This blog might be a little self-centered. I apologize in advance, but I hope some of you–perhaps my fellow professionals–might be able to relate to my situation. I’ve touched on this subject before, but I have some more ideas I’d like to share, so bear with me.
Achieving past dreams
As I noted awhile back, when I was in high school and college, I had three big dreams:
- Work for Walt Disney World
- Work for the military
- Work for the space industry
Bit by bit, between the ages of 22 and 36, I managed to achieve all three of these dreams. From 36 to 44, I enjoyed the privilege of supporting NASA and then a commercial space company in the industry that I love. Reality (a.k.a. government shutdowns and budget cuts) put an end to that and I sent myself into an unknown future as a freelance technical writing contractor. That is the life I’ve been living for the last three years. And yes, if you’ve been counting, you can do the math and figure out how old I am now.
The point of this little history lesson is this: if you move along through your career long enough, eventually you might find yourself in a challenging situation: you might accomplish the goals you set for yourself when you were younger, or perhaps the goals you had as a youth no longer inspire you as they once did. The real challenge, especially if you’ve been rather single-minded in your aspirations as I have, is to find new goals.
I have no idea if this goal-shifting is what people mean when they have a “mid-life crisis.” I do know that it has been a slow process getting out of it again…I’ve experienced these feelings for a few years. Here’s what I’ve had to learn and accept along the way:
- Before moving on to the next big thing, you have to accept that the previous big thing that motivated you has come to an end. Or, if it hasn’t come to an end, perhaps you need to accept that your investment in that idea is over.
- You have to try a few things, not all of which will work out. For example, I was considering pursuing some sort of engineering degree before I ran into my absolute lack of joy whenever I did the math. I also considered, briefly, pursuing a Project Management Institute (PMI) certification. However, I recalled that I’ve been a project manager in a couple of different capacities and have not enjoyed the role.
- While whittling down the list of things you don’t want to do, you still need to focus on activities that will motivate you (see my last entry on this topic for ideas that might inspire you).
- While looking at your list of options, identify practical, concrete steps you can take right now to move toward your new goal.
Imagine your future
So where am I going next? The next plan is to pursue a Master’s Certificate in instructional design. Some of you might be surprised that I’m going back to pursue an academic credential. Honestly, I’m one of those people who needs a long-term goal and enjoys school. Yep, you read that correctly: I enjoy school. I enjoy learning and interacting with people who are also learning. A certificate program requires 15 credit hours–five classes. I should be finished with the degree by the time I turn 50. Great way to celebrate, right?
Does this mean I think everyone reading this should go back to school and pursue X degree to achieve some latent goal of theirs? No. There are undoubtedly other ways to get what you want. This approach happens to work for me at this time in my life and helps pursue a line of work I would not feel comfortable doing without professional training. I’ve been doing technical writing in an instructional design capacity for the last year and a quarter, doing a part of the tactical work, but not laying out the ideas that lead to the technical writing. That’s something I believe I can do: I’ve still got a bit of a teaching itch. So a master’s certificate, taken one class at a time over five semesters, is both affordable and realistic in terms of time and money. I might even be able to afford the whole thing on my own dime.
What I would say is this: if you are having questions about your future direction, you need to take concrete steps to make that future a reality. Don’t just ask, “What do I want out of life?” Ask, “What do I need to do to make that happen?” If anything, I’m suggesting that you treat your ideals for the future as a practical matter. Obviously if you want to be a Jedi Knight or travel to Narnia, you might be in for a rude awakening, but if there are things you would like to do within the reality of this world, you can identify the steps and the tools you will need to do what you want. Go take them.
School for me will start in January, I hope. After that comes the future. What does yours look like?