I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence. – Frederick Douglass
Guys, it’s finally happened! The moment you’ve all been waiting for: I’m feeling at peace with my job search!
Wait, that sounds a bit narcissistic. This blog isn’t about me, it’s about you, and how much you like motorcycles! … no, that’s not right. What’s that? It’s about career transitions for people who potentially like motorcycles and creating things? Yes, it’s about finding your passion and your true calling amidst poor economic times, and after having spent a third of your potential lifetime in academia!
I think I had too much coffee this morning… I got one of those cheap aluminum moka pots as a secret santa gift, and I’m finding out the hard way that it makes quite the concentrated brew. It’s perfect for writing a slightly agitated rant!
But yes, back to digesting criticism:
I’ve had some moments of doubt while being unemployed; scratch that, many moments of doubt. I come up with a list in my head of the things people might say to me if I write for a public audience.
"I'm planning on writing an article that exposes all my vulnerabilities to the entire Internet." – Hannah, Girls
I too have made a subconscious decision to expose all of my vulnerabilities to the Internet… Or at least to some of my friends, since they’re basically the ones who read my posts. I probably have already told them most of these things since I expose all of my vulnerabilities to everyone all the time anyway. It’s just in my nature.
Just as you can’t have a healthy relationship without openness and vulnerability, so too is it impossible to have a healthy career without a certain amount of vulnerability, or at least humility and a willingness to fail without taking it too hard.
Which brings me to the point of this post: if you write anything worth reading, you’re going to receive at least some criticism! Since starting this blog I’ve had a very positive response from most people, greater than I could have expected. But, naturally I’ve also had criticism. I’m going to do another list style post, since they seem to be the most organized and easiest to read. So here are the top 5 criticisms I’ve had since writing this blog, and since being open about my current state of being.
1. You’re lost
I’ve heard this one a few times, and it’s not necessarily even a criticism, but more of a statement of sorts; a backhanded compliment at times. The first time I heard this it really ticked me off. “Am I really that lost?” I would ask a friend. “Well I have been all over the place searching for jobs, but I know I don’t love working in an office; but is it really office work I don’t like?” I would reassure a family member. The usual response has been silence, or a nod as if to say: “sure Brian, whatever you say. I don’t want to get involved here, you might get angry!"
The thing is, when I’m really speaking from my heart, and when I truly say what I believe, I sound quite articulate and focused. The response is:
“I want to build custom motorcycles”
“You mean like choppers?”
“No not West Coast Choppers… not Jesse James. I’m talking about old school Hondas converted into mutant post-apocalyptic franken-bikes. Cafe racers man! Like the kind of bikes you ride from one cafe to another, because they’re extremely uncomfortable for longer trips.”
This is not what I'm talking about when I say I want to customize motorcycles.
This is what I'm talking about. This bike was made by John Ryland of Classified Moto.
Ok so maybe my answer is still a bit premature. It’s easy to say I’m going to become a motorcycle builder, but all I’ve really done so far is change some handlebars and re-do some wiring. It’s like baking a cake once and saying you’re destined to become the next Cake Boss!
But you have to start somewhere, and I only tell people I want to build custom motorcycles because it is the largest of my current interests. The longer I stay unemployed, the more I realize how career exploration can be organic. I quit my job as a researcher, and have since started exploring motorcycles, carpentry, welding, green building, and even writing. I’ve chosen to learn and take part in all of these activities because of my real interests. I’ve even had very short stints as a drywall installer, an HVAC technician, and a mechanic as a result.
Of course if I go to a party and I’m asked what I do for a living, I have to come up with something. Saying to someone that “I’m in transition” doesn’t sound all that interesting. Saying that I’m an engineer who doesn’t want to work as one sounds even worse. It brings up a slew of questions about why I didn’t like engineering in the first place. If I go through the whole story of how I’m exploring other options and how I have a few interests here and there, I start to bore myself. People don’t want stories of transition, they want results; clear cut ideas about where I'm headed.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter what other people think, and if my situation comes across as lost, then there’s a good reason for it. Finding a career isn’t about choosing something and sticking to it, it’s about testing the waters, and holding on to something when you know it’s right. Again, it’s much the same as finding the perfect relationship. You can think something will be right for you, but experiencing it is very different.
As John Ryland of Classified Moto replied in my twitter feed about choosing to work as a motorcycle builder in my (my parents) garage: “I think insanity is a requirement!”
In which case I’m not lost, but rather insane! And it feels good to be insane! It feels right!
2. Hobbies are for the weekends
I have a short response for this one, summed up in this article from the Onion:
“It could be anything—music, writing, drawing, acting, teaching—it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that once you know what you want to do, you dive in a full 10 percent and spend the other 90 torturing yourself because you know damn well that it’s far too late to make a drastic career change, and that you’re stuck on this mind-numbing path for the rest of your life.”
“Brian, you said you were going to fix the shower head and patch up that hole in the wall, why haven’t you gotten to it yet!?” - my future wife
3. Don’t waste your potential
Ok, let’s see. Where do I start with this one… how about we google “Don’t waste your potential”? Great, ok, so… what? Why are the results related to Christian sermons about Samson from the Book of Judges?
“I want to talk to Samson! Fly me to the moon like that bitch Alice Kramden!” - Sir Smoka Lot, Half Baked
Actually, I refreshed my memory on the story of Samson, and I can see why it came up. What better way to instill fear in people than the story of a man who has superhuman strength, but wastes it while his greed and hedonism eventually lead to capture and torture by the Philistines? I don’t want to have my eyes gouged out, so I better not waste my potential! And to think they told us these stories in Hebrew school when I was a kid?
If only things were so simple. If only I had super human strength and was destined to use it to save the Israelites.
Instead I’ve got a whole jumble of gifts, which I have to sort through to make something of myself. Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not complaining! I’m very happy that I have a number of things that I’m good at. But it complicates the idea of potential. For the past decade I’ve convinced myself that being exceptionally good at one thing - math - meant that I had to use it for some kind of larger purpose. Solving math problems was my superhuman strength in biblical terms. Don’t cut my hair off or I’ll forget how to solve a 2nd-order differential equation. Actually, never mind, I already forget what that is.
But I’m not just a math guy. I’m actually quite creative as well. I also have a side to me that is sensitive to others, and is quite in tune to social cues and emotions. I like art, and expressing myself through abstract creations. I want to make motorcycles that look like they were made by me! I want to write articles that have my signature style and voice written all over them. I am a complicated package with multiple strengths, which makes it difficult to be labeled as something. It’s effectively taken 29 years of my life to finally reach the point where I listen to myself more and am comfortable with the fact that I’m an individual, and that my career will likely involve some unique combination of my strengths and weaknesses.
I even had an interview recently for a sales position where the interviewer joked about how engineers have poor social skills.
“We all know that engineers have some trouble in the social department, so they don’t always make the best salespeople!”
Great point of view! Makes me want the job person-guy. I would have remembered your name but I was too busy experiencing my own social anxiety to actually be present in the conversation. I guess it didn’t come across since I got the job! In fact despite my anxiety, I seem to perform the best at sales interviews!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have to discover our potential through our own journey. Some people are lucky enough to find it early in life, when they become enamoured with a sport or a profession. But most of us have to go through a more windy road to get there, where we try things out here and there and end up in places we never could have imagined. And this is never a waste.
4. You’re a privileged little bratty Millennial
You got me there. Yes I like craft beer and like to try out different strangely named varieties every week. Oooh, this one is called Harvest Ale, and it has one of those cork tops! Sure it’s more expensive, but it’s hoppy! If it doesn’t have a pun and the word hop in the name, I’m not interested!
If you haven’t seen my post about the entitled generation, this would be a good time to check it out.
I actually haven’t heard this as a criticism too often, if at all, so I’m not sure why it’s here. Maybe this is an assumed criticism. As far as I can imagine, there must be someone out there who has read my blog and is critical of my point of view, and links it with the idea that our generation is entitled.
But I think the bottom line here is that we’re not privileged brats for wanting to enjoy our lives and our careers. Most people I talk to who have decided to leave their jobs behind and try something different are doing it despite the lifestyle their previous job afforded them. We move back in with our parents, or live with 5 roommates like in undergrad, just so we can get by with very little. We’re abandoning the dream of buying a house early in life, because we know we won’t be able to afford it. When we travel we find a couchsurfing host rather than stay at a hotel.
I decided to leave my job as a researcher because I knew it was getting me nowhere. It was clearly the wrong environment for me, and to stay there would have meant years of depression. Which brings me to the next criticism:
5. Work is work! No one enjoys it
This one get’s me all fired up! Seriously? No one enjoys what they do?!
I don’t even feel like writing a response for this one, it’s just so blatantly limiting. What if we take the same defeatist philosophy and apply it to other areas of life?
“Cancer is horrible, there’s no point in trying to find a cure for it.”
“I can only run 5 kms now, so I’ll never be able to run a marathon.”
“I might die riding a motorcycle, so I’ll never try it out.”
This mentality is the exact opposite of how I want to live my life. It’s almost as if the people who subscribe to this philosophy see two options: you work and hate it, or you become a degenerate.
It’s not that simple, and I assure you that everyone can find work best suited for them. It’s not necessarily easy to find, but it is always possible. I think this criticism exists because it’s wrapped up in the fear of failure. Ask someone who loves their job, and they will tell you energetically and passionately that it is possible to love your job. Ask someone who hates their job and they will tell you that: “work is work!”
Sticking to your guns:
The funny thing about this post is that I kind of ran out of steam while writing it. I started it off after the holidays when I had been more wrapped up in some of these criticisms, and had been a bit more concerned about where I was headed. Somehow over the course of the last few weeks I’ve been much more positive about my own direction. I don’t necessarily have a reason to be, since I just refused a job offer, and had another job prospect fall through; but I’m still chugging along.
In some ways I suppose this is the point of the post. I've learned that I have to listen to myself throughout this process of career exploration. I can talk to others about it, but I have to be prepared for criticism and to be able to take it with a grain of salt. I lost some interest in finishing this post because I don't care all that much about the criticism I've received. Most people have actually been understanding and supportive. I know that I will end up somewhere eventually, and that it will be a result of everything I'm doing now.
If you've read this much of my post, thanks! I think I'm going to try to keep future posts a bit shorter. While we're on the topic, let me know: what kind of criticisms have you received for making risky career decisions, and how have you dealt with them?