Monday, August 07, 2006

From Environmental Engineer to Environmental Artist

Whereas I am a type-A, task-oriented, list-making, get-it-done, never-slow-down type of person, my husband is generally much more um... relaxed and patient. He ponders, plans, procrastinates and postulates. He has eventually achieved plenty, like basically rebuilding our entire house... but it has taken years because he is a meticulous, methodical perfectionist. It is for this reason that I am so dang proud of him (and yes, just a tad amazed) for switching careers at the ripe old age of 45.

In 2000, when I went to work at a spankin' brand new internet start-up (with promises of wealth and prosperity... ha ha!), my hubby decided to take a few classes in digital art and animation at the local community college. He'd always been an artist in an engineers button-up and he'd been miserable for almost 20 years, working at huge aerospace companies, essentially keeping their top management out of jail for polluting. Whereas he got his BS degree in environmental sciences and then a masters in environmental engineering in hopes of "keeping the air and water clean" (as our kids used to say), he found that he was actually being a bad guy by essentially helping those aerospace companies dance around environmental regulations... and he hated himself for it.

The community college classes at night were a way for him to at least dip his finger into something that spoke more to his deep-down passions and talents -- and he loved those classes! He was the star student in each and every class, blowing away both his instructors and his fellow students in his amazing drawing, animation and design abilities. Every morning he'd go to work at the Big Bad Company (that makes both of us, huh?!), and every evening he'd be inspired (well, as inspired as someone as um... calm as he is gets) by digital art and animation.

Then 9/11 hit and he was laid off from the Big Bad Aerospace Company. We both decided that this was his opportunity to finally do what he loves. I encouraged him to go to school full time and assured him that I'd support the family. He'd done it for almost 20 years; now it was my turn. It was probably an insane idea, considering that we had four pre-teens and teens who were college-bound (and our oldest was talking Stanford, my alma mater... and at many times the cost of when I was there!). But I longed to see him come in the door upbeat and inspired instead of downtrodden and discouraged. So, having recovered from the dot-bomb catastophe and having lucked out finding a job as an executive producer of some pretty cool media, I went off to work and hubby and kids went to off to school each morning. A few years later, having worked harder for an AA than he ever did for his BS or MS, he "graduated" and began looking for employment.

Remember the non-go-getter-ness I referred to above? Consider it now. This sweet, kind, self-effacing man is the kind who would say, in a call to a prospective empoyer (which took days of fretting to muster the guts to pick up the phone), "You don't by any chance need a digital animator, do you?" That was him pushing his "selling yourself" comfort level! (I, on the other hand, love cold calls and talking to new people!) Fortunately, we had a few connections with a local software company (no, not the Big Bad Company I presently work for), and hubby was able to secure an unpaid internship. He considered himself amazingly fortunate, as no one else from his school class had found anything. After 6 months they liked his work so much that they offered him a paid internship -- which turned out to have been a financial step backwards, as he had at least been bringing in unemployment and 9/11-based retraining assistance. A few months later, he was offered full-time employment as an environmental artist (he creates backgrounds for DS handheld games) and we rejoiced! We chose to just try to ignore the fact that his starting salary was less than half what he had been making in the aerospace industry. He was starting at the bottom rung of the ladder, along with the young whipper-snapper gamers (which he isn't... young or a gamer!), but we were thrilled.

That was a few years ago. Since that time, he's continued to hone his skills and the company continues to love his work. He's still making far less than he did in his previous professional life, but he is far happier -- which means that we're ALL happier.

Except that some days I'll call him at work at 8:30 PM and ask when he's coming home and he'll exclaim that he got so involved in his art that he lost track of time, and then we eat dinner without him.

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Dixie said...

There are few things more satisfying in life than doing what you love. I wish everyone could be so fortunate.

Crystal said...

Hmmm...I really like that story, it's great to know that sayings such as "it's never too late for a new beginning" are not just a cliche. I've worked for my share of large impersonal corporations, and though finances do not allow me to transition to something totally different, I notice I'm happier when employed with smaller organizations. One thing I've learned is to value my happiness, and no amount of money is worth being miserable or mistreated in a job. That's awesome that you were so supportive of his choice.

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