I’ve been on the hunt for a new job. Sharon and I are planning on moving back east, mostly for the purpose of getting closer to family, but also to escape the dead-end job situation in which I have found myself these past eighteen months. My career has always been an ill defined sort of thing, mostly because there are lots of skills that I can do reasonably well, and I find myself interested in far too many activities. I’ve done just about everything you can do with media at one time or another, and that leaves the door wide open, or slammed shut, depending on how you look at it.
The slammed shut aspect is where I have been out here in Western Washington. For every skill I have, there is some laid-off studio artist who has done a more specialized version of that skill. When a job comes up, I can’t blame the company for choosing someone who has done a specific job with a specific toolset for five or six years over a guy like me, who has a good understanding of that job, but has not practiced it until it is second nature. I keep getting out-specialized. I recognized that problem early on, and expected that sooner or later, I would encounter a job where strong general knowledge of multimedia would be as valuable as a tight specialization, in which the potential hire only does one or two things, but does them well. It still has not happened. We apparently live in a very specialized world. I’m not sure if that’s good thing.
The wide open part is the fact that I can choose from a wide array of skills and choose what kind of job I want to focus on. The trick to that is… what kind of focus equals finding a good job? I can spend time getting back up to speed on just about any job I’ve done in the past 20 years in a short amount of time, but I can’t get sharp on all of them at the same time. Which one gets my attention? In a couple of months of stalking the job listings in our target region, I have a better idea of where to put my focus, which is nice, but the interesting part is that it’s also helped me to define myself as a professional.
“What do you do for a living?”
It’s one of the the most common questions we get asked. It usually falls somewhere in the first 60 seconds of conversation, and it should have a simple answer, “I’m a teacher,” or “I’m a fireman,” or engineer, or truck driver, or even theoretical physicist. In any case, it should be a one sentence affair. In my own case, I could answer with an essay, in which the poor sap who asked the question slowly drifts off somewhere between photographer and videographer. I could carry around a timeline chart which clearly depicts the various skills depending on when they were the focus of my work, but again, by the time I got the dang thing out of my pocket and unfolded, the time of polite interest would have passed. My usual strategy has always been to pick one skill from the list and to throw it out there with the vague dissatisfaction of knowing that it was a horribly incomplete answer, or I would use a term like multimedia artist, which is so ill-defined that I’m pretty sure no one knows what it means, even the multimedia artists themselves.
This job hunting process has forced me to go back to basics. What am I? Well, first of all, I’m creative. Any job I take needs to be creative. I can’t be the guy who does the same thing over and over. I would rapidly go insane. There is too much to explore in the world. Second, I need projects. I need to start tasks and I need to finish tasks, just so that I can see the finished product and say, “I made this,” and feel the satisfaction of a job well done. Third, I need to be able to feel like I am helping someone in some way. Ok, basics covered, but that leaves a ton of options, 8,456,012 at last count. (Note: It took some creativity to come up with that many options.)
Before I am accused of run-on blog post, I’m going to commit blogus interruptus here and save creativity for the next post. But on the way out the door I’ll leave you with a quote that I have always found useful, mostly because it makes being a profound generalist seem like a good idea.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein