Monday, February 04, 2008

Making Dreams Come True

About a month ago, I got a new student who is looking to increase her skill base in order to make a career change from a pharmaceutical industry office job to a job in journalism. This is her dream job and she's currently got her toe in the water transcribing taped interviews for a lifestyle magazine as a freelancer.

I've spoken to her a few times about why she hasn't been able to get the writing job she wants and she said that the piece she submitted to the publication she wants to work for was "evaluated" and she was told she doesn't have enough "skill". When I asked her what about her skill was lacking, she told me that she couldn't offer the ability to speak English, work with Adobe Illustrator, etc. When I asked her what specifically was wrong with her writing since she didn't need any extra skills beyond a proper writing style to submit articles, she just went back to saying the company said she didn't have sufficient skills.

Since I worked at a job for over a decade where I worked in authoring, copy editing, laying out, and doing graphics work for publishing books, I can see where a company might want someone who could deliver a broad package of abilities. However, my company was a small one which operated on a tight budget and not all publishers do everything in house. In fact, my student told me that (she believed) the magazine she was hoping to work for had separate divisions for things like design so she didn't think she'd have to deal with much beyond writing.

In the end, I talked to her about some of the steps that lead from content creation to final product and noticed that she was relatively ignorant of the process. She had a vague notion that there was content in Microsoft Word document files which got put into Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator and, voila, instant magazine. Despite the fact that she wanted to work in the publishing industry, she was unaware of what went into making a magazine and was utterly unaware of desktop publishing software of any kind and the role it plays in 99.9% of publishing. (I don't say 100% because some people do short-length publication layout in Adobe Illustrator only.) In the end, I rather wondered if her ignorance of the industry was part of what was preventing her from getting the job. Perhaps the company wanted people working for them who at least had some idea of what was involved even if they didn't personally need to perform those tasks. After all, knowing the process helps you understand the limits and specific needs of jobs that are interconnected in producing a final product.

This situation reminded me of the fact that, when we're young, we all have dreams of things we'd like to do but we often have little understanding of what it takes to achieve those dreams. We look at the final result or the aura of success or glamor surrounding a job and say, "I want that," but don't think about or know the hurdles we have to jump through to get there. Sometimes I wonder if part of what kills dreams is that you find out that the path between forming the dream and realizing it require a lot more effort and is a lot more tedious than imagined. By the time you do what it takes to make a dream come true, it's made the transition from something lofty and exciting to the mundane status of "job".


tornados28 said...

Everyone should have dreams and goals. However when people say "you can be anything you want to be as long as you work hard enough", I think that is only missleading.

You don't want to discourage young people for working hard toward their goals, but it may only cause dissapointment and other negative effects when they find out they can't reach their goal.

A young boy who has a dream of becoming a pro basketball player and he works as hard as he can everyday only to fail to become the next Michael Jordan. His dream led to unreasonable expectations that may have caused him to ignore realistic goals like finishing school. "Why do I need to finish school" he says. "I am a great ball player and I will make millions in the NBA."

It is always a fine line between encouraging a child to be the best but not giving them unreasonable expectations at the same time.

Claytonian said...

Speaking of dreams, I think I want your old job, but I want it in Japan. If you have any suggestions you are just bursting with, well, I am subscribed to these comments...

Kanagawa G said...

Another insightful post.
A lot of people look at what I do and say, "Wow! That must be a lot of fun."
While I do enjoy my line of work, it is still work, which is why my clients have to pay me to do it.

I like to help people interested in joining my line of work, but many of them give up once they realize that it takes a lot of...well, WORK!

For some reason people especially seem to not want to put in the time and effort to learn languages. They are forever looking for a magic method that doesn't exist. If it were easy, everyone would do it!

Shari said...

tornados28: You raise some good points and they are ones that have been on my mind as of late after having read an article about this topic on Blogcritics. I think that parents tell their kids they can do anything if they work hard enough as a form of encouragement, but it raises expectations to an unrealistic level. Not being a parent, I'm not sure how this would best be handled as you certainly don't want to tell your kid "you'll have limits, learn to work within them as best you can."

Claytonian: My former job was in Japan. ;-) I worked writing, laying out, and doing graphics work for a Japanese company that sells correspondence and in-company lessons. About half the job was materials development and half was teaching-related. During the busy times, I did the teaching part. During the dead times, I did the writing part. I think there are companies other than mine which do materials development and where you work in an office, but they are few and far between. I was really lucky to have that job and that's why I stayed there for so long.

They recently hired someone to fill my former job after the first person they hired to fill my spot quit, so I'm afraid the job probably won't be up for grabs again for awhile.

KanagawaG: One thing that I realized a long time ago is that there are different levels of commitment to language learning and the level required to be a competent translator is beyond what I would want to trouble myself with. It's especially hard for languages like Japanese and Chinese with thousands of characters to learn. What's more, to translate from one of those languages into English and do a better job than a native Japanese speaker who has experience growing up with the language and spent his or her youth studying English, well, that's a bigger commitment as a Japanese person has a better chance of doing such a job well than a foreign person.

Back when I was working in an office, we found that two people on the job were essential in doing the best possible work in translation because both were needed to refine the process. However, we may never have gotten someone who was truly competent at the helm because the company was too cheap to hire someone who could really translate perfectly.

I'd never think what you do is easy or fun, and especially not that it'd be a short trip to getting that type of work. It's far more work to get to that point than I'd be willing to put in, but then it's not really my area of interest. I'm more interested in composition of content than getting it from one language to another.

BTW, how's your new web site coming along?

Thanks to all for the comments!

Kanagawa G said...

Eeek. My new blog is taking longer than expected. I've had a lot of people asking about it so I think that I'll have to hunker "down and do it to it".

I have about a million projects in varying stages of completion, so maybe I'll pull an all-nighter sometime soon to finish off as many as I can.

Emsk said...

Sweeping the US, as you probablay are aware, is life-coaching, and it's come to the UK as well. For those who don't know a life coach is someone you can employ who will chum you along on your journey to be a top artist/musician/PA/President/ whatever. While I believe that there are plenty of people out there who would do a sterling job of this, you don't need to be trained psychologist of any kind to become a life coach.

There is one life coach in particular, the daddy of them all, so to speak. Her name is Fiona Harrold. She has a number of popular paperbacks to her name in which she gives undeniably good advice and motivational tips. These books are under a tenner (around $18) so are affordable. Not so are the one-day or weekend courses her website offers.

I flatter myself that I have a fair amount of psychological insight, but I would feel totally unqualified for this job.

To give you an example, A British newspaper did an article on life coaching. The woman was really a journalist, but wanted to break into better work, but the life coach she got was clueless about how the industry works. He suggested all kinds of things which amounted to being rude and pushy. This woman had enough experience to know how the game worked and would point this out, only to be told that she refused to embrace success or something like that.

In short, I am a big one for going after your dreams, but in tandem with something else. Not everyone will be the next AC/DC or Georgia O'Keefe. I think that what you're saying about the kind of experience that may be wanted of your student makes good sense actually, to know how it works from the inside out. A good thing for her to do might be to offer to work at the office one day a week without pay, which shows willing. I imagine a lot of people in high positions would be impressed with someone who was prepared to put themselves out to learn the ropes. However, in the UK at least, so many young people think that they can leave school and walk into a job in "the media".