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My Career Identity Crisis
When we are young it is all so simple. We know exactly what I want to "be" when we grow up.
You know what it's like: "I want to be a fireman." I want to be a ballerina." "I want to be a movie star." "I want to be a nuclear physicist specializing in quantum embryonic schisms in post-menopausal subatomic radical particles."
This aspect of growing up came back to haunt me recently when reading a magazine article by someone working in television who had always wanted to be a celebrity. To paraphrase her words, "It never occurred to me that I might have to actually do anything."
Well, here I am, a fully-grown adult. Or perhaps I am no longer fully grown - I'm not sure at what age we start shrinking! But I do have a confession to make; I never knew what I wanted to "be". I knew only what I wanted to do.
What I wanted to do was design cities, urban spaces, bus routes. No, that's not true. What I really wanted to do was design maps...but most map companies want map designers to simply mimic the city's existing design. Geesh, where's the creativity in that?
So I was led astray, falling in love with politics instead. For a while I worked as a political aide, plotting to become King of the World. Amazingly, it took only five years for reality to grind my idealistic innocence to sawdust and send me on a frantic search for a do-it-yourself lobotomy kit. (I never did get to be King of the World, nor did I ever find that do-it-yourself lobotomy kit. And the world is grateful for one of those failures.)
I spent the next decade-and-a-half as a consumer advocate and lobbyist, doing media relations, government relations and industry relations -- none of which are technically verbs that one can actually "do" ("I relate media.") or "be" ("I am a media relation.").
At social events, the accountants and lawyers had it easy. "I am an accountant," says it all.
I was not so fortunate.
"I am a consumer advocate," I would say.
"So what do you do?"
"Well, I talk to the media and to the government and to industry," I would explain.
"Ahaaa... and I talk to the tooth fairy. So what do you do?"
These days, I have an even harder time when somebody asks what I do. Most people have no clue what a search engine optimization consultant is, which is my main "career". Few people really understand what a freelance writer is, except if they read a freelance writer's article in a magazine . I don't even try to mention that I run three websites and do affiliate marketing. But people do understand what it means to be an author.
"Wow, you wrote a book on happiness? Congratulations. So when's your next book coming out?"
Which is when I have to explain how a book really doesn't feed a family, and if I took the time to write a second book, it would take time away from search engine optimization and affiliate marketing...
"Huh, what's that?"
"Never mind," I answer. "I'm a stay-at-home dad." Which also is true. People might look at me weird, but at least they understand me. Or, at least they pretend to and I am off the hook trying to answer further questions.
All of which brings me back to that question I never answered when I was young: what do I want to be when I grow up? I guess I'll just have to wait a little longer to find out. Like when I grow up.
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