I’ve written a little about this topic before, but sometimes I need a reminder. First, I suppose I should clarify what I mean by “thinking like an adult.” For me, it means simply that you’re taking responsibility for your situation/circumstances and believe that it’s your job to figure out a way to deal with them. Some additional thoughts are below.
Arguing With Myself
As I noted the last time I wrote about this, I was in my mid 20s before I started thinking this way. Prior to that, I heard “Why me?” in my head as a constant refrain. What got me to think differently? I was actually reading some science fiction/alternate history and thought I would take a stab at writing my own. I was working at a Disney hotel at the time and quite frustrated with my life. I wasn’t where I wanted to be. All I saw were obstacles between me and the life I wanted, and nobody was helping me!
So anyhow, I sat down and typed up an “alternate Bart” story in which I had the sort of life I wanted–professionally, personally, what have you–and how it all would have been better if an event in my past (my parents’ divorce) had come out differently. I was maybe 2/3 of the way through the story when I realized that I didn’t believe this. In other words, I didn’t believe that previous, uncontrollable circumstances dictated what the rest of my life would be like.
I started having an argument with myself: “Instead of asking ‘why me?’ maybe you should try asking ‘what do I want?'”
So I decided to answer honestly (because, after all, it was myself I was talking to), and I said, “I want to go to space.”
To which my other self said, “Okay. Then figure out what you need to do get you from where you are now to where you want to be.”
How My Thinking Changed
With a goal in mind, I started to think more realistically. People were not going to take pity on me and give me money to write The Great American Science Fiction Novel. They might, however, hire a writer with the skills and attitude to contribute to the space business. Lacking some basic knowledge, I started going back to school to acquire the knowledge I figured I needed.
Along with thinking practically, I started identifying opportunities to move myself closer to my goal. Those opportunities could be educational, intellectual (books), or experiential (conferences).
Perhaps most importantly, my attitude changed. Instead of seeing obstacles and insurmountable challenges, I started seeing them as problems to be solved. If I don’t know X, how do I go about learning it? If I don’t have the experience I need to work for Y, how do I get that experience? I became, in a word, driven.
As a result, I was incredibly busy between the ages of 26 and 36. I was taking classes related to engineering and (later) technical writing. I was reading complicated books, magazines, and websites about the space business so I understood what was happening and how I might contribute. I was getting a master’s degree in technical writing to give myself some credibility. I was getting technical writing jobs where I was (Disney) while I finished my degree and later where I wasn’t (the defense business) so I could get some experience writing about engineering. By age 36, I had a job at NASA. I was working with space people. I was “living the dream,” as some say. The time since then has been merely elaborating on that initial dream, that initial push to get somewhere I wanted to be.
Are there other ways I might have gotten where I wanted to be? Possibly. However, the fact remains that I found a path that worked for me within the set of knowledge, abilities, and circumstances around me at the time. I got to where I wanted to be. If you ask why this blog is Heroic Technical Writing, that’s a big part of it: believing that the efforts I make on my own behalf (or those of others) will make a difference to the outcome.
But I had to change my thinking first.