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The unexamined life. Part II

2007-12-20 - 10:21 a.m.

Note: this is a continuation of my previous post, since it got WAY too long for one entry. You really should read it first. Go on, Iíll waitÖ back? Good.


... This is all much more on my mind these days because Iím looking at going on what will probably be my last maternity leave from my job. The job with the fantastic 93% top-up of my salary for the entire 52 weeks of maternity and parental leave Iím entitled to. Iíve always said that Iíd stay with this organization until I finished taking advantage of the maternity benefits and, well, thatís now looming. Additionally, I can take (believe it or not) up to 5 years of unpaid leave to care for my children, and still have a job to come back to. If ever I was going to try to find something else to do, something that was perhaps a bit more flexible and allowed me greater freedom to balance family and work, the time is nigh. Itís a great opportunity to dip my toes in something else, but still be able to flee back to the stability of my current career if I decide that would be the best thing to do.

So, hereís a grocery list of what Iíve come up with that would be aspects of my dream job. I donít expect any one job to fulfill all of these things, but Iím hoping that writing this down might be useful to at least give me some focus or, hey, maybe you know of a job that would fit the personality you see emerge behind these ideas. Maybe I sound just like someone you know who does X and loves it, and hey, have I considered doing this for a living?

I love:

  • Good design. I think Iím talking more about the crossroads of function and aesthetics than just visual. I enjoy my photography, but canít picture making a living at it. I could get good, but Iím not sure I could get extraordinary, which Iíd want to be in a field like that. In fact, Iíd need to be, in order to actually make enough money to live on.

  • A chance to be creative, but within limits. I donít think I could be an artist or graphic designer, for instance, but I do like using my eye and my mind to create something, or come up with a novel solution to a problem, or to make something that just looks good.

  • Writing and editing. Not only do I like finding the perfect word or phrase to express myself, I relish getting out the red pen to do some good old fashioned quality control on documents that flow through my office.

  • Good causes. Environmental sustainability. Global warming. Preservation of endangered species. Womenís rights. Global water issues. Literacy. Rights to making informed health choices, including sexual health. Cessation of smoking. Education of the young or illiterate. If itís for the betterment of the planet or society, I could get behind it and feel like Iím making a difference.

  • Money. I donít think I need to make oodles of it to be happy, but I wouldnít be happy living a precarious monetary existence either and I like to ďsave for a rainy dayĒ and am most comfortable with a cushion. A balance would need to be struck.

  • Making lists, checking them twice, crossing stuff off. Too bad ďSanta ClausĒ is taken. But seriously, Iím good at keeping track of minutiae and like making colour-coded spreadsheets to do just that.

  • Feeling appreciated. I know, who doesnít? But the best part of my current job (which, I have to admit, I donít find particularly challenging), is the fact that my coworkers and bosses Ė who are great to work for and with Ė seem to think Iím fantastic. I can work independently, but not in isolation. Even a vocation where I do everything myself is fine, but at the end of the day it really keeps me going if someone says they like what Iíve done.

  • Managing people. I really do like mentoring, delegating, and tapping the unique skills of people to help them bring their ďA gameĒ to the table. This one I probably have a slightly rose-coloured view of, since everyone Iíve been the boss of has been a great employee Ė some occasionally required a bit more attention and special handling, but theyíve always been more than capable of producing the results I needed from them. Itís easy to be a good manager of good people.
Some things I think Iíd be really good at and enjoy:

Residential real estate developer
This is my dream job. I did a small infill project (2 units on a small lot in downtown Ottawa) in my late 20s and I loved it. I loved designing the building to maximize passive solar gain in the winter and the use and flow of the small spaces. I loved bringing my ďteamĒ of contractor, engineer, banker, lawyer, and other interested parties, into my vision to get the funding and the end product that I wanted. If I could do this on a large scale I might not make as much profit as the big builders, but I would build neighbourhoods that people wanted to live in, and consisted of homes that were well-sited, interesting to look at, and incorporated as many sustainable design features as were feasible. One look at the books that I own give away the fact that this is a big passion of mine. Whatís holding me back? Money. If I won a couple of million dollars though, you can bet that I wouldnít retire, Iíd buy some land and start doing this.

I think it may be time to admit to myself that Iím probably not fiction-novel-writer material. Iím not sure I have the discipline to sustain a single story through several hundred pages. What Iím good at are things like short stories if I go the fiction route. What Iím probably better at is researching and writing one-off articles, but in an ideal world this would be a steady gig rather than something Iíd have to constantly market or submit for consideration, given both the lack of discipline Iíd need to freelance and how easily Iíd probably be discouraged if I got a lot of rejections right off the bat. I am, however, particularly good writing about subjects like food (a big influence in my life) and travel, and taking any technical or science-based issue and making it interesting and comprehensible. Iíd bet too that, given the right subject matter, Iíd be a mean writer of ad copy. One of my favourite ways to torment hapless car-owning roommates in university was to get them drooling for certain foods to the point that theyíd say ďGet in the car! Weíre going to get X!Ē and Iíd then be able to get a ride with them. Score!

Iíd be damn good at this and would consider it more seriously if it didnít involve going back to school. Teaching labs was the best part of my M.Sc. In fact, it was the ONLY part that I liked, but I really, really liked it. I loved explaining things and seeing people ďgetĒ it. I indulge this side of me now by teaching fitness classes, but would enjoy teaching something like science even more, preferably to high school or higher.

This is along the same lines as real estate developer and teacher; the former in that this is something Iím VERY interested in, and the latter in that I know it would involve way too much time and money going back to school. If I could go back in time Iíd skip doing the M.Sc. and do this or teacherís college instead.

Running my own business (???)
This oneís a big maybe because I think Iíd be good at it and have to potential to make money doing it, but am not sure Iíd be comfortable with the initial lack of job security or steady pay. The fact is, Iím the main breadwinner in the family, plus Iím the one with all the benefits. You know, the ones that pay for our trips to the dentist, our travel health insurance, and our prescription medications? Yeah, those. If my husband stopped running his own business and got a job with more pay and with benefits to cover the family though, thisíd be much more feasible. I figure we exist pretty well on our combined income so my salary can go down by as much as his goes up and itíd be a good trade-off if we both found something we liked to do.

Any other ideas that you think would suit me? Help clear the tumbleweeds from the comments section and fire Ďem off.

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