Introduction: I was with my family this past week for Thanksgiving. I love my family (most of the time). And I feel like I’m on vacation and I do just sort of check out. I had this post mostly written at least 10 days ago and I thought it would be easy to just finesse it a bit and post it from the hotel. Yeah… No. But, here it is now.
After 53 years of living, I just discovered something important about myself: I like to figure things out. I find it satisfying. How did I learn this, you might ask? I figured this out from playing a little game app on my iPad.
OK. Stop. This is an OMG moment!!
Do you know how long I’ve been trying to figure out what I enjoy doing? How early they started asking me that question in school? How many books and articles have I read (like “What Color is Your Parachute”) wondering what my answers to the probing questions really were? How much of my life have I spent doing a job I didn’t like and wondering why I hated it or if I would just hate all jobs?
OK. I’m gonna stop and examine this a little bit.
Looking back, there are lots of things that I can see having contributed to this lack of self-knowledge. However, the first thing I wonder a bit about is the process we use for getting our kids from High School to a Major in College to a Career. That is, how do we help them decide what they want to do in life.
Let me start by describing my experience, anecdotal though it may be. Early on, my family labeled me as smart, a fact I had forgotten until a cousin made a comment about it recently. But, in fact, I did actually like school and I did pretty well at it. By the end of High School, I was so comfortable as the “Smart Girl” that I just accepted it as me. (I also saw it as a one or the other thing. You are smart or you are cute and have lots of friends, not both. But that’s another post.)
The point here is that if you are good (or good enough) in public school in this country, you don’t get attention. You don’t need help. You also don’t have to figure out how your mind works because its doing fine. In a bit of an aside, I do think school seems harder today than it was when I went through it 30-40 years ago. But, I think kids still don’t get attention unless they are failing or they’re the best in their class (which I never was).
They start talking to you about careers early, but not explaining them. So, they’re just words on a page. The job aptitude tests they give kids (or adults) seem to be more about what you are capable of than what you might like. Even when they do ask about what you like its in the context of small tasks. Do you like to sort things? Oh, good, you can file. Yikes.
Then, some people just know what they want to do really early. That’s my husband and my oldest daughter. But how in the hell do they know? In reality, there are very few things you can try doing without actually going through the process of training and doing it. My daughter did student teaching. There’s one. But my husband is a Naval Architect. How he figured that out, I don’t know. He worked at a boat store, but it was nothing like what he does now which is a lot of computer work (things he couldn’t have imagined when he was 18). Bring Your Child to Work Day is supposed to fix this. It doesn’t. They either moldering in Mom or Dad’s office or they go to some presentation (i.e., a commercial for Mom or Dad’s workplace).
Even though I identified as the ‘Smart Girl,’ I knew there were tons of people at school that were smarter than me and smarter in different ways. But, I didn’t have enough time or experience to think about what that meant for a job. I was good at Math and Science and I thought that route would led to fulfillment. It led to Engineering, mostly because it sounded like the next big challenge to me. I was big about challenging male dominated areas. It never occurred to me to go into another field, like physics.
So, I ended up in a job with a bunch of other engineers and other science types—Physicists, Biologists, MDs, and Statisticians. This was the end of being the ‘Smart Girl.’ But although a lot of these people were over my head smart, in some ways the people I worked with seemed more like me than other people. That was until ‘my generation’ of workers started moving up the corporate (well, government) ladder. Then I felt like I was on the outside again. I had never thought to supervise anyone. I like most people, but I wouldn’t want to be their boss. Yuk!
Meanwhile, I’m wondering where I should be and why did I pick engineering. I have always been interested in how things work and I still am. It might seem like my job would have satisfied that interest, but it didn’t. I kept thinking that maybe I should have gone into Architecture as I had once considered or maybe Botany because I liked plants. I could feel my job wasn’t working, but I couldn’t figure out how to change careers.
Getting back to this game app and my epiphany.
It’s a little thing called Free Flow and it’s free. You have pairs of colored dots scattered around this grid and you have to connect like-colored dots and also fill all the squares on the grid with the paths between the pairs of dots. If you’re willing to spend money, you can buy hints. If you get stuck, you use a hint and it gives the path for one pair of dots. Of course, you can go through a lot of money that way pretty quickly. As the grid size and number of pairs gets larger, the puzzles get harder and harder, of course, and the temptation to use the hints is greater. The most satisfying thing, to me, is to finally figure it out after trying 3 or 4 different ways.
What does this mean for me? I could interpret this in a million different ways into a million different kinds of jobs. But, I feel like I can see it applying to writing fiction. There are all theses possible paths in your writing and you have to figure out the right one. When you work out all the parts and they go together, isn’t that big time satisfying?
Now, I also have to add a disclaimer: I know this is just a simple game and fiction is more complicated. Nearly anything is more complicated. I also know that I am saying this with about zero pages of fiction written and only 15 pages of biography written. So, I’ll have to check back on this in 12 months and see if I still enjoy writing.