Life is funny:Ridiculum Vitae
July 8, 2013 | By Andy Rutledge
For whatever reason, it occurred to me today that I’ve had an eclectic work life. On a whim I grabbed pen and tablet and wrote down all of the jobs I’ve had in my 33 years of employment. It was a lot. It was too much, I think. Since 1980 I’ve held 24 different positions for 15 different organizations. That fact kind of startled me.
All told, the jobs I’ve had were from 4 months to 12 years and my average is more than 3.5 years at each, often several concurrently. The concurrent part owed mostly to interest and need and sometimes to the expectations of my parents (“What! You have free time!? You could be working!”).
When we’re talking about a job, concurrent endeavor is appropriate and probably a hallmark of the creative mind (or maybe the irresponsible dope), but of course inside of one’s career concurrent endeavor is not so appropriate. I thought that my lot was to have a career in retail management. When at last I set aside cowardice and followed my heart, I rejoiced to discover that I could actually do what I loved and yet support my family. But not because I loved it. I was able to forge a career doing what I love and was meant to do because I was at last prepared.
My experience is likely atypical. I mean, how many folks do you know that began a career at almost 40 years of age? I do not suggest that it should take a person 22 years to prepare for a career. Rather, I note that I endured too many years of cowardice wherein I nonetheless made advisable preparations for my eventual career in design. In those years I spent tens of thousands of dollars on books and magazines and travel, all as a means to acquire the education I wanted and needed. That and the jobs I held combined to prepare me for what was to come.
Design is not a unifaceted or even several-faceted endeavor. It requires a tremendous heap of varied and comprehensive understanding to be responsibly employed. Given minimal preparation time, some designers concentrate in a couple of facets. I had decades so I concentrated in many. Not all of it was what I’d call fun, but it was efficacious.
In any event and not to put too fine a point on it, I’ve done a lot of stuff. It’s strange to see it all listed, but I’m a writer so I list and write things out of habit…and then publish them. So for entirely my own reflection and your amusement—including only the salaried endeavors—I present my rather ridiculous curriculum vitae:
- Newspaper Home Delivery Route (2 years)
- 365 days per year I arose at 4am to fold & deliver newspapers to homes for the Beaumont Enterprise while attending high school.
- Newspaper machine/store Route (2 years)
- 365 days per year I arose at 4am to pickup & deliver newspapers to street vending machines, stores, hospitals, etc. while attending high school and college. From my newspaper delivery jobs I learned the value of unfailing dependability.
- Grocery Store employee (2 years sacker/stocker, 2 years dairy manager, 1 year produce clerk)
- Beaumont, TX. I did this while also delivering my paper route each morning and going to high school and university. There I learned how one’s work ethic directly affects the customer’s experience.
- Busboy (2 weeks)
- I did this while also delivering my paper route AND working at the grocery store. After two weeks of working 20 hours/day I had “an episode” and quit all three of my jobs. People have a breaking point. I found mine. That’s all I learned there.
- Pro Musician (2 years + periodic fits & starts since)
- Texas coast club circuit. Often done while working other jobs. I eventually stopped pursuing a career in music because I refused to subject my new wife to that life. I chose love and duty over indulgence. From the age of 8 to this day I remain a composer and play every week and compose often, because I have to. From music study (mostly) I learned that all artistry in all media is exactly the same endeavor that succeeds and fails for exactly the same reasons and according to the same rules. Only the medium changes.
- Pipe Organ Tuner’s Assistant (4 months)
- Traveled to churches all over Texas and repaired & tuned their pipe organs (tracker and pneumatic/electric). In this job I learned how human anatomical alignment greatly affects tone perception and to appreciate the subtlest nuance in aural expression.
- Pipe Organ Builder’s Assistant (6 months)
- Worked doing carpentry & pipe work for Schudi Organs in Mesquite, TX; highest quality organ builders on the planet. My working with them was a lucky fluke. There I learned to appreciate the value of uncompromising (even when never seen) quality in workmanship (OH: “Why are you sanding that bolt block so carefully and thoroughly? It’ll be under a base cover way in the back. No one will ever see it.” “Well…God’s gonna see it!”).
- Hotel Desk/Reservations (3 years desk clerk, 1 year reservations manager)
- For an all-suites hotel in Austin, TX. There I learned how responsible service allows the merchant’s efforts (design) to disappear into the customer’s positive experience.
- Card/Gift Store chain (3 years sales associate, 3 years store manager, 6 years corporate general manager)
- For an independent Hallmark store chain with stores in four cities in Texas. This is where I learned how to run a company and hire and empower competent staff.
- Hobby eMagazine Publisher (3 years)
- I built a hobby online publication from nothing, recruited translators, and then turned it into a 5-language subscription publication. It was pleasantly successful (a few hundred paid subscribers) and I learned how to do some things right and lots of things wrong, but I sold the publication to the premier print publisher for the hobby and got a real job in the deal.
- Magazine Editorial Staff (8 months assistant editor, 1 year web editor/designer/developer)
- For a prominent hobby magazine. It was a combination of an endeavor I loved, a community I knew, and a skill I had yet to fully develop. I learned that I love writing and suck at editing. Still.
- Freelance Web Designer (2 years)
- My misbegotten, irresponsible start in the design profession. This is where I learned how not to do lots of important things in the design profession. But I learned that I could do this and should be a designer.
- Bonsai Artist’s Apprentice (3 years)
- I worked at various bonsai nurseries in Texas and Massachusetts as apprentice to bonsai artist Kenji Miyata. Traveled the country and made the acquaintance of artists & enthusiasts all over the world. If I were not a web designer I’d be a bonsai professional.
- Then I jumped into design with both feet…
- Agency Web Designer (1 year web designer, 2 years creative director)
- Design Agency Owner/Partner (6 years)
- In-house Designer
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Yes, in the end it all looks like the spastic flitting about of a distracted and irresponsible flake. In some ways it probably is. In hindsight, most of it was the result of my conflict between doing what I knew I could do well to pay the bills and trying to dabble/prepare for what I desperately wanted to do, but believed I could not.
Such a circuitous route toward a career will surely seem odd to many. A smart designer might attend college and emerge directly into his or her career. An even smarter one might avoid the idiocy of college and get an education where actions have consequences and bring more consequential returns. I didn’t take that path because I’m smarter, but rather because I was scared. Even so, I regret little of my varied work history. I am thankful that I invested the time, effort, and money to acquire the education I needed in order to do what I loved and what I know I’m meant to do. I’d advise no one to do differently.
Invest the time, effort, and expense into learning what you need to know in order to do what you should be doing regardless of what you are doing. You have but one life. Your destiny doesn't have to be solidified in your twenties or thirties or forties or fifties. In those years you can still prepare for what you should do. But for your sake and the world’s, make it happen.
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p.s. No, I’m not looking for work or “opportunities.” Please do not send inquiries or invitations. Thanks.
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Background image: Jorge Royan | Hat stall in a sunday fair. Amsterdam, The Netherlands