Someone asked my daughter about the best advice she’d ever received, and to my surprise, she told him the advice I’d preached to her all her life: You don’t have to be just one thing. I did more than preach it. I lived it.
I started out as a wife on a hobby farm which morphed into a stay-at-home mom until the opportunity to go to college came along. I grabbed it with both hands and succeeded. My goal was to be the best math teacher ever, but after several years of substituting and working as a teacher, I decided there must be better ways to make a living. I found there were not only easier ways that paid much better, but there were lots of opportunities. With my degree in math and minor in history, I moved from teacher to labor market statistician to newsletter editor to timber sale accountant to archaeological technician to natural resources technical writer/editor. In my working life, I was more than one thing.
Going from one job to another required getting out of comfort zones and facing new challenges. First days on the job were always the worst because of the nagging question of whether I did the right thing. Learning never ended but continues throughout my life. It didn’t have to be work related either. During all my careers, I also found time to take art lessons for several years (I even sold a painting in a gallery) and joined a clogging dance group and performed at many functions over the years. I learned to quilt which led to closets full of colorful fabric creations. I read books of all kinds, fiction and nonfiction. I spent years as a literacy tutor for adults who couldn’t read.
Even with trying all kinds of new things, I knew I wasn’t quite where I was supposed to be. I kept searching for what I loved the most, and I finally found it when I retired. I became a fiction writer. I know in my heart of hearts that’s what I was always meant to be. The satisfaction and peace writing give me was worth the journey and the search. Without those, I wouldn’t be as good of a writer. I learned from each experience that got me to where I am today.
Here are a few of the important lessons I’ve learned in my lifetime:
It isn’t the type of college degree that’s important through career and life changes; it’s attitude. Everything has something interesting about it, even though it may seem mundane and boring to most people. Look for it. I mean, labor market research? Environmental impact statements? Who reads that stuff? Trust me. It’s read by those who write it, those who want it to support their positions, and those who want to sue someone over it. It’s important to get it accurate, get it right, and know why it’s accurate and right. Once you know what it’s used for, it gets very interesting.
If you aim to excel in your career(s), you must educate yourself. Be proactive and take responsibility to learn all you can about what you’re doing. I don’t mean watch YouTube videos, search what social media and Wikipedia say about it, or skim websites. I mean dig in deep. Read. Read a lot. Open the books. Learn the topic in depth. Read the reports. See what the experts say. Figure out the whys and hows of doing jobs. Not only does that help with your job, but it helps you understand the logic behind what’s being done or should be done.
The best computer you’ll ever own is between your ears. It’s portable, rechargeable, programmable, has limitless capacity, and goes everywhere you go because it’s so compact. When you educate yourself, you’re programming that personal computer in your head and loading it with valuable information that you’ll carry along wherever you are. Take care to load only the very best data. If you input corrupt or worthless data, it’s like the old saying garbage in, garbage out. Plus it takes up space that could be used by better and higher quality data. Filter what you input so that your computer will serve you well in future opportunities and situations.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. You might find something you like. Don’t be afraid of getting dirty and sweaty while working hard. You’re washable. Don’t be afraid to learn something because you don’t think you’ll ever use that information. Unless you have a crystal ball or ESP, you don’t know that for sure. Don’t be afraid to step away from something that doesn’t work for you. Just make sure you have another opportunity waiting. Idleness never accomplished anything.