there's anything wrong with any field of study, but if he decides to switch majors, we just keep stressing he needs to figure that out within the first year and a half of school. We want him to find happy, but we're not prepared for the stop-and-smell-the-roses college plan.
My first job out of university (English major, advertising minor) was working in the public relations department of a non-profit arts organization. I LOVED that job, I loved my boss (best mentor I've ever had), and I had a lot of fun with the people I worked with. Medical benefits were ok for a non-profit, but the pay was, alas, also non-profit. Had I been able to make a viable living there, I would have stayed a lot longer than the couple of years I was able to manage.
After that, I worked for a family-owned business. Then a large corporation. Then a small university trying to act like a big one... a cable-TV company in the middle of a cornfield (really)... a magazine publisher at the corner of Park and 33rd in NYC... a book publisher across the river in New Jersey... myself as a freelance publication designer from my basement office... a veterinarian whose hours worked well for a single parent... a jeweler who desperately needed marketing help... and a newspaper.
Now I work for myself... which is a little scary, but a whole lot of happy.
Along the way, I experienced some professional satisfaction, and unfortunately dissatisfaction, too. A lot. I guess it just took me longer to find the right road.
I think all of us, when embarking on our education to prepare for our working lives -- whether it's college, apprenticeships, on-the-job training -- expect to use that education in our chosen field for a long time to come. When we suddenly find ourselves outside that field, whether by design or by accident, it can be disheartening.
I voluntarily left my field due to burn out, pure and simple. What wasn't so simple was that I expected to go right back to it. But that didn't happen for a long, long time, for lots of reasons. Although I'm not someone who typically believes in "regrets," I am sad that because of financial constraints, I had to take some jobs simply because I had to pay bills. I can honestly say those are jobs that made me wonder if I wasted time and money on college all those years ago...
Fortunately, I got out of that funk: I truly don't believe any sort of education is a waste. I felt that way for a time, but I don't really believe it. Life took a lot of unexpected turns, and the universe threw a lot of big bad awful at me. But I got through it, and got back on the way to happy, and now I'm doing what I believe I'm supposed to be doing.
Had I not gone through everything prior, though, I wouldn't have what it takes to do this writing gig.
Now, Z is starting his first part-time job search. Discussing the pros and cons of various jobs at this level is pretty basic: school comes first; dress appropriately; show up on time; be polite; and do your work to the best of your ability. He wants that paycheck -- although I don't understand how he's thinking he'll be making enough to buy a car in "a few months." I've tried explaining who FICA is and why he'll be taking a good chunk of each of his paychecks. It will also be part-time: no more than 12-15 hours per week during the school year, and at minimum wage, I'm sure.
I expect reality to be making a stop at our house in the near future.
Anyway, he has a few good possibilities lined up, including working at our public library. Which is kind of funny, because that was my very first job when I was in high school.
Maybe we're more alike than I originally thought... although I hope Z's career path to Happy doesn't take quite as many turns as mine. But this one will be a first step toward building a life of his own, learning what it means to be a good employee with good work ethics, and hopefully learning more about time management and juggling school, work, and still find time for fun and what makes him smile.
It took me a long time to find happy, and I intend to stay for a good long time. Not just for me, either; but to show my child what finding fulfillment, finding the Happy, in your chosen field looks like. As I said, it took a while, but I'd like to think if I had to travel so long on such a hard road, it was so that I could eventually light the way for Z so that he can find Happy sooner.

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