Earlier this month, my photo of space shuttle Endeavor being ferried from California back to Florida popped up in Timehop and sent me off down memory lane to December 2008, when it snowed one night and Endeavour flew past us the next day. Quite a bit of excitement in less than 24 hours! As you can see from the blue sky, it was a brilliantly clear day and Endeavour was looking particularly lovely.
At the time, I was working in Mission Control. We all knew that the end of the shuttle program was rapidly approaching, and Jose and I were considering career changes and a big move to Washington DC. Things changed, and 9 years later we are still in Houston, and still at NASA, but both in very different jobs. I couldn’t have predicted where I’d be now.
In my younger days, I used to write a lot about work. It was a big deal, yadda, yadda, yadda, and I talked about the good, the bad and the ugly. I talked a lot about the day-to-day.
I don’t really write about work anymore, at least not in specifics. I like to mention cool stuff that NASA is doing and the occasional cool thing that happens to me like a promotion or an award. I even wrote a whole series on work in the last few years…but that was more focused on my personal feelings about jobs in general and what I want from life.
But now I find myself wondering for the umpteenth time about the future. I’ve been working at NASA full-time for more than 15 years. Twenty if you count my college years. And I’m not quite 40 — I still have a good 20 years to go, maybe a lot more. Do I spent those 20 at NASA? If so, what do I do? Do I leave and go somewhere else? If so — again, what do I do?
I don’t plan to go back to the good/bad/ugly thing here…but sometimes I do wish I could ramble about things as they currently are. Some things are good. Some things are frustrating. Lately I’ve been dealing with both frustration and apathy, which is kind of a strange and unexpected combination. I could very well spend my entire adult life working at NASA and there are definitely pros and cons to this. It’s stable. It’s flexible. I am well compensated. But when things are rough, I’m quick to jump into some “grass is greener on the other side” thinking — despite the fact that I’m almost entirely blind to what things are like outside the NASA bubble.
I was trading emails with my friend Becca the other day. Until recently, she was much like me — got an engineering degree, went to work at NASA, moved around to several different organizations but all here in Houston. Then one day she decided to go to law school part time. And a couple years later she negotiated a summer off to do a law internship. And then about a year and a half ago, she left NASA entirely to clerk for a couple federal judges. And next she’s moving on to a full-time law job. Talk about a career change, right?
Anyway, she passed on some advice given to her a couple summers ago. (Actually, she first told me this in July 2016 via IM when she still worked at NASA, and it’s been in my drafts folder ever since, and when she told me again this week, I was finally prompted to finish this post.) Here’s her IM, verbatim:
i’ve decided all the rest of this law school thing has been played by ear, i am going to keep rolling with it. one of the senior partners at the firm last summer was like “all those career planners want you to have 5, 10 year plans. focus on what you are doing for the next two years, that, unlike everything else, is controllable. so, i’m going to follow that advice for a while.
I’ve always thought the “5 year plan” or “10 year plan” question is pointless, but haven’t never been able to really explain why — other than the fact that I just didn’t have a good answer for it. But this piece of advice nails it pretty succinctly. Five years is too long-term! And ten? Come on!
Five years ago I had only one kid, she was a newborn, I had a different job and lived in a different house. And nine years ago, Endeavour did her fly-by and I was engaged but not married, still working in Mission Control, living in an apartment. My creative outlet was photography. Now it’s quilting. Some things have stayed the same, of course, but a lot has changed.
Ten year plans are dumb.
And for now? Well, here I am.
p.s. After a few more jaunts into space, I also saw Endeavour make a return trip, from Florida to her retirement home in LA, almost four years later. When I go out there for QuiltCon in February, I’m also going to visit the California Science Center to see her and I can’t wait!
p.p.s. I’m doing a 31 day blog writing challenge!