Dr. Strangejob- or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Accept Change

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Whenever we have company-wide “all hands” team meetings at work (every 4 to 6 months), we kick them off with a few volunteers who do 7 minute presentations on a given assigned theme. It can be a personal story but must relate back to our work lives in some way. I have given a passing thought to volunteering on a few occasions but never followed through. However this meeting’s assigned theme screamed my name; “Reinvention”. A single concept that can have so many intertwined connotations.

I jumped right in while I had an hour between conference calls and started outlining the talk. This was an easy one for me as I have endless reinvention material. I decided to make my story about all of the short term, highly diverse jobs I had before I found my intended career. To be fair, I work in web-based software interface design and that wasn’t even close to being a mainstream career choice when I was starting out. so I made do with what opportunities came along.

The title of this talk is “Dr Strangejob….or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Accept (Career) Change” It helps if you’ve seen the movie and some of my audience is much younger than me, so some of the joke will be lost on them, but I hope the overall theme is universal enough to speak to them. What I was forced to hold back in this talk was the mental struggles that made this journey all the more challenging, especially previously undiagnosed ones.

Here’s a sneak peek: I will have 4 lessons learned for each job and how they can apply those lessons in their day to day work lives. I am now realizing this applies far beyond the professional realm into the fabric of how we all live, so I thought I’d share some tidbits from the presentation with all of you. I won’t bore you with the whole outline, just a few highlights.

Job 1: Waitress- Lesson learned: Never punch a brick wall, especially mid-shift. 

Translation: Try not to let your frustrations overpower you. You will only end up hurting yourself in the long run

Job 2: Furniture Sales- Lesson learned: It’s a dog eat dog world out there.

Translation: There are situations and people in this life in which you will not be cut any slack. People are competitive by nature and we can all get lost in that, but if we lose the egos and work together sometimes, we can accomplish amazing things.

Job 3: Apartment Property Manager: Lesson learned- Never let them know where you live, especially when your property has faulty piping.

Translation: Sometimes we are too close to the problem, so caught up in the midst of the drama, that we can’t focus clearly enough on the solution. Try to find a way to step back, tune out the noise, and find objective solutions.

Job 4: Software Project Manager- Lesson learned. Everyone always has an agenda (some of them are even valid)

Translation: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, even if you 100% think they are wrong and a total asshat you never know what is motivating them unless you really listen. They may even have a point.

I then conclude by drawing the more literal connections to what I present to what we do for a living. I think there are 2 key universal points that apply to all of us.

1. Practice empathy every day. 

Empathy is a critical skill specifically to software design for end users, but more generally I think if we all made a daily habit of practicing it, we could change the world….end stigmas…stop bullies….help the abused (both human and animal). There are boundless possibilities.

2. Relax, we aren’t saving lives (unless of course you are actually saving lives to which I say….all due respect to you. You amaze me)

What I mean by this is that we all need a small butt-kicking in perspective readjustment at times. The world usually isn’t ending and lives usually are not at stake (unless of course….see above) so take a deep breath, be honest with yourself about the worst that can happen, and then put one foot in front of the other till you make it through.

That’s pretty much it….my rough draft of 7 minutes of attempted levity and education. And just remember what the picture says “You can’t fight in here, this is the war room”

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