What do you want to do?
It’s such a simple question. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is one that most people struggle with, sometimes for their entire lives. The United States prides itself on being the land of opportunity, and while the viability of the self-made man in today’s economic and social classes can be argued, it’s still probably more true here than in the majority of the world.
With regards to a career, people constantly tell you to find something you like to do, because nobody wants to be miserable in their work. I’ve probably even given that advice to people.
The mid 90’s was an exciting time for technology. Pentium processors had just been invented by Intel, and each new generation saw huge performance and efficiency gains. The World Wide Web and e-mail were born, and placed in the hands of everyday Americans for the first time. My interest in this new wave of information technology just happened to coincide with an explosion of jobs related to IT engineering, design and security. The choice to pursue a career in IT was practically a no-brainer. It was a fast-moving field, and my major at Purdue had a 100% job placement rate. When I graduated in 1998, everybody was looking for IT talent, if not for long-range plans, then to at least take care of the looming Y2K problem that previous generations of technology had caused.
(Side note: I mentioned Y2K to an early 20-ish haircutter of mine the other day. He had no idea what I was talking about. Side side note: I’m old.)
Back in my early days in the industry, there wasn’t anything else I wanted to be doing. I was learning things so quickly and was fortunate to be hired into a job that gave me opportunities to design and implement my own networks, even calling the shots on several implementations. With each new environment or technology mastered, my confidence lifted. Heck, I was a little cocky. It’s a trap that many sharp young IT people fall into. I smirked when others told me to “speak English” instead of my IT jargon. I was once asked by a project manager how we could be assured that an implementation would succeed after initially failing. I answered “because I’m doing it this time.” It succeeded.
I’ve learned a lot in almost 20 years: The importance of relationships, the importance of humility, understanding that different people have different gifts. I’ve experienced many things that have contributed to my gaining wisdom over time. Perhaps most relevant though, is that while I still have a certain love for technology, I no longer have interest in providing IT services to a large enterprise. The reasons for this are numerous and varied. I won’t go into those right now, but I think it’s sufficient to say that after nearly 20 years in the same field, most people would be open to some sort of change. But how?
How do I, after seventeen years of progression within the same field (and monetary compensation to match that progression) just up and decide to do something new? How does someone who is four years away from paying ten straight years of college tuition reboot a career to ‘do what you want to do’? Can it be done without starting at square one? Would anybody even hire someone in the mid-stages of life over a new college graduate who would probably be cheaper and quicker?
“What do you want to do?” is a pretty simple question.
“How do you want to do it?” Much tougher.