Monday, April 30, 2007

First: Find My Passion. Next: Find Employment

This isn't the first time I've been unemployed and a bit freaked. It is, however, the first time I've been so suddenly unemployed, this freaked, and over 50.

My resume -- which, according to all the experts, needs to be re-written to more tightly brand myself -- reflects someone who has successfully traveled an enviable path. I have a great education, with a BA in developmental psych from UCSB and an MA in Education and Media from Stanford. After graduation (which was, er... 1981), I jumped right into Stage One of my career: the perfect position with a now-defunct division of Disney called WDEMCO (Walt Disney Educational Media Company), designing and producing not-so-cutting-edge educational media (e.g., filmstrips, comic books, etc.) of the day. About a year into that position, I was told that I'd be transitioned to a small team working on something called "personal computer software." I freaked a bit because I had absolutely no interest in computers or technology. My interest was in content development, character and story development, and inspiring kids to learn in engaging, non-textbooky ways. Once I finished freaking ("I don't doooo computers!"), I realized that designing games for this new-fangled home computer "craze" actually spoke to everything I was passionate about, and once I realized that I wouldn't be required to A.) write code or to B.) create art (areas that still today I have A.) no interest in and B.) no talent for), I poured myself into my new endeavor with great fervor. Within a little over a year, I had designed and managed the development of about 20 computer games -- ten, with names like Queen's Revenge and Dwarfs Dilemma, for a Panasonic Home Computer that never saw the light of day, three with Sierra Online (when it really was in the Sierras; we'd fly to Fresno and drive to Oakhust, near Yosemite, where we'd design with Ken and Roberta Williams on the deck of their beautiful riverfront home), and a few (Disney's Comic Strip Maker and Disney's Card and Party Shop) with Looking Glass Software. And within that short time I got married and had a baby, too. Saying that those were productive years would be an understatement! I was young and driven and ambitious -- in every aspect of my life!

What I consider Stage One of my career extended beyond Disney and into Educational Insights, where I designed non-electronic educational media. Loved that, but longed to be home with kids.

Time out (seven years) to stay home with four kidlets.

Stage Two: Six years of mostly long-term contracts at companies like Humongous, KnowWonder and Edmark, designing educational software that I loved -- simple, graphical interface; simple, straight-forward game-play; simple, engaging characters and storylines. I consider software during these years (1995 - 2000) to be the heyday of educational software. Current "casual gaming" is reminiscent of this era, which is why I love that arena and why it's the only software endeavor I'd consider at this point in my career. (Hey, that's a pretty strong realization! I knew blogging about this would get me somewhere in this process...!)

Stage Three: I discovered educational media production in the non-profit world... and fell in love. Finally, my passion for great product development and my desire to truly have a positive impact on kids' lives came together. Again I was tasked with producing media in an unfamiliar format (video) and this time I didn't freak quite as much, realizing that the medium is just a small part of product development, and that the process is what really drives product development. The two years I spent creating and developing the eight videos that comprise FUEL and CHILL were definitely some of the most positive and productive of my career, and now that I look back as part of my quest to "find my passion," I realize that what I loved so much about was the approach we took -- the honest, direct, impactful approach of talking directly to youth about issues that matter in their lives and to allow -- and encourage -- them to be the voices that implement positive action and change.

OK, so this "just type what you're thinking" exercise that I've selfishly subjected you to has led me to two realizations: I love the creative aspect of educational media development for a younger audience -- the story, the characters, the FUN part of curriculum... and I love making media that includes my older audience in an almost activist sense -- focusing on their words, their inspiration, their passion to motivate their peers. I love the nonprofit world because I'm not big on making money for the sake of making money, but I love the pace of the for-profit world -- the inertia, the inspiration and the energy behind the looming deadline. I still don't have a huge affinity for technology, unless it saves time and energy or helps people connect (example: blogging!) and I have no real interest in high tech jobs in and of themselves... though I keep getting pulled down that road -- and feeling like a failure at it! I need to work with creative, compassionate people who share my passions for the product, for the process and for the audience. I need to make great products and I need to make a difference.

And maybe that's my brand and the launch for Stage Four:

"Producing great products that produce great inspiration."

The statement needs refining, but it's a start. Thanks for your patience as I did todays "work." What do you think of the result?

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