“You will find your own ethical dilemmas in all parts of your lives, both personal and professional. We all have different desires and needs, but if we don’t discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled. Sooner or later, we are all asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about. We define ourselves by our actions. With each decision, we tell ourselves and the world who we are. Think about what you want out of this life, and recognize that there are many kinds of success. Many of you will be going on to law school, business school, medical school, or other graduate work, and you can expect the kind of starting salary that, with luck, will allow you to pay off your own tuition debts within your own lifetime.
“But having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.”
– Bill Watterson
Gawker recently featured a cartoonist by the name of Gavin Aung Than, who creates comic strips based on various inspirational quotes. Than drew a strip based on Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson’s 1990 graduation speech to Kenyon College. It’s beautifully done in Watterson’s style and expertly illustrates Than’s own journey of quitting his corporate graphic design job to follow his dream of becoming a cartoonist.
Both the strip and the speech hit home with me as I sit here at a crossroads in my own career.
For the last 13+ years, I’ve worked in IT, first as a server support professional at Microsoft and then as a network administrator. I didn’t go to college to be a computer guy, though. I started college in Electrical Engineering, thinking at the time that that sounded like a good job. But a semester into it, I realized it wasn’t for me. I hate math, so engineering probably wasn’t the best choice of careers. I knew I could’ve stayed in and finished it, but I wasn’t happy and was never going to be happy. Something had to change.
After a lot of soul-searching, I came to believe I really wanted to teach. I’ve always loved history and learning about the world around me. It seemed like a natural fit, so I changed my major to History and forged ahead, feeling a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.
Life happens, though, and by the time I graduated I was having second thoughts. I ended up walking out of college with a degree but no real plan or skills to do anything. I found a dead-end job that paid OK and came with benefits but I had no idea where to go from there. At the time, a friend I worked with was going to school to get his MCSE certification. This was in the late ’90s at the height of the tech bubble when people were hiring MCSEs left and right and the pay was outstanding. I loved computer stuff, and I was attracted to the idea of having a lot of different responsibilities as a network admin, so I followed in his footsteps, got my certification, and then landed a job at Microsoft shortly before the launch of Windows 2000.
After all these years, I still enjoy parts of my job but I’m just not that excited about it. I don’t really have the desire to keep fighting up the ladder or getting more (very expensive and time-consuming) tech certifications. And I’m pretty much sick of Corporate America. Something again has to change.
Christy went back to school a few years ago to be a nurse, a decision we knew would require a huge commitment. It was important for me to support her through the process even if I was burned out in my current job. Having a secure, flexible job with a good salary while she pursued her degree was way more important than my own personal happiness, and I have absolutely no regrets about staying put. But with her graduation less than a year away, I’m now at a point where I have to decide where I wanna go when she’s done with school. Do I stay in my current job indefinitely, secure but burned out? Do I look for another IT job that I really don’t want? Or do I reconsider teaching, a jump that would be difficult (and scary) to make and would require taking a massive pay cut?
It’s easy when you’re young to switch jobs or careers or move off to far off locales. It’s harder when you’re older and have a mortgage and two kids who’ll be driving, graduating high school, and going off to college before you know it. Real life is expensive as hell, and there’s a part of me that says it’s more important for me to provide for my family than it is to be happy. And honestly, having struggled financially for so long, I can’t wait to afford some of the things we’ve had to put off and do without all these years. But there’s another part of me who’s exhausted and sick of a daily grind that’s sucking the life out of me.
I have no idea where I’ll end up. But I do know that I have an incredible wife, the world’s most awesome kids, and a strong faith to keep me going. So whatever path I end up on, I know I’ve already won.