On Growing Older

I had a birthday a few weeks back, nothing that would rate as much of a milestone other than it being my last birthday where I'm closer to 30 than I am to 40 - really, the first birthday I've given much thought about to the actual number since my 25th. It was around the time of the big 2-5 that I stopped counting the years... you see, both of my parents passed away in their early 50s and when I hit that year floating between 20 and 30 I had a moment of panic - turning 25 felt like mid-life. It was the year I got married, sold a condo and bought a house, it was the first time in my life that I was responsible for someone or something that wasn't me. I was an adult and felt like I didn't know what I was doing or how I'd gotten there.

Fast forward to today, my career is going well, I'm married to my best friend, I can honestly say that I enjoy the work that I do (more on that in a second), my wife and I are proud parents to a 16 month old daughter and a three-and-a-half year old Shih Tzu with our second daughter arriving in less than a week - not to brag, (okay, I'm totally bragging) but, things are kind of awesome, that said it's also a good opportunity to reflect a bit before sleep deprivation and 2 am feedings become my short-term normal for a little while.

When I was a kid I didn't want to be an HR professional - heck, I didn't even know HR was thing until I was  in college. No, I wanted to be an Imagineer, a term I'd heard once on The Wonderful World of Disney used to describe the creatives in the employ of the House of Mouse. In my head, an Imagineer did everything from design rides to animation to providing the voices for the Hall of Presidents to wearing the Goofy costume at the Magic Kingdom - it was the greatest job ever and I had to have it. I was obsessed with it until about the age of eight when I started collecting baseball cards.

Eight year old me saw baseball cards (and soon comic books) as little more than gateway investments that would eventually lead me to New York and the floor of the NYSE where I'd become a stock broker/millionaire. I completely forgot about Disney (who now coincidentally owns my then go-to comic brand) and became convinced that I was destined for pinstripes and Manhattan. After a few years, a time when I'd tell anyone who'd listen about the investment value of an Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr. #1 card  - I'm sure to the frequent chagrin of my parents - I moved on and decided that the only reasonable profession would be to go into law.

Jump ahead to high school when I discovered golf (on top of all the other things teenagers discover) and became convinced that I was going to become a PGA Tour Pro, and if not a tour pro then a teaching pro (again, more on that in a second), and if neither of those worked out I'd get a law degree to fall back on. Yes, 16 year old me was a bit of optimist (clueless might be another acceptable word choice). I stuck with golf into college, where I started out as pre-law before changing my major a half dozen times before settling on psychology.

I'd come to realize that being an attorney wasn't really a viable option (way to go 19 year old me) nor was being a PGA Tour Pro, but a degree in psychology could be a stepping stone to a doctorate in sports psychology because I was totally going to be a teaching pro... and I actually pursued it. I worked in various roles moving my way up from the cart shed to supervising merchandising to managing pro shops and tournaments to being an assistant teaching pro - I even interned with the PGA of America - before getting presented with the opportunity to move to another state as an Assistant General Manager. I was young and excited, but in considering a move from St. Louis to Chicago and the realization that my new job would probably mean not finishing school and moving away from my then girlfriend (now wife) and a whole slew of other personal things that I'd given little to no thought to until an offer was on the table I realized that what I considered an awesome job that let me sneak in nine holes each day might not be so awesome when I was 30 or 40. The golf industry can be transient, the hours long, it doesn't necessarily pay well, and I'd seen the idea of being a golf pro swallow up more than a few people. So I did what any reasonable person would do - I turned down the offer, stayed in school and went to work looking for a job that might lead to a career (or at least keep me put for a little while).

I took to the internet, which was still sort of new and shiny and full of mystery at the time, and stumbled across an internship opportunity. It was with a Fortune 500. The gig was in human resources.

I applied, got a call to interview within a matter of days, and then went through one of the most rigourous interview processes that I've ever encountered in the entirety of my career. Four hours, seven one-on-one interviews, and one group interview led to an offer for a job that at it's core was meant to walk the manufacturing floor to ensure there wasn't any unrest in a union free environment. I learned about recruiting and sourcing, I learned about performance management and employee engagement, I learned that I hate filing. The position was extended beyond the summer through the fall and within six months I had moved onto my first real HR position as a generalist with one of the nation's largest telecommunications firms.

My new post-internship job was 24/7, I was in over my head and I loved it and I hated and I loved it and I hated it - I considered crawling back the golf industry - I loved it and again found a new job with a new company. This time there was no love to be had and I was gone within a year. Gone not just from the job but from corporate America as I made the jump into the nonprofit sector, a move that allowed (and has continued to allow) me to learn so much and get beyond seeing HR as a job and appreciate it as my career... and after more than a dozen years in it, I can honestly say my career of choice.

I may not be an Imagineer, but I get to tackle new and interesting things nearly every day. I interact with people, provide counsel and guidance, I lead large projects and develop/implement new ideas. As a kid, I wanted to do something fantastical when I grew up, instead I get to do something fantastic, something rewarding. But it's more than that, I've landed (and will make a point of continuing to land as I look ahead) in an organization that is more than just rewarding work, it's a culture and a community - my job has become my career and my career is kind of awesome. And how many people can honestly say that?

Header Photo Credit: Philipp Klinger Photography via Compfight cc

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