Get to know what you’re good at

Searching for a new career can be tough. I should know. I started out in my teens wanting to draw comic books for a living. In my early twenties I took restaurant and retail jobs to subsidize my new dream of becoming a rock musician. While the dream never died, the method to subsidize it did, which led me into health care logistics. I soon became too old (and too married) to expect teenage girls to wear my face on a t-shirt, so it became evident that I had to stop working in wait of a dream, and find ways to live the dream while at work.

Growing up, I found there was a lot I didn’t know. At the same time, there was a lot I did know. Most notably, I knew how to go about learning that which I did not know. I was an introverted artist with limited social skills to becoming of a musician. I deliberately took jobs in retail and restaurants to get out in front of people. As a crash course in living out a public persona, I met a guy who owned a mobile DJ company. He became my boss, and later my friend. He hired me to spin tapes and be the voice. There were even times where I was the face at certain events. It gave me an excuse to wear this dorky white Miami Vice-style suit I bought after I quit working in restaurants.

Each step of my seemingly endless stream of job changes prepared me for the step that was to come. I could have left the retail and the restaurants behind when I became a DJ. However, understanding the people and the politics of those businesses helped me to understand my clients, and explain what I needed in such a way that they also understood me.

When I played keyboards in a band, our drummer and I shared management duties. He had more connections with club owners so it made sense for him to book our gigs. My strengths in graphic design and writing gave me the edge when generating media buzz. I created press kits that combined photos, cartooning, and professionally designed layouts. Other bands at the time didn’t use PageMaker, CorelDraw, or WinFax. We did. My experience as a DJ made phoning media reps easy for me. I never thought much about the value of this until a local promoter offered me a job to replace his assistant at the time who lacked that skill. (I didn’t take it.)

Human relations. Design. Creative writing. Project management. Research. Telephone communication. While the tasks related to my specific jobs differed, the skills I used to perform those tasks were transferable between my different jobs; each new task had similarities to tasks I had performed before. The key to finding happiness in any job is to take what you do well, add it to what you like to do, and research the market for work that may be a good fit. Some even balance the equation in the reverse: take what you like to do, add in what you do well. It makes no difference. The key is to identify opportunities to do what you love.

While there may not be much call for a musically trained, desktop publishing comic book artist with a flare for dealing with people, there are numerous opportunities to combine elements of these jobs to create something new. After I took my first HTML course in 1995 I saw web design and multimedia as an ideal merging of my talents and my interests. This paved the way to building web applications using PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, and Flash. A new career path began to take shape.

Through yet another series of happy accidents, I stumbled onto the career of Technical Writer, which is where I am today. Being technical, I draw on my experience with hardware and software to understand the core concepts in order to write about them. Being a writer, I use my creative skills to edit others’ work to convey a single voice. As the liaison between highly-specialized engineers and marketing agents I exercise a great deal of diplomacy to keep people happy while moving projects along.

An additional bonus is that exercising my writing talents on technical material during the day releases my creative juices, so that I can work on other projects at night—in between bonding with my family, that is. I found the happy medium that combines what I’m good at with what I like to do.

The market is rich for technical writers who can combine a variety of skills into a complete package. Today’s technical communicator needs to develop systems for content authoring and delivery. Workflow management and multi-channel publishing are the current buzzwords, and that list grows rapidly as the landscape changes. It’s taken me twenty years, but I think I’ve found my niche. Not entirely an artist. Not entirely a performer. Not entirely a programmer. Not entirely a writer.

I am all of the above. And then some.