Today is Labor Day in the United States and I want to express some gratitude for my good fortune, vis-à-vis the way I am able to labor.
In 1982, I was a nine-year-old fourth grader, and computers were bulky boxes of magic, confined to a single room in the school. We had one 45-minute computer class per week. We usually used that time to play with super rudimentary educational programs. Mostly I remember math-based quizzes with laughably (by today’s standards) blocky graphics. Like, Atari 2600-quality graphics. Some of us with more interest and aptitude got extra time in the computer room. We had the chance to learn code (BASIC or Logo).
One week, everyone in the class was told that we would do something different for Computer Room: an electronic questionnaire.
We took turns (1 computer for every 3 students or so) filling out this questionnaire, which was all about ourselves. Some of it was like the Meyers-Briggs test. Do you prefer to be alone or with others? Would you rather read a book or watch TV? (There was more to it than that, but let’s remember: I was nine. I don’t have all the details at the ready.)
A few weeks later, everybody was given a printout of their “results” from the test. Yes, on track-fed green and white paper. Turns out that this was a career aptitude test. For nine year olds! At a public school, no less! I can’t imagine who greenlit this idea.
Look at this kid. He clearly has it all figured out at age 9. Also, please note that I was not a Yankees fan; that would have been death to someone growing up in Red Sox country. That shirt was my Farm League (pre-Little League) baseball uniform.
Most kids got lists back that had dozens of jobs on them that they would be suited for. (You know, based on preteen personalities and preferences.) Cool jobs, generic jobs, jobs we'd never heard of. But in any case: a HUGE list of things to take home and show their parents; to demonstrate, I suppose, how wide a range of potential careers lay in front of them, careers that would bring them some satisfaction and that they would be good at.
My list had six things on it.
Apparently, I was meant for one of only six jobs in the world. Hey kid, when you grow up, you can be whatever you want!* *But there are only six things you might want that you'll be any good at or happy doing.
Here are the six things a 1982 algorithm told me were my only realistic options.
How accurate did this list turn out to be?
Yes, I have been an editor. I was an editor at Let’s Go, back when travel books were a thing and the internet was not. I was also an editor at a magazine for parents of kids with disabilities, and at a scientific journal.
If you consider “data visualization” to be “graphics programmer”, then this fits too, obviously. It’s not like anyone in 1982 was going to predict the existence of our field of practice. The Macintosh didn’t exist yet, for crying out loud.
Yes, I have been a commercial artist—briefly, during the first dot-com boom. I made a lot of flyers and buck slips (those annoying advertisements that came in the Val-Pak envelope or in your monthly bills, back when people got bills through the postal service).
Ehhhhh not really, but I did marry one.
Ehhhhh not at all, but I married one’s daughter.
So I’d hate to think that my professional life was predestined from birth, or at least from age nine; but on the other hand, how effing lucky am I that, even as a child, all of the elements that I thought would make up the components of my dream job pointed me to four different jobs that I actually held? And how lucky am I that the one job that I currently hold is, at heart, the essential distillation of all six of these jobs?
Everyone hates work now and again. Clients are the worst, your applications are doing things you aren’t telling them to do, that guy from four cubes down just drives you nuts with his dumb face…I get it. And I feel all those things too.
But it’s comforting to think that between intentional decisions and good fortune, I find myself in the job my nine-year-old self would have imagined for me, even when it didn’t exist on this earth. And I’m lucky that people give me money to do things I like and am good at.
Beyond that, though, I’m so grateful for all of the ways it has affected my life positively outside of the office. I’ve met and come to know so many interesting, positive, passionate people that I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. I have a creatively stimulating force in my life that keeps the brain atrophy at bay. And a third thing, because of the rule of threes. Let’s say, the positive reinforcement that comes from being able to share your work widely—something that those of us with NDAs or squirrely customers know can be rare.
I’m not “working” this Labor Day but I’ll probably do some work, because I like it and I’m good at it. And a million thank-yous to everyone and everything that ever put me in this position. I hope some of you are in similar circumstances: if so, I say congratulations, and isn’t it great?; if not, my wish and my hope is that you get to your version of this place someday soon.