The Jobs I’ve Had, The Work I’ve Done: Part 3 – The Transition Years
Welcome to another installment of the jobs I’ve had, the work I’ve done series. This time we’ll cover the years that I slowly transitioned out of my professional video game audio career towards new avenues.
This was a difficult period of time that was filled with lots of doubts, fears, changes, and not really knowing what the heck I was doing or trying to accomplish. It was the start of my battles with depression and anxiety. It brought on chronic challenges in the forms of IBS and insomnia. At one point, I nearly went homeless.
But often everything happens for a reason. I could only hope these transitional years would lead to the changes I was hoping for.
The Jobs I’ve Had, The Work I’ve Done
The Transition Years (25-27)
Right around the time I turned 25, I was smack dab in the middle of my game audio career. The work itself was a ton of fun, but the instability of the job was starting to take its toll. I had experienced a few layoffs, rough periods of unemployment, and the stresses of trying to find a new job in such a hyper-competitive industry. I was beginning to have second thoughts about my “dream career”.
And the Anxiety Begins…
I started to have symptoms of anxiety and depression. Along with it came chronic IBS and food allergies. I had a very difficult time coping with the instability of my career. Constantly bumping in and out of unemployment and going up and down with income was tough. I had my first panic attack during this time (It felt like I was having a heart attack!) I didn’t know how much longer I could keep pursuing this path.
I knew the instability was especially bad for me because there are few times in life I’ve cried. The majority of those cries were during this period of time due to another rejection for a job I was super close to getting, or a layoff I never saw coming. My biggest cry was when a company I was working for as a contractor for two years had led me into believing I was going to be promoted to an FTE position. Instead, they hired a friend of another colleague and told me, “Oh well, sorry!”
Another instance was after completing a ten-month interview process, getting to the very final stage, waiting another two weeks, then getting a simple email rejection. I was interviewing at least once a month with their team, had done multiple hiring tests, and even had a two-day on-site interview. I thought for sure I would get the job. Talk about a letdown.
Turning to Temp Staffing Agencies
I started looking for new work outside of video games because I needed to generate income some way or another while I was unemployed. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have any skills or degrees other than those in the world of professional audio. I looked for the bottom of the ladder jobs and started applying to everything. Retail, warehouses, restaurants, office admin roles, anything!
I wasn’t having much luck until I got in touch with a staffing agency in my area. To be completely honest, I have no idea how I ever started working with them to begin with… I think I had applied for a data entry job and it just happened to be listed by a staffing agency. They called me for an interview, let me know about what they do, and then brought me in for a series of skills tests and in-person interview.
The in-person tests went really well! I remember there was a typing test to measure words per minute, a Microsoft Office proficiency test, and an English reading and writing test. I didn’t think the tests were challenging at all, but the recruiters at the staffing agency were blown away by my scores. They couldn’t believe I didn’t have a college degree and wondered how I was so good in these programs. I explained that I had done some college and have worked professionally in the video game industry. I guess the majority of the job candidates they worked with were high school dropouts and such.
Nonetheless, once the staffing agency liked me, they were ready to do anything and everything to find me work. That is how they make their money after all, but it did seem like they were going a bit heads over heels for me. They kept telling me stuff like, “You get first the pick of all the jobs we’re recruiting for!” and sending me more jobs than I could keep up with.
These jobs were temporary ones that lasted anywhere from 2-6 weeks each, but I was thrilled to be getting some opportunities!
A Mish-Mosh of Jobs
And such began a year of working in the most random jobs I’ve had yet in my career. Production lines, warehouses, office admin, even secret shopping! The majority of work was filling in for receptionists and secretaries taking vacation time over periods of 2-4 weeks. It was fairly easy, answer the phone, sign in guests or give information, do some office paperwork – nothing bad at all.
I think the most challenging part was dealing with some of the bosses I worked for in these temp roles. Quite a few of them were pretty awful. I even remember one boss getting extremely mad at me because I asked him a question about how their phone system worked. “What kind of people are they placing in these roles!! Haven’t you ever used a phone before!?” he snorted. “Do I look like your babysitter? Figure it out!” For the record, I don’t even know what their phone system was, it was some proprietary thing they rigged up…
But my connection with the staffing agency brought some fun and interesting jobs, too. I remember one Data Entry position that I really enjoyed. It lasted for 3 weeks full-time and it was manually scoring standardized tests. We got big piles of test books completed by students and had to enter their multiple choice answers into the scoring software. 1 for A, 2 for B, 3 for C, so on and so forth. I flew through my pile of tests! Not to brag, but I probably got twice done what the next best worker got done. The supervisors even did manual score audits of our work every 30 minutes or so and I aced every one. (Ok, I guess I’m bragging – but I was proud of it!)
The owner of this test scoring company was super nice as well and he brought in free coffee and breakfast for the temp workers each morning (There were six of us). At one point, the owner offered me a job to travel out of state to help set up test sites in other locations. I guess his company was mobile and went across a few different states to score different districts tests and what not. I wasn’t big into the whole out of state travel thing so I declined, but I sometimes wonder what it would have been like. Nonetheless, this was a fun opportunity.
The Public Housing Authority
Another job I remember very fondly was working for a government housing authority. This was an organization that provided Section 8 and subsidized housing for the community. My role was to fill in for the receptionist for 6 weeks as she was taking an extended (and overdue) vacation. I remember it well because it was a very eye-opening experience of how people live and the various challenges people face.
Aside from the part that I worked behind a sheet of bullet-proof glass, it was quite a pleasant place to work. The workers there were ALL super friendly and very helpful. Everyone seemed so good-natured and happy all the time. Even the big boss was respectful and generous to his employees. Was it those good government benefits or something else? I always heard workers in government were easy-going and it seemed to be the case!
I think the most interesting thing about my experience working for the government was just how laid back the company operated compared to public and private corporations I’ve worked for. In those companies, it was GO GO GO and they would often work you to the bone! In this government role, however, things moved at their own pace, and no one was really stressing too much about deadlines. I guess that could be for the worse sometimes, but it was refreshing to work for an organization that wasn’t trying to work people to their breaking point. I’m not sure if all government roles are like this, but if they are, I like it!
The Ugly Side of Society
One of the most eye-opening parts of this position was working with the public, and specifically, people in poverty or low-income classes. I saw lots of folks in truly unfortunate situations who had undescribable challenges they faced on the daily. The majority of these folks were genuinely kind-hearted and thankful for the housing we provided to them for free or at subsidized rates.
That was the good part. The bad part was that there were also folks who were clear abusers of governmental social programs like ours. It wasn’t just a handful either, it was probably a good 50% of the people we served! These were people that were extremely selfish, rude, and sometimes uncivilized. They would come in yelling and screaming they didn’t get their housing income check yet or that their neighbor just got a new oven in their unit, why can’t they get a new oven.
The worst part was that many of them were taking the government aid they were receiving and spending it on all manner of frivolous purchases. They weren’t trying to hide it either! Tattoos, jewelry, cars, electronics, they came in bragging about it. Some were having multiple pregnancies and having 5+ kids so “they can get a bigger check from the government” each month. It was despicable to see this when one of these people might be getting $800 towards housing each month but then you had someone truly in need who was struggling to qualify for the program. It made me really sad about the state of things in our country.
Nonetheless, it was an eye-opening experience and made me truly grateful for the things many of us take for granted. Since working that job I am grateful for even the simplest things in life. Others wish they could be in your shoes even on your absolute worst days.
The Sound of “NOPE”
While I was keeping up a decent stream of employment with the various temp jobs I was working, I was still looking for something more full-time outside of video games as well. After dozens of rejections, I ended up getting a seasonal full-time offer to work for a major retailer who I’m sure you’re all familiar with. I was hired to work as a clerk in their Electronics section. I had never done retail before and I thought it would be terrible fit for my introverted personality, but I’ve always been open-minded enough to give anything a try.
IT WAS TERRIBLE. The first day on the job was a disaster. Even though I was supposed to work in the Electronics section, the company had all the new hires start their day by learning to work the cashier lines at the front of the store. We were supposed to shadow another cashier and have them teach us the job. Then they would hand us the reins and let us work the line as they watched us to make sure we were doing OK.
The cashier I was matched up with was one of the most ornery people I’ve ever met. She gave me a very annoyed five-minute rundown how to use the computer and kept complaining how she didn’t get her break yet and was sick of this F***ing S*** about every 5 minutes. After I watched her for about 20 minutes, she said, “Enough of this crap, I need my break! It’s all you!”
She left. Just me, a checkout line during the busy holiday season, and a system I never used in my life. Time to improvise, I guess.
I’m pretty sure I gave people their stuff for free that day. Not on purpose, mind you. Just because I had no idea how to use the machine and I wasn’t really sure if I was doing it properly or not. Plus, I must have run into every unusual checkout situation you could. Credit cards declined. Wanting to buy a gift card. Gift Card declined. Welfare benefits and food stamps. Not having enough money to pay for an order. I don’t think I could have had worse luck. This went on for FIVE hours before a manager finally saw the disaster happening and pulled me off the line.
I could probably ramble forever about this. I ended up working 12 hours on my first day, was only given one 30 minute break, and never set foot in the Electronics section. The rest of the day was doing all sorts of tedious tasks. I got home and immediately collapsed on to the bed. My wife, concerned, rushed in to ask what was wrong and how the day went.
The only thing that came out of my mouth was some type of electronic failure noise. No words, no expression. Just some otherworldly sound I have no idea how my body produced it. Just something that sounded like a robot that just suffered a terrible death.
I quit after the first day.
Sometimes All You Got Isn’t Enough
The whole mix of contract game audio work, freelance work, and staffing agency temp work went on for about 3 years and things were still not looking to shape up any better. Things were coming to a head and I now realized that I couldn’t rely on this game audio thing working out.
I even almost went nearly homeless around this time. My wife and I moved to a higher cost area of living for a new game audio job only to be laid off two months after arriving.
The worst part was that we had AMPLE savings, but I ended up unemployed for ONE YEAR unable to find work. My wife and I worked anywhere we could, but it didn’t offset the high cost of living. My car broke down and I had to sell it because I couldn’t afford the repair. We sold almost all our possessions. It was a very dark time. We were saved at the very end by a gracious family member who offered to let us live with them in another state while we got back on our feet.
It was time to do something different. This could not continue anymore.
Making the Decision to go Back to College
Around the age of 27, I made the decision to go back to College. This had been on my mind for a while. I knew I needed a College degree to reach the goals I had for my future and my family.
I originally was most interested in pursuing a Computer Science degree. The idea of being a Software Developer ALWAYS fascinated me, but it was not something that came naturally to me. I made many attempts to learn it growing up, but back when I was a kid we didn’t have all these free and awesome “learn to code” resources like we do now. It wasn’t something I could do on my own.
Ultimately, I decided against it because I realized I would need to start from scratch and probably invest a minimum of four years into earning the degree. I was also looking primarily for an online college and none at the time offered reputable degrees in Computer Science or Software Development. Plus, things were fairly desperate and I needed a change quick! I already had student loan debt from my previous college, and I didn’t have time (or energy) to spare with earning a degree. I decided to play to my strengths and pursued a degree in Accounting.
Yes, it’s a dramatic switch from the world of professional audio, but I always had been good with numbers and other conventional work skills. Organization, management, administrative tasks – things like these came easily to me. I figured I could earn the degree quickly. I was also looking for stability at this point and the world of Accounting was one of the best in that regard. After researching different institutions and programs, I chose an online university to enroll with. Now it was time to get to work on that degree!
The balance was now between full-time school, full-time work, and if unemployed, trying to figure out how to get by till the next job came. Fortunately, I was moving through my Accounting degree quickly and I found that just being enrolled in college was a big help for job hunting, too. It seemed just by listing the college on my resume as “in progress’ was helping me land more job interviews!
As I was getting further through my Accounting degree, I ended up finding work with another retailer but in their warehouse. This actually ended up being an OK job that sustained me through much of the time I was working on college. I worked specifically in the furniture part of the factory, so it was lots of heavy loading and unloading, inspecting furniture for damage, and also repairing and building furniture. It wasn’t the greatest job in the world by any means, but it was a fair job and it was nice to do some physical work. I actually had a pretty fun time building the furniture, too.
At one point while working through my college degree I became really interested in project management. The thing that captivated me the most was that I had a lot of the experience needed already due to my production responsibilities in game audio. I decided to pursue a Scrum Master certification and I also obtained a CompTIA Project+ certification. Shortly after obtaining the certifications, I got a project manager job for a marketing and web design firm.
Unfortunately, the position ended up being more of a Customer Service role and I quit after a week because it was not at all what I expected. I tried to find other Project Management or Scrum Master roles but didn’t have luck. I decided to focus fully on the Accounting for now.
Getting Closer to the Goal
At this point, I had nearly put my game audio career behind me. I still was interviewing for positions here and there, but they ended the same way as they always had. On-site interview and then a rejection. I think I shot myself in the foot though at one of the last interviews I did when I said I felt that that overtime shouldn’t be the norm. I was being honest, but I could tell it turned off the hiring managers of a company who were known to do overtime. That was the last interview I did before I decided to finally throw in the towel for good.
While I still had some lingering regrets and sadness about how the pursuit of my “dream career’ turned out, I did feel good about the direction things were going. I was moving well through my Accounting degree and getting close to finishing. I was working a steady job in a warehouse that was helping us get by. Things, in general, seemed less chaotic and stressful since beginning my transition out of game audio. I felt like I was on the right path.
But that’s it for this part of the series! Next chapter will be the last as we look at the results of earning my Accounting degree and the recent events that led me into the job I do today!
Thank you for reading, and I always love to see your comments as well!
– Mr. Happy Work