A dear friend of mine has a daughter just graduating high school. The girl seems caught in a maelstrom of ideas as to her future—home healthcare, satellite television customer service, ROTC, etc. It’s a wonderful age she’s at, teeming with options. Sometimes it seems to her parents that she’s being swamped with choices to the point where life doesn’t seem that wonderful, just confusing and disheartening. My advice—untrammeled by the need to supply moral, social, or even financial support—was to take one giant step backward and apply the most demanding standard for the optimal outcome. In other words, what career can you see that would be so exciting, so challenging, so desirable, you might even be willing to do it for free? An acid test.
We’ve all seen the massive amount of time and energy and diligence that goes into user-contributed and unpaid web content. Blogs, Wikipedia, social network data flows—most all of them have tossed Samuel Johnson’s sage advice right out the window. (Sam said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” On the other hand, he made his living selling dictionaries, the paid professional writer’s key tool.) But dodging the blockhead pejorative, people across the web spend hours, days, weeks, months out of their lives sharing their thoughts, ferreting out facts, gossiping and rumormongering—all to satisfy the primal urge to communicate and, perhaps even more, to relish the reality, or even the illusion, of being listened to. They love to communicate for cash or cough drops.
Then there’s the urge to perform, to shine in public. While studies have shown that a majority of people consider public speaking a horror second only to death—and some even push death down into the Miss Congeniality slot—there are still people like a cousin of mine. I can recall us driving through the streets of west L.A. with him looking morosely out the window and saying somberly, “Why doesn’t anyone know I’m a star?” In his case, that essential drive to entertain gave him a multidecade career in square-dance calling.
So how does one know what to choose when it comes to career moves? Analyze your happiest moments, the activities that felt most vivid to you, the ones you would have loved to have happen again. Then break them down. What made you happiest? When did you feel most content or most satisfied? What triggered your sense of accomplishment? That’s the core activity that suits you. Now you have to match that with careers that encompass that activity. And use your imagination. There won’t be a section in the Labor Department’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (bls.gov/ooh) that indexes jobs by favorite functions—telling people what to do, imagining new ways of doing things, shining before an awestruck public. But if you actually take the time to plow through the Handbook, you’ll find that it does supply a good deal of insights that translate into just such judgment factors. Problem is, you have to go through the job descriptions listed by the job titles found in most classified job wanted ads. But the factors you need to match your character and personality with job opportunities are still there.
In this issue of Online Searcher, James Matarazzo and Toby Pearlstein discuss the need for librarians to become trainers in order to teach the best database services to clients. Here comes that public speaking again. Or maybe not. Designing training materials may give you a chance to do some technical writing built around your personal studies of how people learn. Or maybe you’d love to observe people using systems and translate that into training programs. There’s a lot of meat on the bone with that kind of multifaceted task. And if you find this activity to be your forte, don’t limit your thinking to only the environment where you learned it. Training is obviously not only for librarians working with patrons, but also for vendor representatives working with librarians. And why limit yourself to libraries? Training goes on throughout every industry and profession.
Now, I’m a librarian by background but an editor too. What made me turn to editing? What are the basic activities that appealed to me? Well, personally, I love to delegate. You come up with ideas. You have serious questions about different issues. You are just deuced curious about things. Clearly, those conditions might lead to many career choices, many forms of researcher. But the nice thing about editing is that you don’t have to do the work. You find someone to do the research and write the story for you. Then, as a lifelong compulsive reader, you polish their prose and—voila!—an article or a technical report or a book is produced. You have a fine sense of accomplishment, even ownership over the final cut of the content. But you have never had to experience that Pavlovian block of “sweat memory” that often crushes curiosity right out of people.
In a way, editing is like being a grandparent. No labor pains. No sleep deprivation. No diaper changes. Just a sweet little grandchild for boasting to your chums without all the hard work and rug rat negativity. And, unless you’re one of Sam Johnson’s blockheads, you even get paid for it. Now don’t you dare tell my bosses that I might be one to do this for free. Mum’s the word.