The Jobs I’ve Had, The Work I’ve Done: PART 2 – The Young Adult Years
Welcome back to the jobs I’ve had and the work I’ve done series. In Part 1 we covered the work I did as a teenager. Let’s jump right into the next chapter and cover my young adult years which include some of the most interesting careers I’ve had!
The Jobs I’ve Had, The Work I’ve Done
The Young Adult Years (19-25)
My young adult years were an interesting period of time for me. I started college right after high school and I always thought everything would sort of just fall into place. Oh, how naive I was!
I always had big goals and dreams for college and careers, but I was finding them much more difficult to put together than I imagined. I faced obstacles and roadblocks that I never really gave much thought of before in my idealistic plans.
It might have been smarter to quit working so I could focus on school, but I decided to keep working. I did cut down my hours and efforts significantly with my entrepreneurial pursuits like eBay and landscaping, but I still kept up with working in my Dad’s business for about 15 hours a week. I did this for another two years until I was 20.
Feeling Completely Lost…
After about two years in college, I was losing motivation. I was not sure if I was doing the right thing or if my efforts were leading me to where I wanted to be. To top things off, my entire college experience so far was not great. Among many other negative factors, I realized I was pursuing an education my family had pushed me into rather than what I really wanted to do. My whole college experience is a crazy story for another day, but I decided to move down to part-time school status to have more time to think things through.
My Dad capitalized on this opportunity and put me to work. I remember him saying something along the lines of, “If you’re not going to school, you better at least work and not just sit around!”… He amped my schedule up to 4-5 days a week for around 30 hours a week. I was essentially working a full delivery route at this point just like the other drivers on the team.
I balanced part-time school and work for another year until my angst about college caught up to me and I made the decision to drop out of college at age 21. My family (except my mom, bless her) were all very disappointed with my decision, but I was NOT happy! I needed some time to re-evaluate what I actually wanted to do, do some soul searching, and start a new path.
No Time For Just Sitting Around
I would have loved to just sit around after dropping out of college, but my Dad was having none of that. I was still living with my parents and just helping around the house was not enough. It was either go to school, work, or pay rent.
I was still working with my Dad doing delivery for about 30 hours a week, but I really wanted to do something different. Plus, my Dad was in the process of selling his business soon anyway, so either way, that position for me was finally coming to an end. I started up the job search again, and much like the experience I had in my teens, I could not land even a single interview.
No Job? Play Cards Instead!
While I continued my job search, I actually decided to try something quite different. Texas Hold’Em Poker had exploded in popularity in the last few years thanks to the World Series of Poker getting heavy media coverage and likewise, everyone was playing it.
I started playing the game originally around my senior year of high school with friends and classmates and found I had quite a knack for it. It wasn’t uncommon for me to walk away with a top-three finish. I continued to play on and off in college with small local groups, but I was hungry for something more. My area really didn’t have any casinos around, so I decided to venture into playing online poker instead. I signed up for some online gambling websites and soon found myself in a “job” playing poker for money.
I thought I might have more to say about this, but it was fairly uninteresting and mundane at the end of the day. It was sitting in front of a computer for hours playing poker each night. I probably earned about $500-600 a month, which is chump change for some professional players, but quite good for someone without a job! In hindsight, I think I was only making about $7/hour after all the hours I was playing. That’s even counting some small sponsorships I received, too. Regardless, it was a fun experience and I felt great to make some money playing a game!
I only played for about 8 months because laws to ban online poker were being pushed heavily by the corporate overlords of the casino industry. Eventually, they pushed enough lobbying money into the hands of the politicians and the laws to ban online gambling were passed for most states in the USA. Instead of opting to play with an overseas gambling site, I just decided to throw in the towel instead. Just in time, too, because another job lead was right around the corner.
Back to Landscaping Work
Even though I had been putting in job applications for months, the “who you know thing” once again turned into a job lead for me. I had an Uncle who was friends with a supervisor at a local resort that was hiring. The department the supervisor worked for just so happened to be in Landscaping, an area I had plenty of experience from my teenage years. I didn’t even need to do a job application. My Uncle told the supervisor I was interested, I got a call to interview, and was offered the job on the spot. The power of “who you know” strikes again!
This new landscaping job was quite different than what I had done previously. First and foremost, there was heavy equipment to use that I have never seen before in my life. Everything from large mowers to small backhoes! Sadly, however, I never had much opportunity to use them because the older employees on the team hogged them and said “us young guys” need to do the hard manual labor…
My work was anything from mowing and weed-whacking, to picking trash, to planting trees and flowers, placing sod, fixing fences, or really anything outdoors that needed doing. It was a really huge resort, too, with hotels, restaurants, golf courses, townhomes, swimming pools, lakes and “beaches”, rec centers, and more, so there was a LOT to take care of!
I think the biggest difference was how little I made for so much harder work. With my own landscaping services I did as a teen, it wasn’t uncommon to average around $15-20 for an hour of work. With the resort, however, I was getting paid $8.50/hour for some fairly grueling work and big projects. It certainly was an early lesson in the difference between working for yourself versus someone else.
I was lucky enough to get one special task of running our boat rental station in the summers by the lake. We had kayaks, canoes, and paddleboats guests could rent for free, and I ran the station most days with some other employees from other departments. This was fun! Sitting by the lake, mostly just hanging out, getting big tips from rich tourists and enjoying the free food they brought us, too! Some days were super busy with very little time to even take a breath, but overall I felt happy to have been given this opportunity. It was a nice break from the grueling work of landscaping.
The Big Hill and the Weed-Whacker Army
Much like my task with picking rocks in the one job I had as a teenager, I had one similarly ridiculous task in my landscaping role. The lake in our resort was set up like a dam. The dam side of the lake was a steep grassy hill that for some reason management insisted we had to cut… Because the hill was too steep for machines, me and about 8 or 9 other guys from the team went out with weed-whackers and got to work. We lined up top to bottom and slowly made our way across the dam weed-whacking the entire thing which was about 1/2 mile long. We had to do this about three times a year and it was always the worst!
But ultimately the job itself was not terrible by any means. My co-workers were good to work with for the most part, and we all developed a good camaraderie with each other that made getting through the days so much easier. There was also a ton of variety in the job and I enjoyed the opportunity to get some exercise. My boat rental job I got to do a couple times a week was also a lot of fun.
I worked there for almost exactly a year before deciding I was ready to return to school and pursue something I had always wanted to do.
Chasing My Dreams
I was now 22 years and in a tough spot. I was at the point where most of my old high school friends were graduating from college, and here I was still trying to figure out where to get started. After a lot of thought and reflection, and with the support of my mom, I decided to pursue a field I always had been interested in. Audio.
More specifically, the goal was to merge my interest for audio and video games into a career. I had been playing and writing music for years and I loved video games. Combining the two seemed like a perfect fit.
I found a well-reviewed and respected school in Arizona that offered a vocational program in all things Professional Audio. It was a 9-month program with a 3-month required internship at the end. It was going to be a big change… living on my own for the first time, moving across the country (I grew up in Pennsylvania), and stepping into a brand new journey full of unknowns. I opted to listen to my heart, however, and I decided to give it a go!
Audio Engineering School
It ended up being one of the best years of my life. Despite the program’s hefty $20,000 tuition fee, I have never regretted the decision. It was super hands-on, the instructors were great, and I was around people who had a passion for the same thing I did. Instead of always feeling like the black sheep in my previous college experiences, I felt like I found a second home.
Towards the end of the program, it was time to pick our internship. The internship department worked extremely hard to find me something in video games, reaching out to every network and connection they had. It was a slim picking, a quality of the video game industry that would become clear to me in the near future, but almost as if it were fate, they found a prior graduate who was working at a well-known video game studio. They got in touch with them and it just so happened the studio was hiring an Audio Intern. They were able to get me an interview!
I worked around the clock preparing a resume and portfolio with some of my demo work, and I then went through about two rounds of interviews. After an agonizing 6 week wait, I got the job offer. I was set to begin work as a Sound Design Intern right on my 23rd birthday!
My Career as a Sound Designer in Video Games!
Getting the job offer to work for a super popular and respected video game developer was a dream come true. I felt so blessed and thankful for the opportunity. It was everything I hoped for and more and the initial years I worked in this position felt too good to be true.
I had my own private office filled with high-end audio and computer equipment. My team members were incredibly talented, and I still feel they are some of the smartest folks I’ve worked with to this day. I was able to do work that I truly loved doing! Seriously, I got up every day EXCITED for work! That is a feeling that is hard to beat!
What does a Sound Designer do? The majority of my job was making all the sound effects you hear in video games. It could be anything from the sound of an explosion, birds chirping in the background, or the sound for a magical fireball spell. The second big part of my job was implementing the sounds into the game and making sure they played back properly. This was a highly technical aspect of the job, but a good way to work the other side of the brain.
I also worked quite extensively with voice actors and had a big part in recording and editing dialogue. There was also a little bit of music composition, sound recording, audio editing, and administrative tasks to be done as well. It was a good variety of work and every day was different.
The perks of working in the video game industry itself were also top notch. Lots of free food and drinks. Tons of employee events and fun activities (Margarita Fridays, anyone?) Flexible work schedules. And once again, the ability to work with cutting-edge technologies on tomorrow’s next big video games. For the first time in a long time, I felt like everything was “right”. I felt at peace with what I was doing and couldn’t wait to see what the future held.
Not Everything Worked Out as Planned…
I had big hopes and dreams for this new adventure in the world of video game audio. I was doing everything I ever hoped to do and I felt like I already had done the hard part – getting my foot in the door. Little did I know that getting my foot in the door was actually the easy part, it was finding a secure job that would be the biggest challenge.
The first year in the job, I was still riding a massive euphoria and the high of an exciting new job. Once the honeymoon period went away though, I was starting to notice a lot of instability in the industry and that was not something I was not really comfortable with. My goal was always finding a stable position, and even though I got promoted to an Audio Assistant after being an Intern for three months, I was still hired on a contractual basis.
But then I encountered my first layoff and my first bout of long unemployment. I eventually found another contract position, but it was followed with another layoff shortly after. This was a pattern that would come to repeat itself over and over again.
Trying So Hard to Make it Work
To help ease the pain of unemployment, I worked anywhere I could to make due. A lot of basic admin work with temp agencies, some warehouse work, and I even started running my own audio freelance business where I composed music and did sound effects for dozens of apps and mobile games for bottom dollar to just get by.
But even as my resume continued to get built up and become more impressive as I completed more projects and got more contract roles in-game audio, I still could not find a full-time position. At one point, I even had worked my way up to a Lead Sound Designer position at one company and worked there for two years before yet another unfortunate layoff. I thought surely now with all this experience and management experience, too, that I would finally find the full-time position I was looking for.
Long story short, that full-time position never came. I am sure that one of these days I will blog more extensively about my career in the video game industry, but ultimately, the pattern of layoff after layoff with terrible bouts of unemployment in between continued. Sometimes the unemployment could last for as long as 6-12 months. At one especially perilous point after a long 11-month unemployment, I nearly went homeless (savings can only last so long!)
The video game industry turned out to be awful for job stability! I had made it to several final round interviews and got to travel to so many different studios and states for on-site interviews, but could never secure the full-time exempt positions I was seeking. After a very tumultuous 5 years working in the industry, I eventually threw in the towel and moved onto different work opportunities.
But Not Everything Was Bad
Despite all the really rough times, I still remember my career in professional audio and video games fondly. It was an absolute blast while I was actually employed, and I had some really amazing experiences and opportunities.
I had the opportunity to work with insanely talented and smart people creating entire worlds, characters, and stories out of nothing but computer code. There were amazing opportunities to travel around the country for work. I met some of my favorite game developers whose games I grew up with. I even met some celebrities when one particular project I worked on had some celebrity voice actors for the game.
The perks were also unbelievable at times, and the free food and “swag”, fun environments, and unique work culture were unlike anything else out there. I got to do exciting interviews with different media outlets and even just did one interview fairly recently about my decision to leave the video game industry. Check it out HERE, it’s a great read on the state of the video game industry and what it’s really like to work in it!
It didn’t work out how I planned in the end, but I look at it for what it was worth at the time and the great memories it gave me.
The Most Important Lesson of All
One thing I will always remember of my time working in video games and audio is that it was these experiences that most influenced me to explore the idea of “happy work” more passionately.
I had always been a career focused person oddly interested in the world of work and employment, but this experience left me more determined than ever to unlock the secrets of what it really meant to be happy in work and how we could turn this idea of working into a wonderful thing without reliance on having a specific job or career.
For so long I thought that just doing what you loved was the key to happiness in work, but this experience proved that wasn’t quite true after all. It proved that the world of work and employment was far more complicated than I imagined, and it was time for me to dig down deeper to not only explore my path to finding my happy work, but learning the lessons and knowledge I could about happy work to share with all of you.
But that’s enough for this entry. We’ll pick up in Part 3 with covering my pursuit into a completely different career path that eventually led to the happy work I do today.
Thank you for reading, and I would love to hear about your work experiences, too!
– Mr. Happy Work