Blog-o! Notes from

Tue, 28 Sep 2010

I'm not good at anything. Not officially, anyway. I used to be good at math, or at least that's what my Bachelor of Math degree claimed. I got a bunch of software jobs with my Bachelor of Math degree, and then I had some babies and stopped working, and I haven't had a software job for seven years. Do I miss it? No. Have I kept up with the technology? No. Am I interested in keeping up with the technology? Not really, no. Well… maybe a little bit. But not enough to be employable.

I'm good at writing. I'm good at editing. But I don't have any bits of paper to prove it, and that terrifies me. Every time I've considered changing careers I've always planned to first go to school and get a bit of paper, and then go ahead with the job-finding part. The thought of asking someone to hire me for something without the third-party validation of a degree makes me feel slightly ill.

On the other hand, I don't have the time or the money to go to school and get some kind of "I'm a Writer 4 Realz" certificate, and I do have a computer and a wee bit of natural talent. The only thing missing is the chutzpah to go out and tell people to hire me. Because I'm awesome.

Fortunately I already have one gig to be going on with, and another one lined up after that (assuming I don't utterly screw up the first one). Hopefully that will furnish my inner neurotic with enough validation to go beating the pavement in search of more work, which will beget more confidence, and so on.

Or maybe not – writers are notoriously insecure. Maybe this is the perfect career for me.

[Posted at 22:11 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 26 Feb 2009

One of the important things I left out of the career test is that I want to work part-time for the forseeable future. Yeah, that's a pretty big omission, because there are entire fields of work which do not have part-time positions. Like software development.

My main idea at the moment is library work, or more generally information management. It makes sense for several reasons: I love books and reading and information, I like to look things up, I love and understand data and metadata, it's nerdy and quiet and air-conditioned, while still being Part of the Solution rather than Part of the Problem. (At least, potentially, depending what position I ultimately take.)

To that end, I am looking at two options, the first being a one-year Library and Information Technology Technician diploma at Seneca College, the second being a Masters of Library Something-or-other at U of T. The intellectual snob in me wants to go for the Master of Information Studies, but the pragmatist says the diploma is the way to go - it's cheaper, it's shorter and it won't leave me overqualified for part-time positions. Maybe people at cocktail parties (or housewarming parties) won't be bowled over by my credentials, but that's so superficial. Impressing people at parties is not the main thing. (It's something I really want to do, but it's not the main thing!)

And of course I don't have the resources to pursue a university degree at the moment. I wouldn't feel comfortable spending so much of my family's time and money at this stage. Once I have been working for a while, and the children are older, I can think about pursuing whatever university education seems relevant at the time. Maybe the girls and I will go to university at the same time!

The one thing that's still missing is something that occurred to me today. I'm reading the wonderful Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, and he was talking about trying to see things from children's perspective, and treating them with respect. Maybe because I was treated with respect myself, or maybe because I remember what it was like to be a kid more clearly than it seems a lot of people do, but I'm good with kids. I'm good with them and I love them. I really enjoying spending time with the children at Delphine's school, and I will miss it when they are older and I no longer have an excuse to volunteer at the elementary school.

I don't (at the moment) see a path to working with children through the LIT diploma - I can't work at the Toronto Public Library with that diploma (apparently they are intellectual snobs too), and I can't work at a public school in Toronto because they insist that you be qualified as a teacher to be a school librarian. So how can I get my grubby little hands on the youth of today? I don't know. I will have to look into it further.

[Posted at 22:39 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 01 Feb 2009

This morning while I was hanging up laundry in the basement, I was thinking about stuff. Mainly I was thinking about the clever, interesting people at the party yesterday and trying to figure out how I could spend more time with, or maybe work with, clever, interesting people like that. (Not that I didn't work with clever, interesting people in software; in fact, that's one of my favourite things about software. Love me some geeks.) I was casting my mind about, musing on this and that, on academia and science and research and clever people doing interesting things, when it came to me:

I don't want to do science.

I don't know why that seemed like such a bombshell, but it seemed very exciting at the time. (It doesn't take much when you're hanging cold wet t-shirts in a cold wet basement.) I love science, I love facts, I love knowing about the latest studies and ideas, but I don't want to do the research myself. I'm more interested in getting things done (with the best new knowledge) than in finding things out. I love that other people are finding things out but I just want to know what they've got.

So a career in dusty academia is not for me, which makes this not much of an epiphany because I never thought it was. However, hanging out with Greg Wilson's clever friends made me think that I would like to work close to science, applying or disseminating the latest studies and discoveries. Blake's suggestion was science outreach, and I also think science writing could be cool. The other idea that popped into my head was urban planning. I feel like there must be some way to take scientific knowledge and apply it to public policy, maybe try and get us out of this mess we're in.

So many ideas.

[Posted at 22:40 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 30 Jan 2009

I looked on the internet for some kind of career counselling or guidance and I came across Career Joy. I got them to send me one of their FREE 15-Minute Career Test which promises to help me identify my key strengths and find the right career for me! Well, I've taken the test and I still don't know the right career for me. I think that might take a bit more work. But I did figure out a couple of interesting things. Here are my results.

Step 1 - Personal Inventory

1. Talents. What am I good at? What do others say I am good at?

  • reading
  • writing
  • organizing
  • baking/cooking
  • talking to people
  • making people feel comfortable
  • understanding what people know, explaining things to them
    • explaining things verbally
    • explaining things in writing
  • proof-reading
  • spelling
  • typing
  • looking things up / research
  • managing the household:
    • finances
    • activities for four people
    • food - nutrition / purchasing / cooking
  • singing
  • dealing with children
  • understanding and using computer software
  • understanding concepts / smart ("I'm clever!")
  • visualizing / spatial / math

(This is going to sound a bit weird, but if there's anyone reading who can think of anything I'm good at that I've missed, or if you think I'm not actually good at something that I listed, please comment. I'm supposed to know what others say I'm good at.)

2. Passions. What do you love? What do you read about? What do you get angry about?


  • family
  • science and ideas
  • facts / truth
  • music
  • children
  • books
  • food (Shut up, I do love food. I would marry it if I could!)

Angry about:

  • climate change / sustainability *
  • justice: hunger, human rights, health care

(I put a star by climate change because it's really, really important and if I'm to be any use to the world it should probably be my first priority.)

Read about:

  • childhood development and parenting
  • memoirs/other people's lives
  • climate change
  • science
  • sociology -- how people and systems work
  • psychology / happiness

3. Values - what do you value in other people? What do you believe strongly in?

  • truth / honesty
  • conscientiousness -- doing what you say you will / ought to
  • fulfilling your responsibility as a person or citizen / being a grown-up
  • kindness and consideration for others / taking care of the earth
  • being good and moral

4. Lifestyle - what do you want from your lifestyle?

  • right-size house (3 br, 2 bath, 2 office areas, lr/dr, den, backyard, shed)
  • short / bikeable commute from midtown Toronto
  • time to be with family
  • time to read
  • you know what I would really love? I would love a job where I could read the newspaper as part of my job! That would be cool!
  • two children (I already have those but I'd like to keep them if it's all the same to you.)
  • no additional property
  • no car
  • occasional vacation

5. Ecosystem/Environment - what atmosphere/environment do you work best in?


  • clean
  • organized
  • quiet
  • indoors
  • personalized (my pictures, etc. around)

(I'm a real princess, eh?)


  • friendly
  • cooperative, not competitive or political

(And a delicate flower, too, apparently.)

STEP 2: Measuring Your Career Joy

This is the step where you measure your current or previous career according to what you determined about yourself, on a scale of one to ten.

How well did software technical support utilize my best and most important talents? 7/10

How well did software technical support engage my passions? 2/10

How well did software technical support meet my values? 4/10

How well did software technical support meet my ideal lifestyle? 9/10

How well did software technical support meet my ecosystem desires? 9/10

TOTAL: 31/50

This is where it gets like one of those quizzes in Seventeen, because they tell you what your score out of fifty means. My score gets "Needs improvement. What is your lowest score? What action(s) do you need to take to make improvements?" Which is a little unhelpful - aren't you supposed to tell me that? Well, clearly my lowest score was in the area of Passions, which I knew, but what is interesting to me is that the software career scored so high in Lifestyle and Environment, which is probably why I stuck with it so long.

Well, it was enlightening to think all this stuff through and write it down, but I am going to need more help to sift through this information and decide which direction to go in. Onward.

[Posted at 22:15 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 28 Jan 2009

The other day I was talking to the head librarian at the library, about the options for someone who wanted to be a librarian when she grew up. I've been toying with taking a one-year library technician course at a local college, but the website says something like, "With this diploma you can find work at public libraries outside Toronto." But not inside Toronto. If I want to work at the TPL I have to either get a Masters or work my way up the ladder for decades. Well heck. If I go into library work, do I want to work at a public library or do I want to work for a law firm or a corporation? I'd like to at least keep the option of public library work open. We talked about the Masters of Information Studies at U of T, which would be great if I can get in, apart from being pretty expensive.

So I went to the U of T website where I found this:

Applicants who graduated five or more years ago but without achieving sufficiently high standing for admission to the School may be considered for admission if, since graduation, they have done significant, intellectual work and/or made a significant professional contribution which can be considered equivalent to a higher academic standing. This contribution and its impact on the profession must be detailed and documented (e.g., publications, research, professional advancement, development of new skills, responsibility, etc.) and presented as part of the application.

I haven't actually checked to see whether my BMath marks are sufficiently high, but since they are best described as dismal I can only assume they won't be. I spent ten years in a field which I hated and so I wasn't exactly a stellar employee, and then I stayed home to take care of my children, and last I checked they don't actually give out awards for that. So maybe, just maybe they will let me into this program with a lot of sweet talking, more likely I will have to take a few undergrad courses (which would be fine) or worst case, I would have to take a whole new undergrad degree. Which will take years and cost a billion dollars which I don't really have because we're in debt and we haven't saved a penny for the girls' educations.

If I could give a high school graduate one piece of advice, it would be to take an undergrad program that is easy enough for you to graduate with good marks in, because not having a four-year degree with good marks closes off so many career options. I wish I had known, I would have switched into English like I thought about doing in 1A. That is my one Erica Strange-style regret. I should have listened to my gut and not stayed in math to try and impress the boys. You have one opportunity to be shiny and if you blow it, it's over.

That's not true. I could start afresh and get a whole new undergrad degree, and I guarantee I would kick ass because I would choose something I'm passionate about (not math). But man... the years, the money. Am I just making excuses? Should I bite the bullet? You hear all the time about people who go back to school when their kids are little, and work jobs at the same time! Why can't I be awesome like that? I'm always looking for the easy way. Maybe if I want to do this properly, to live this life as fully as I should, I shouldn't look for the easy way. Maybe the easy way will lead to regrets. Maybe the easy way will lead to a life of mediocrity distinguished only by the nagging sense that I could have done better.

Or maybe I will make myself and my family miserable by spending too much time and money on a degree that won't actually fix my life. Maybe I should just get some tech job that I hate and spend the money renovating the house. Or try and get a good job without getting a bunch more education.

So whatever. Do I even want to be a librarian? I have no idea. I really want to do something useful and meaningful, which sounds so idiotically idealistic and adolescent, but I'm not speaking as an adolescent, I'm speaking as a mature adult who sees what is going on in the world and who can't tolerate the idea of being away from hearth and family simply to earn money and further the ends of some CEO. If I'm going to work, I want the work to be worth doing.

Anyway, the time has come when I have to make a decision. Cordelia is going to start kindergarten this year, and in 2011 she'll be in grade one. I need to start thinking about what I'm going to do so I can take some evening courses, or think about how to make money in the meantime. Can I even justify any further education when we're so in debt? Or does it make more sense to get me all educated up so I can earn more sooner?

I just don't know. I'm a muddled, confused mess and all these questions are ricocheting around my head all the time making me frustrated and exhausted. I hate not having a direction, and I have never been as directionless as I am now. The only thing I'm sure of is that I need to think about what I like to do and what I'm good at, and make an appointment with a career counsellor to figure out what the hell I am going to do when I grow up. Because I'm really ready to grow up now.

[Posted at 22:52 by Amy Brown] link