Sunday, August 14, 2011

Baby Steps, Stepping Stones and Destinations

It's over when the lemur sings.
(AKA: my last great photo as a Zoo employee)
I'm going to veer off my usual topics of training and racing to write about one of the other big aspects of my life. Yes, I'm going to write about "work."

Even though I don't write about it much, my work has always been an important part of my life. I've been through more than one career change (from engineering to art and design to programming to marketing and back to programming) and many employment changes in my 46 years on the planet. The employment change I'm going through right now has been the most stressful and heart-wrenching of them all.

As of yesterday, I am no longer employed at one of my favorite places in the world, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. After five years of working in the Zoo's Marketing department, I've accepted a position as a web developer at the Cleveland Museum of Art. With my background in art history, the museum is, perhaps, the only place in Cleveland for which I would have left the Zoo. It is also, perhaps, a better fit for me -- to be in an information technology environment as opposed to a marketing environment.

For five years at the Zoo, I had hoped to make a difference. A difference that would be noticed by those who loved animals as much as I do. A difference that would be obvious to my employer. And for five years, I felt like I was banging my head against a wall. As a web marketer, I kept trying to push the envelope, and I kept getting my butt kicked for it. I was in a constant state of stress about what I was doing because I never quite "got" the role of being a marketer. I struggled to compete with news organizations for my own news. I begged to institute new technology in an organization that was saddled with the inertia of an outdated mindset and I was tired of hearing everyone use the expression "baby steps." And I finally gave up because I was stuck. I wasn't going anywhere. My supervisor once said to me that we worked in a place that "rewarded mediocrity" -- and in the end, that just wasn't good enough for me.

However, I don't want you to think I don't respect the organization I worked for. I have a deep respect for the institution that is Cleveland Metroparks and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and I feel that with the new executive director, the future is wide open and bright. There are positive changes going on internally, and I'm sad that I won't be around to benefit from them. Five years ago, when I accepted the job offer at the Zoo, I was beyond thrilled to have a coveted position working for a place that was, is, and will continue to be, a great source of civic pride. For those reasons and more, leaving my job at the Zoo was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.

In my five years at the Zoo, I had an opportunity to learn about animals from the people that love them and work with them most, the animal keepers. Working with keepers to photograph and videotape animals was the most personally rewarding work I have ever done. It became my mission to show the world what a great Zoo we have in Cleveland. And it was my mission to connect people with animals. But I didn't ONLY learn about animals.

In my five years at the Zoo, I learned about people. I made friendships that will stand the test of time, and I found out what true friendship is all about. When I announced my resignation, instead of being sad to see me go, my friends at the Zoo were happy to see me break free of my shackles and hopefully prosper in a different location. I will miss being close to them on a daily basis.

But in my five years at the Zoo, I also learned there is no such thing as the perfect job. I had thought this was it -- to do what I love in a place that I loved. But marketing wasn't the best fit for me -- a passionate idealist who wears her heart on her sleeve and cannot lie. The Zoo's animal care staff dubbed me: "the most non-marketing person in the marketing department." To state it simply, I found the "hard work pays off" ethic does not work in a marketing environment. It was one of the hardest lessons I ever learned. And to this day, I don't think it has truly sunk in.

I leave behind work that I can hang my hat on. I was able to institute several projects that received positive feedback from our Zoo visitors and audience: blogging, video podcasting, a big social media presence, and an iPhone application. I was also able to utilize and refine my creativity with writing, photography and video shooting and editing. I leave knowing that I can visit the Zoo (and my friends there) anytime I want, and I will continue to support its programs though membership and donations.

Now I look to a future in which I may finally reconcile my two seemingly divergent passions (and college degrees): art and computer programming (via engineering). Giving up a marketing position for an IT position will send me back behind the scenes. I made peace with it by reminding myself that my job is not the only creative outlet in my life. I'm also hoping that less stress at work will translate into less stress out of work -- and thus, less stress in my ironman training. And although money was never part of the equation, with increased wages (and a real salary for the first time in ten years), I will be able to afford some of the things I couldn't before -- I may even feel less stressed out when traveling to races because of the huge monetary expenditures they require.

Finally, one of the things I am looking forward to most is getting back into the art world. Being around great art has always been a source of inspiration for me. And I can finally stand up and tell the world (and my parents) that my art degree was not a waste of time.

It was a very round-about way of getting there, but I think I may finally be there.

No comments:

Post a Comment