A fortune teller in Las Vegas once told me “Your future’s not in hamburgers. “ Six months later I quit my job and went back to university full-time. Twenty years later these words echo in my head as I compose this essay, hoping to return to school again.
The fortune teller’s words had significance for good reason. At the time I was working for a Vancouver advertising agency on the McDonald’s account. Yes, the restaurant giant. I was in Vegas running the booth at an annual conference, where owners and operators from all over the world had convened to discuss business and learn about the new products the Corporation was going to roll out for the upcoming year. At the end of the conference they threw a huge party just for McDonald’s people and others like me. It was a country fair, with carousel rides, Ferris wheels, BBQ food, free beer, and fortune tellers.
The fortune teller knew we were all connected to McDonald’s. They knew nothing about any of us, and in particular they knew nothing about how unhappy and frustrated I felt about my job at the agency. My face was pressed against that glass ceiling; I could see the future and I could imagine what it felt like, but I was trapped below with no chance for advancement unless I furthered my education.
At one time having an undergraduate degree was enough to provide almost unlimited access to opportunities. That is still true for some industries and career choices, but not for me. For the last couple of years I have felt my face pressed up against that glass again. There are holes in the glass now that allow me to breathe and taste some of the future. In fact, half my body is on the other side of this glass already. But I am not all the way through.
When I went back to university in Canada, I wanted to become a forensic scientist. It was just before CSI was a smash TV hit, before a million others decided to follow that same dream in a country that really does not have enough crime to sustain that many people. Up to a point I achieved my dream — I worked in policing for five years and was part of Canada’s biggest crime scene in history (I did not cause the crime scene, I just helped analyze it).
During my employment at the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), I naturally fell into jobs that blended my logical and creative talents. One aspect of my job was to run the chemical tests on evidence that would then be analyzed for fingerprints by our police experts. My boss also asked me to write some standard operating procedures about how to use the digital cameras in a policing environment. In time, this led to a contract job as the Media Relations Coordinator, where my degree and my work experience culminated in the perfect job for me. I won an award for this work, as well as experienced a job that I loved and where I know I made a difference to the world.
And then I had to reinvent myself as a technical writer. Long story. Perhaps worthy to write it down one day, but I won’t for this essay.
Technical writing suits my personality and my skills as a scientist and as a creative person. It enabled me to find work quickly when I moved to Sweden four years ago (another long story!) but I am stuck in a company that does not have any opportunity for advancement. My skills and spirit are withering, and although I keep trying, I have not been able to secure a new job.
If I won a millions dollars (pounds, Euros, kroner) I would go back to school full-time. Since that is not possible (I don’t play the lottery), I focused on finding a part-time program. I hoped to find something in Stockholm but the programs I am interested in do not meet my criteria or are not offered in English. I did find a non-credit creative writing class, which I have just completed, reaffirming that I need to stop resisting my nature and pursue that which I love, not that which I think I should do.
I am a writer, always have been. I write poetry, short stories, blogs, scientific research papers, and every day I work with words. I have a regular blog about my life in Sweden (you are reading it) and I have won NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) two years in a row.
I am already a professional writer but I do not have the piece of paper to prove it. All I know is that I need to keep moving forward and I thrive best when I am in a learning environment. I also need to work until I am at least 80 years old, so it would be great to have lots of options in the future for freelance work.
It is true. My future is not in hamburgers or 3D modeling. My future is still being written, and this time it will be written by me.