Surly Girly

Opening her mouth and removing doubt
February 16, 2005

In the Star today, there was an article about students participating in a high school culinary program. In an "aren't we old" sort of way, we started talking about the lack of vocational programs (save automechanic/shop) that we had access to. We started talking about all of the programs that are out there offered to high school students to help them shape their career today (programming, engineering, law enforcement, business, health sciences, etc.) - and how many students leave high school exposed to so many more career options than we ever knew were available. We got to talking about the courses of study we pursued and how that course got us to where we are now, and what career path we would have chosen knowing what we know now.

I'm probably pretty well suited to what I do. I like the work I do. I like the types of projects I work on (I'm not so enamoured of the politicking though), but ultimately I don't belong in a corporate setting. Maybe I still see myself as an artist.

I lettered in high school in Theatre. Seriously. I never appeared in a play (other than this smarmy skit we did for a teachers' in-service) but I did spend hours backstage working in set design. I loved it. I loved translating a scene in my head into something that everyone could view and interact with. I loved learning how to build bookflats, stretch and paint the canvas, organizing props and scenes, and I loved being backstage "behind the magic."

I decided to study architecture (since my engineer father would never hear of me going to college to study theatre arts of any variety) and because I was really fascinated with how you could evoke an emotional response by shaping the surroundings. Since I was planning to go to college (1989) shortly after the stock market crash in 1987, my parents talked me into doing a dual degree program at U.T. for architectural engineering. My parents reasoned that an engineering degree would always be in demand, regardless of the nation's financial indicators, and that if I enjoyed the architecture, I should just add that on top. That way I'd always be employable. Not wanting to displease my pop, I agreed and enrolled in the college of Engineering instead of the college of Architecture.

After my freshman year (struggling with the higher maths and physics, but surviving mostly), I had a internship at the large engineering firm where my dad worked. I noticed that all of the graduates with degrees similar to mine were slaving away at drafting tables and it frankly looked pretty boring. But ever the trooper, the next Fall, I embarked in year 2 of the 5-year program. I enjoyed my electives immensely and had a political science professor that I loved, but I really began struggling in the stat/thermo and dif.eq. classes. I wasn't interested in them, I had plenty of distractions (hey, I was a good kid let loose in Austin with a fast crowd), and I was beginning to rethink my career path. By then it was too late to switch back to the Architecture school (my grades slipped and I was ineligible for transfer between colleges). At the end of year 2 I'd pretty well made my mind up that I didn't want to continue.

The summer between soph and junior years was a rough one. I turned 20 but my friends were all 21. I was living at home, waiting tables and waiting for the semester to start again. My parents and I were having a particularly rough time (I think the seeds of rebellion were beginning to sprout) and I'd been used to having my freedom. I think I agreed to continue at arch.e. even though my heart wasn't in it just to keep the peace. The first part of my junior year was spent screwing around mostly. I blew through an insane amount of money, started the beginning of credit card debt, and blew off classes. I was pretty sure that I would never be an engineer. At the end of the Fall semester, I proclaimed to my parents that I would take a semester off and begin anew in the Fall studying the topic of my choice, paying for school myself if that's what it took. I remember the fear in my parents' (and in my relatives') eyes and the lectures about how hard it is for adults to "go back" to school once they leave. I was determined, after all my parents had always told me I could do anything I put my mind to.

I started back to school after the summer and started studying political science. I was really enjoying myself and found the classes pretty interesting - plus having gotten all my maths and sciences out of the way, I was taking classes that were much easier to me. Although freedom gained (and now working at the same time), I found it pretty easy to cut classes. I also found it pretty easy to go out to bars/clubs on any given night of the week. I also found the internet.

I didn't do so hot in school that year - but far better than when I was studying the engineering courses, but I made it to Graduation. I found out the week of graduation (yes the WEEK of, graduation gifts in-hand, parties planned..etc.), that a professor had decided to fail me from his class because, despite the fact that I handed in all the assignments, I never went to class. Nice of him to let me know that in such a timely fashion. Anyway, I had to return the gifts and return to Houston, a failure with her tail between her legs. I pretty much had my major rebellion at that point.

I moved to Philadelphia with a girlfriend (for all of about 4 weeks) and returned to Austin having failed at that too (and I couldn't go home again). By failing the course, not only did I need to retake the class, but I also needed to take additional courses to raise my GPA up high enough to graduate. I also was going to have to pay for this one myself. And get myself out of debt.

So there I am, floundering and trying to get out of debt enough to enroll again. I was working on campus in the Economics department (and teaching myself HTML and graphic design by working on the department web site). After 2 years, I'd still not enrolled, but realized that my growing web and graphic design skills (all self-taught) made me imminently employable. (The year was now 1996 - remember the Silicon Valley boom? It was just beginning). I had internet friends living in San Diego with the promise of a start-up where I could be webmaster and graphic designer. I uprooted (against everyone's better judgement but my own) and was determined to make something of myself. While waiting for that business to get going, I got a job freelancing doing desktop publishing and web design and was making some good money. Then a boy came along and got me all confused. I uprooted (leaving behind a pretty lucrative job offer for a permanent position) and moved to Washington to play house.

In Olympia I changed jobs a couple of times, each time doing some web design, but mostly getting into the graphic design side and then finally into copywriting and creative design. I finally finished my political science degree at U.T. via correspondence (I just wanted the diploma at that point) while working as a designer/marketing Girl Friday for an energy company (solar/renewables - how 'green' of me).

Several years later, I moved to Kansas City in my first role as an Account Manager (hired for my ability to lead web projects). During that time I made more money than I'll probably ever make again working for an Enron-clone that collapsed when Enron did. Now I'm working in a new industry (financial), but doing marketing/account management still and mostly enjoying it (even though I took a big pay cut - stupid economy *kick*).

I think the path I took to get here makes me really good at what I do. I also think that what I do is exactly in line with my ultimate goal when I started the whole education/career path of evoking an emotional response by controlling the medium or environment. And I do it pretty well, if I say so myself.

All of my "hobbies" are much the same. I love cooking because of the emotional/sensory responses. I love interior design for the same reason I loved stage design. I love people and understanding what makes them tick. But here's where this (LONG LONG LONG) chapter in my life brings us to the topic we sat and discussed at lunch, making our lunch hour stretch into the afternoon.

SO .. what path would I have chosen, knowing what I know now?

I think that my absolute dream job would be to work for a magazine as a writer - either about food or travel. Or perhaps working in a test kitchen for a gourmet magazine. Or perhaps even doing what I'm doing now (marketing/account management) but for an industry I'm passionate about - such as food/travel/interior design. And if I could find a good fit, I could even see myself continuing in the corporate environment (although I'd love to burn a big bonfire of pantyhose and never wear another pair again).

So I guess its a pretty good thing to look back and say "yeah, I took a random path to get here, but I'm where I'm supposed to be." And it tells me that perhaps those high schools with their special magnet programs maybe aren't so critical since I got here without their help. (Bring it full circle, baby).

posted by LoneStarCupcake  @ 4:52 PM


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