This year, I was recently reminded, will mark 30 years since I graduated from high school. I’ve also noted that it’s been nine years since I first started doing work for Science Cheerleader, and six years since I finished chairing the International Space Development Conference (ISDC). I guess the 30-year mark is the one that caused me to look back a bit–that, and I was asked to write a brief retrospective piece about the ISDC. Concentrating on the future is good for some things, but sometimes it’s worth pausing, taking a look back, and seeing what progress you’ve made in life. There is a professional point to be made here, I promise.
Life since ISDC
In a fit of hubris, I believed that I could and should chair a multi-day space advocacy conference in Huntsville. I learned a lot of lessons about myself from that event, the biggest being that I don’t like being in charge or, if not fully in charge, given that much responsibility. If anything, I learned that I often lack the temperament to remain calm, cool, and collected when other people were causing me stress. I lost my temper once too often and once ended up with a two-week headache afterward. The event went fine, mostly thanks to the friends, colleagues, and coworkers my co-chair and I managed to rope into helping. I learned to leverage my network to arrange contacts or actions that would’ve been impossible on my own. For the most part, my co-chair and I were able to find good people (“grownups,” as I called them) to handle the major areas of responsibility and to give them as much freedom as possible to do their jobs. In addition to bringing in 850 people and over 20 vendors–some of them major aerospace companies–the event resulted in friendships and other connections that are still paying dividends years later.
That said, I grew to have more respect for people who do lead well or happily because, like I said, I wasn’t one of them. I usually lost my cool around one or two people, not full crowds, but that didn’t make me feel any better about my responses at the time, and I needed a serious chill-down when it was all over.
Life since I started with Science Cheerleader
In 2008, my mentor Dede put me in touch with someone named Darlene Cavalier because we shared a common interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. I wrote a few blogs for a couple years. Then Darlene picked up on the fact that I was starting up an event in Huntsville (see above), and asked if I would be interested in helping organize the logistics for an actual Science Cheerleader squad in Washington, DC. I was in my helium hands phase and said sure, I’d be happy to help.
What has followed from that is a whole new set of skills and experiences: meeting and interviewing STEM professionals who also happened to be NBA, NFL, or other types of cheerleaders; organizing and maintaining a database; organizing convention booths; participating in “citizen science” projects; coordinating the world’s largest cheerleading cheer; and training others to handle some of the responsibilities I’d created for myself. I’m still a “leader” of sorts, in that I’m looked to as the internal authority on many activities within the organization, but I’m quite content to let Darlene grab the megaphone and talk to the crowds. If anything, I’ve learned how to be a good executive officer.
Life since high school
Goodness, I’ll have to try to keep this short. Because I had such a great time interacting with my peers, I graduated a semester early so I could get into the working world. I had crazy notions about writing the Great American Science Fiction Novel and making a living writing fiction so I could go to Walt Disney World whenever I wanted. It took four years of college and six years of non-writing jobs at Disney before I started answering guest letters. I started going back to school, discovered that I wasn’t math-minded enough to be an engineer and pursued a master’s degree in technical writing.
Since 2001, I’ve held the title of “Technical Writer” proudly, along with a few other titles along the way. I’ve worked at Disney, the Department of Defense, and NASA–all dreams of mine 30 years ago–and now I’m a freelance writer, trying once again to write the Great American Science Fiction Novel.
Why look back?
As you’ve probably noticed, there are still rough edges to my personality that haven’t gone away despite 30 years. I haven’t written the GASF Novel yet, but I’m at least working at it. I have written for and about the space industry as a freelance proposal writer and reporter and am able to tap contacts across the industry as I do my research. I’m involved in an organization made up of science- and engineering-minded cheerleaders (try explaining that to my 17-year-old self!). The point here is not to brag or to beat myself up, but to take stock and see what progress I’ve made. A healthy dose of honesty can help identify what’s good and what can still be improved. Are you the person you wanted to be or have you fulfilled the dreams you had for yourself in high school? If so, congratulations! If not, think hard about what you might still do. Time keeps flying.
I salute you, Bart. You haven’t given up your dreams, although you’ve tempered them a bit as you learned more about yourself. You’ve embraced new opportunities along the way. That sounds like a pretty good 30 years — and a sound foundation for the rest of your career.