It’s both a blessing and a curse to work full time in a field your studying while in college. While you’re gaining invaluable experience in your field, at times you may feel like your work day never actually ends. You never feel…“off”. After a while it can play tricks on the mind. Hours can quickly turn into days, days into weeks. The outcome being that perspective on what you’re working for can wax and wane over time. I’ve found this to be especially true in my life because I planned my studies in the same way I thought my career would progress. I was careful to build overlap of topics and progression into my degree program(s). My end goal was to foster growth of perspective through my studies; it has, and continues to do so.
I find it strange when I hear people say that their college educations weren’t valuable to them in the sense of information relevancy. I heard the same thing about my time at the U.S. Army Signal School; at Fort Gordon, Georgia. “Forget everything you learned, and you’re unit will teach you how they want you to do it”,that was the mantra. I use every lesson I learned daily; and wish that I could have retained more from the classes I’ve taken.
My outlook is different now (professionally, and academically) than it was when I trained at the Signal School. For starters the internet, and digital communications hadn’t matured to what it has today.
The conversion of the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agencies ARPANET to Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) occurred on January 1, 1983; which is essentially the birth date of the internet. Mass adoption of this new type of computing network didn’t happen until some time after that, and didn’t enter it’s hay day until the mid-90’s.
In the twilight of the 90’s the dot-com bubble burst, sending shivers down the spine of tech companies everywhere, but between 1983 and 2000 the web and related services enjoyed exponential growth.
The dot-com era was a golden computing age for America, it forever changed the way we connect, learn, and grow as computers began to seep into the culture itself. However, if you’re like me this exposure occurred at a slower pace. If you grew up amongst the recessed economies, and using the under developed networks of rural America, your life was “simpler”. I enjoyed playing in creeks, bike rides, and sunset jaunts in the forest; capped with analog Star Trek delivered to my home through oxidized antennae in the evening.
My first real relationship with computing came through my love affair with Caleco’s Electronic Quarterback Game (still one of the best games ever made if you ask me).
It wouldn’t be until around 1996 that I first experimented with programming in Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (BASIC); which was fun until I discovered it required patience, and forethought to develop good code (I didn’t possess enough of either at the time for the hobby to stick). Through my studies at Empire State College I’ve actually rediscovered an appreciation for coding. My exposure to programming in Visual Basic.NET was a turning point for me in the sense that I now appreciate coding as an art form.
The time I spent at the U.S. Army Signal School was my first exposure to the intricate details of networking, voice & data communications, and digital signaling. I went from playing the occasional video game to learning how to install mobile telephone networks on twentieth century battlefields. Which, in a way, brings me back to the topic of this post.
As a byproduct of the military environment that fostered my early professional growth, my greatest success in my career field occurred during my time as a military communicator. However, my greatest revelations about those achievements happened since taking off my uniform in 2008. One of the key aspects to my success in the military was the laser focus that military service afforded me to focus on my profession. In the purest sense of the word the military profession requires its members to embody what they do as a way of life. For me that meant my personal possessions were limited to a small wall locker of clothes containing just enough to get me through a week, body armor, a rucksack, helmet, gas mask, and a small library of books on military science. My 20 hour days moved to the soundtrack of late 90’s hip-hop and R&B.
…and I loved it.
I spent my days and nights (on too little sleep) working with millions of dollars of equipment under conditions that most techs would consider deplorable; learning to do the impossible under fire. It was great. It taught me discipline, grit, flexibility and a pliable set of technical skills that would later allow me to communicate effectively (and help my team survive); on the battlefields of Afghanistan, and in the mountains of Korea.
The problem was I outgrew it. I decided I wanted more balance in my life. So in that respect, school has been and continues to be a real challenge in my life. I suspect I’m not alone. It seems to be a common story among non-traditional students.
I’ve found that balance is the key to maintaining perspective. The secret is to not focus on the outcomes necessarily, but on the journey that you take to get there. Instead of viewing your effort as a necessary component to success, or grasping power in the workplace, consider the reasons you decided to walk your path in the first place. Let your studies become a part of who you are. Let them guide you to growth as a whole person.
I’ve found that doing this makes the journey more bearable, and allows me to find true satisfaction through my hard work.