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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Case For Taking A Job Against Type



















In my teens I dreamt of being a fashion designer. The walls of my room were literally covered with ripped-out pages from Vogue
They had to be clean pages, only photos, no words. I would be Kamali, Karan, Lauren, Klein.
For a time it seemed I was actually on that path. They took me into Parsons, and I spent the summer before college taking a prep class. Drawing bowls of fruit and nudes.
By the middle of August I quit. It was the nudes part that threw me. After spending all my life in the equivalent of a nunnery I just. could. not.
In college I took a lot of writing classes. I finished and still didn't know what to do.
Maybe I wanted to be a lawyer. After all I had watched The Paper Chase many times. I am Jewish - we argue a lot. How about that?
I applied to law school and got in. But the commute from my apartment to the school was ridiculous. We're talking Bronx to Long Island, at night. And lawyers worked all the time. Not a lifestyle for me, a young bride.
Plus my mind was not that detail-oriented, I thought. Or maybe someone convinced me of that?
Pass.
The opportunity came up to work at a fashion magazine. I got all dressed up, wore my special interview suit, brought a portfolio of ideas, and got the job.
But when I came home a terrible migraine struck me. Blind and nauseous I stumbled to bed where it wouldn't go away till I slept it off.
And then I realized that subconsciously, my brain was telling me something: Any kind of no-boundaries lifestyle, whether it be creative or simply too much work, was just wrong for me.
My old roommate called.
"I shouldn't be telling you this, because we left on such bad terms," she said.
"We did?" I thought the problem was her crush on my husband.
"They called from CUNY Graduate Center. You won a scholarship to study sociology."
"Oh. OK."
So I went. And it was pretty cool. More than cool - I absolutely loved it.
Maybe I will be a professor? I thought. But they were wrapped up in such...esoteric things. Postmodern, poststructural, who gives a s**t, really?
And somehow one thing leads to another...I wind up as an adjunct professor, then an entrepreneur with a writing business, then working for a Madison Avenue ad agency, and ultimately for the government.
Now I have to tell you, of all the career paths I might have envisioned for myself back in 1987 on the day I graduated high school - the government was most definitely not one of them.
Where I come from, we think of "the government" roughly like "the Cossacks." (You never know when the next pogrom will hit.)
But more than eleven years later, I have to say it's the best thing I ever did.
To look at me you'd never think it was a natural choice. Left to myself I'm an ideas girl, sitting in the corner writing all day, building sandcastles of ideas that I turn into thought products and then move on.
And my husband had to twist my arm to get me here. Because I was happy knocking myself out as a consultant and director of a think-tank.
I still remember that conversation.
"They are FIRING everyone in your company," he said. "The life of a consultant IS NOT FOR YOU. The traveling is not a stable lifestyle and we have two little kids."
"But I like it."
"Everyone in D.C. works for the government. GET OUT OF THERE NOW."
So I did apply, and I did get in, and I actually started out in creative. 
I loved it - I won awards - though I kept butting heads with the bureaucracy.
And then something happened to me. I realized that the very thing that was irksome, was the thing that was drawing me in.
I started to look at the bureaucracy and wonder if I could do something to make it better, at all.
The winds of change pushed me further and further from pretty pictures and elegant words.
And closer and closer to "boring" stuff like budgeting, contracting, technology, and operations.
I realized that I was actually good at details. That I liked managing people.
And that finding, attacking, and solving problems was very much a rewarding experience.
It hit me like lightning that what people say isn't always true.
If you really want to learn, do the things that make you uncomfortable.
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Photo credit: Brian Wolfe via Flickr
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.