my new workplace: the herpetology society

It always surprises me, when I get a new job, to discover the ways in which my past jobs have directly provided the experience I need to do the new job.  Especially since it is never something that I have planned.

The first two weeks of the class I am teaching right now, Strategies for Success, deals with change and goal setting.  I spend a lot of time talking to my students about goals, planning, prioritizing, determination, and all the things that go into being Highly Motivated  and Successful People.  We go over the five steps of the Change Implementation Model — identify change, research options, identify obstacles, establish a plan, and implement it  — as well as the four steps to writing a goal — goal statement, action steps, timelines, and narrative statement.  I literally spend hours talking about the importance of setting goals, coming up with defined plans, and following through on them.  And yet I almost never do this myself.

I can’t make a weekly meal plan, because I always decide at the last minute that I’m in the mood for something else for dinner.  I can’t lay out my clothes the night before, because I’ll want to wear something different when morning rolls around.  I typically decide on the next step in my life, on what will make me happy, and do what I need to in order to get there.  Then I stay there until I am no longer happy, or until something forces me out.  And then I look around and decide on the next step.  I hate the question, “What do you see yourself doing in five/ten years?” in interviews, because the true answer is, “I have absolutely no idea.”

I do set and meet lots of short-term goals for myself, but I have never been the kind of person who decides, “I want to be X by age Y,” and then lays out a multi-year plan for achieving that goal.  I have wandered my way through life, one stepping-stone at a time.  After high school, college was a given.  After college, I didn’t want to go on to grad school right away.  An offhand comment from an advisor got me thinking about volunteering, and a few days of research landed me with the Peace Corps.  After the Peace Corps, I just wanted to be with the boyfriend I’d been on the opposite side of the planet from for the past 2 years, so I moved to the west coast.  When I became dissatisfied with retail positions, I applied for a job at a credit card company doing customer service.  When I became dissatisfied with that, a dream sent me back to grad school.  After grad school, I was tired of research and not interested in pursuing a PhD, so I wanted to teach at the community college level.  It occurred to me that I would be more well-rounded if I attended an archaeology field school, so I went on a whim.  When I couldn’t find a teaching job, I applied for an archaeology position.  When I got laid off from archaeology, I applied for more teaching positions, and actually got one.  When I didn’t get enough adjunct classes, I applied to a part-time job with a herpetology society because the hours were flexible.

And yet, each job seems to be a prerequisite for the last.  My degree in English, even though my major was creative writing, was a great stepping stone for Teaching English as a Forgeign Language in the Peace Corps.  My Peace Corps experience didn’t help much when I was working in retail, but once I got to the credit card company, the “special English” I had adopted in Kyrgyzstan was ideal for working over the phone with clients who spoke English as a second language.  I also used the grammar I learned while teaching it to my Kyrgyzstani students, and was often asked to assist the technical writer.  When I went back to grad school, the skills I had developed at the credit card company for tracking information and juggling priorities were essential for getting through my thesis.  Not to mention, the contacts I made in the Peace Corps made it possible for me to do my field research during a single 3-month summer visit.  Once I got into archaeology, the descriptive skills honed through writing poetry in my youth were essential in writing understandable reports and site records.  Even in the process of moving from CA to UT, I went from an archaeology job where I worked on an enormous Nevada pipeline project, to helping out with a large Utah pipeline project.  And all those years of writing reports in Word, keeping track of data and forms in Excel, and writing grad school presentations in PowerPoint, made it possible for me to teach a computer class.

my current work station

But this extra side job in herpetology?  It just takes the cake in terms of utilizing my past experience.  I am cataloguing and posting for online sale a number of books, prints, ceramic figurines, and other miscellaneous items that were willed to the society by two different herpetologists.  Well, I have experience with books: my very first job was in a library, I worked at the college bookstore during my undergrad years, and even got to assistant manager at an outlet bookstore after graduation.  My writing and descriptive abilities will no doubt come into play when I need to provide summarized reviews of the books, and descriptions of the objects.  But it is mostly my archaeological skills being utilized here — the ability to sort, organize, photograph, document, and track a huge assemblage of items, along with the ability to make sense of scientific and biological nomenclature.

Who would have thought that 5 years in archaeology would help me get a part-time job working for herpetologists?  Or teaching a computer class?  Or that 2 years in credit card processing would prep me for grad school?  I can’t tell if I am making the connections with hindsight, or if I have been, in my own strange way, following a path to get to where I want to go.

It almost seems as though the steps I have taken through the years have been aiming me at exactly where I want to be.  For example, if I hadn’t attended field school on a lark, I wouldn’t have gotten an job as an archaeology field tech.  And I wouldn’t have been applying to CRM firms the next spring when my landlord in Arcata decided to sell our house with 30 days notice.  And I wouldn’t have had any other reason to take a job offer and move to Redding, CA if I my housing hadn’t just disappeared.  And if I had known people in Redding before moving, I might not have decided to finally get a dog to keep me company, after halfheartedly thinking about adopting a dog for years with no action.  And if I hadn’t gotten Cara, I would never have gone to the dog park and met my husband, T.

Maybe there was a plan, and I just didn’t know about it yet.  Or maybe, if you’re lucky, following your heart will get you where you need to go, whether or not you know where that is.

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