I am approaching the end of my career (perhaps 4-7 years left). My children and several of my co-workers ’ careers are starting to gel, so I’ve been giving lots of advice in recent months, including someone I think I’m seriously going to mentor at work. (Not only is she an awesome talent in her own right, but her husband (active NAVY) is an FRC alum, and her father is teaching her 5 year old daughter Python. How cool is that? Yeah, I’ve invited her and her daughter to Beach Bot Battle.) Anyway, on to what you probably want to do with your life. In my experience, it all comes down to four things:
Figure out what you love to do, [or at least like to do and is marketable].
Get good enough at it that someone will pay you decently to do it. Develop your skills, hone your tools. Tools include everything from understanding your craft from first principles so you can deal with totally off the wall problems, to programming languages, excel-fu, project management, and so forth. Get good enough at enough stuff that you aren’t scared of any problem that comes your way.
Stay relevant. Learn new tools, at least fast enough to stay ahead of obsolete tools.
Have a family. This doesn’t have to be people genetically related to you, it could be a circle of really close friends, a church family, an FRC team, or something that only makes sense to you [think of the close of Lethal Weapon 4 here].
True 'nuff! I didn’t include this because it’s something I assumed up front (my mother was a volunteer librarian at my elementary school, and later as a shuttle driver for an equestrian parade group. My father was a serious ARRL ham - he broadcasted continuously 24 hours at Hancock county Hospital after Hurricane Camille, among others. Volunteering has been a part of my life all along, whether political, science fiction fandom, church, or robotics. Now that you say it, yes!
Comic Con Gus! Whether or not you partake, I will always have a mental picture.
Big fan of all 4, especially 1. I know quite a few who climbed the corporate ladder because “that’s what you’re suppose to do” which took them away from their true love. I would come into their office with a technical question and they would light up anxious to dialog just to experience 1 more Rendezvous with their lost love.
Gus, I would add to that list “Learn something new every day”. If you make that a goal in life you will be open to other things. One of the things I noted in my co-workers were those who not only didn’t learn anything, were those that were opposed to new ideas. Actually both the same person usually. They always seemed to have a “better idea” that turned out so outdated or irrelevant, they did not contribute to projects. There is nothing better than getting paid to do what you really like. Finding that is hard but it often comes when you are open to things around you. When I was graduating from Bradley University, I was having very little luck finding a job. I worked at the campus TV facility to earn money but never thought I wanted to that for the rest of my life. Finally a recruiter suggested I try some TV stations as they were often higher pay. I went home that day, sent out resumes and had people calling for interviews three days later. I had job offers within a few weeks and job locked down before graduation. Sure it was hard, weird hours and challenging. Those first few years, I was low man on the seniority list and often got the odd hours and weird days off. But I got to do things no one I knew was doing. I met a lot of professional entertainers and I was given tasks with incredible responsibility. Over the course of 45 years, I helped design stereo for Broadcast TV, I installed over 45 audio consoles and designed several production and post production control rooms from the ground up. I assisted in perfecting stereo recording on video tape and I helped install several TV transmitters. I worked with some really talented people along the way and I can look back and see that my efforts brought tv audio to where it is today.
Can I recommend it for you? Maybe not. But I was open to anything, I always said yes when asked to do something. I sometimes worked overnights for a months, started at 6 AM or 3 PM for long periods of time. I sometimes worked from 7 AM to 4 AM the next day and was back on the clock at 6 AM. I worked for many years with only one weekend day off and I worked a lot of holidays because broadcast is a 24/7 job. But sometimes I got to look at Chicago from the roof of Sear’s Tower, sometimes I met important people, covered political events from behind the scenes and even travel to work on cool shows or venues like the Boston Gardens or Chicago Symphony. I have been retired for three years now and I still miss it most every day. Don’t let people tell you can’t do something. Prove that to yourself.
If you are on a robot team, there are a lot of opportunities out there for you IF… you are open to doing things no one else wants to do, work hard when needed and learn something new every day. Opportunity is coming at you everyday, learn to recognize it and be open to it.
And it helped tremendously to have a spouse who was supporting, took over when I couldn’t be there and help me along the way. Maybe I was lucky or maybe I made my own luck. I hope you can do the same.
Develop and maintain meaningful relationships whenever you can. You never know who can help you find your next job, be a mentor to you when you need guidance, or just end up being a really good friend. In both professional and personal contexts, getting to know people and keeping in touch can be a lot of effort but in my experience it tends to be rewarded. People tend to enjoy helping people they know and like, plus it’s nice to have a lot of friends.
Don’t try to figure out what you want to be, figure out what kinds of problems you want to help solve. These can range from anthropogenic global warming to ungroomed pets to cosmic exploration to your town’s lack of truly excellent cupcakes. If you can fill a need that others truly want filled, then you can be fulfilled and paid at the same time–and while money can’t buy happiness, lack of it sure can cause stress.
The only thing I would add is, as you are faced with decisions to make daily, always try to choose wisely.
There are forks in the road that sometimes happen in an instant, a few hours, or even a day. Yet, it sends you on paths in life that you travel for years, an entire career, or your entire life span.
There’s some fairly conventional advice above so I’ve felt compelled to offer another angle here:
You don’t need to find work that aligns to your interests. It’s okay for your work to be your work and your hobbies to be your hobbies. The activities (work) that generate your income don’t have to be enjoyable; they just need to put enough money in your pocket to fund the activities (hobbies) you really enjoy, and make life feel fun.
As with all things, the key is balance. Balancing time at work and time at home. Time with family and time alone. Time doing things that aren’t fun and time doing things that you enjoy. And at the end of the day the truth is the majority of conventionally successful adults don’t spend their work weeks doing things they really love. That’s why they have vacation homes, fast cars, boats, international travel, etc.
The notion that you can find work that you are both innately passionate about and able to be paid regularly for is, for most people, not exactly realistic. And that’s okay.
Probably the most important thing here is to enjoy the people you are working with even if you don’t really enjoy the work itself. Back in the Paleolithic when I was a young man, I had a number of jobs that weren’t on many people’s wish list (dishwasher, commercial painter, produce stocker, etc, etc). The difference between showing up eager to work or eager to get the h-ll out was the people I worked with.
Do not feel beholden to other peoples’ or society’s definitions of success or happiness. Some of the happiest people I know have set their own paths with their own definitions of success. Setting these goals yourself gives you control over your own happiness and fulfillment.
As an example - I am very passionate about the FIRST program and, when I was younger, I was very focused on engaging, supporting, and advocating for FIRST. As I got older, I started to feel restricted on my career opportunities because of how focused I was on a singular organization but was concerned I wouldn’t feel fulfilled in a different career.
By sitting down and figuring out WHY I am such a strong advocate for the FIRST program, I was able to realize that there were many career opportunities available to me and I was the one limiting myself.
My personal “Why I do what I do” is - “I want to ensure that EVERY student, regardless of gender, regardless of race, or socioeconomic background, has the opportunity to choose if they would like to pursue a career in STEM, instead of the choice being made for them because of their life circumstances.” Since figuring that out I’ve felt much more fulfilled because I know there are many different paths that would allow me to feel fulfilled!