Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bootcamp? Yup. Bootcamp!

On November 11, I began an intensive 'boot camp', lead by Launch Academy, focused on the introduction and development of skills in computer programming and web development.  It's often easy to dismiss my enrollment in the class as 'chance', but I know that getting to this point has been the result of significant work (over the past 14 years) and self-discovery (over the past 24 months).

I probably need to lay a little groundwork to provide some clarity as to how I ended up here.  In 1999 I graduated from the University of Wyoming and moved to Western Massachusetts.  After enjoying a summer off I went to work for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company in Springfield, MA.  After 3 years at the home office, and after a brief stint as a circulation analyst for a catalog company, I joined the Commonwealth Financial Group in Boston, MA.  Initially as the Director of Finance and Operations, I quickly advanced to the roll of Chief Financial Officer, with a hefty dash of Operations Officer under my direction as well.  This is a bit simplified, and extremely linear, but it's the basics of my life from 1999 to 2011.  

In 2011, my partner and myself were married.  We decided that the paths we had been on (he had a very similar professional background) were no longer satisfying and that the continued accumulation of wealth was no longer a powerful enough motivator to keep trudging along down that road.  We decided to embark on an early retirement and agreed that we would never 'work' again.  That being said, we both have a strong desire to enjoy full lives that may or may not include jobs in the future.  But we believe that whatever we do should not be 'work'.  We've worked for too long and it's time to be enriched by a job, and not drained by it. 

You would think it would be easy, given the space away from work, to identify a passion that you could build your life around.  But, for me, it was shockingly difficult.  I'd had so much outside structure in my life that, when challenged with providing it for myself, discovered a surprising weakness.  But I've always believed in relying on experts for things that we can't do ourselves.  And that's where Bev, my executive coach,  comes into my life.   

Hiring an executive coach was one of the best things I've done in my adult life. Working with a professional, in a safe space, allowed me to open emotional doors and to escape the tunnel vision that was limiting my view of the future.  I am now able to consider possibilities!  It all seems so simple now, but there was a time when any path other than the one I was on seemed impossible and not worthy of consideration.  I was in a tunnel more than on a path. 

Coming 'above ground' may have happened eventually, but working with Bev accelerated the process.  She was able to provoke me and ask me valuable questions that helped me shift my mind set.  Focusing on an end goal can be very productive.  I had experienced that.  But such severe focus on a single goal and the blinders required to avoid distraction actually inhibited potential growth in different, and maybe truer, directions. 

Now, in all fairness, the tunnel in which I survived (and thrived, in many ways) equipped me with an arsenal of skills and experiences that have prepared me to thrive in the Boot Camp environment.  I can easily identify a number of arrows in my quiver that will come in handy as I embark on this new endeavor, including:  Time management, complex financial modeling, & people management skills.  

But the road map to Launch Academy didn't start to take shape until much of the hard work with my executive coach was completed.  

The foundation for my work with the executive coach was the Strong Interest Inventory.  The bulk of the test is to identify working styles & aptitude, then overlay that with career direction and relevant occupations.  I learned that I was both artistic and conventional - which are distinctly opposite ends of the spectrum.  With Bev's help, I've come to understand that these seeming conflicting themes make perfect sense.  I can be an artist with conventional tendencies - creating beauty and visual art using systems and procedures rather than paint and brushes.  My unique skills in organizing and working with numbers and analytics and my attention to detail, when applied to web development, are as valuable as understanding perspective and color is to a canvas artist.  

We then built upon this understanding with a litany of exercises that challenged and engaged me.  A few really stand out when looked at through the prism of computer programing and web development:

Factors in the workplace:  I was asked to identify what factors in the workplace would be necessary for happiness.  My list included:  urban center, modern technology, international, working from home, casual dress, paperless, inspirational, energetic.  

Quick Goal Setting:  all of my goals seemed to fit into one of three buckets:  creative, analytic and historic.  I made an illustration of these three circles, overlapping, and pondered it on a regular basis.  How could I incorporate my love of history with my gifts in creativity and analysis?  Using programing is not unlike painting a picture or telling a story.  People are drawn to aesthetically pleasing sites and aps which tell a story.  That is an engagement of my creative side.  The telling of the story, or 'painting' of the picture is not done with a paintbrush, but with complex code done behind the scenes, which few ever see.  The development of this code is highly analytic  and engages that side of my personality.  Lastly, and most incredible (and surprising) is the layer of historic interest.  With a skill set in programming, and the flexibility to take work when I want to take it, I could work on projects that allow me to indulge my inner historian - from entrepreneurial projects creating applications and websites that don't yet exist all the way to volunteer opportunities developing web and mobile presence for historic organizations throughout the world. 

 Bev taught me the value of experimentation for that sake of the experience.  Launch Academy is an experiment.  I am here for the experience and to test the waters of a subject that felt interesting to me.  If I come out of the end learning something, but not using it, it will still be a successful experiment.  And if I have a passion that blooms, all the better. 

My 'diagnosis' that I skewed highly artistic, followed by highly conventional gave me great anxiety.  I don't use the term 'diagnosis' lightly.  It felt like a punch in the gut.  At the time, I was scared to death.  It made no sense to me and didn't reflect who I though I was.  It intimidated me.  But today, my perspective has changed 180 degrees.  It now feels like a liberating opportunity with limitless potential.  I've come to understand how broad the artistic umbrella is.  I am beyond thrilled at what I anticipate learning at boot camp, both from the curriculum and from the experience, and I'm excited about the prospect of possibly having professional satisfaction in a field that allows me to continue to be a history buff and a numbers/systems guy with a bent towards creative expressions. 

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