The airline pilot was absolutely killing it.
I was standing in the back of the room, waiting for my turn, and thinking ‘I have gone about this all wrong‘.
The pilot had all the 2nd graders gathered around his computer, as he talked in commanding, excited tones about take offs, safety checks, and calculated air routes.
He looked good too, the textbook image of an airline pilot: tall, wearing a neat suit, with presence somewhere between 70’s era Peter Graves and 60’s era Lloyd Bridges.
I was enthralled as much as the kids.
By comparison, my presentation was boring and I looked messy. I had considered wearing a “jacket” but I convinced myself to wear something more like the clothes we sport in product design engineering department at my work: jeans and and short-sleeved “engineer” shirt. What felt “authenticate” that morning felt lazy and inadequate in the presentation room.
Why did it everything seem so perfect when I went through it that morning? How could I have made these mistakes? I work at a toy company for God’s sake! Talking to elementary school students should be easy.
I gave the presentation in my head as I waited. In my imaginary version 2nd graders were bored and glassy-eyed.
How did I miss the mark so badly?
I had Power Point, I had bullets, I had text, I had animations, and videos, and I made some good, salient points about careers and the industry.
And not one little soul in that room was going to care one iota about what I had to say.
Plus the projector was broken and only showed about 50% of each PowerPoint slide. Oh, and there was no sound and no internet access, so none of audio/visual presentation was going to make any kind of impact.
I was on my own.
I’d have to “totally wing it”, something this introvert is not so keen at doing,
When my time came, I started, relying on my one-half projected PowerPoint deck because I had no other choice.
“Hi, my name is Steve Fulton. My Job is is Toy Technology Research and Development. My job title is Senior Manager Of Digital Innovation. Does anyone know what any of that means?”
I waited. 90 or so blank faces stared at me.
Kids shifted around in their pretzel-seated positions.
I was about to say “It means I make I toys“, but I stopped myself. I thought about something I wife had told me just that morning. She’s a 3rd grade teacher. She knows how to talk to kids. She’s seen umteen “career day” presentations. She knows what works.
She said to me “Tell them that, when you were their age, you had no idea the job you have now would even exist in 2017.”
It was good advice that morning. I thanked her. I planned to incorporate it.
But sitting standing in the front of the room, after listening to the airline pilot absolutely kill it, it made me think there was more to what she said. It wasn’t just advice, it was a plan of action. A method to the madness. My wife KNOWS these kids (well, not these kids exactly, but kids just like them). It made me realize that her advice was not just good, it was brilliant. Teacher’s know their stuff. The world needs to listen to them.
So with her inspiration, I improvised. Because my job is not “airline pilot” and it never will be. Nor am I fireman, or police officer, or doctor or lawyer. All amazing jobs, but not mine, and I bet, out of the 90 or 2nd graders looking up at me, a minority percentage will have those kinds of jobs in the future.
Most of them, I realized will probably have jobs like mine.
Jobs that don’t exist yet, or at least didn’t exist when I was a kid.
Images quickly crossed my mind of the other career days I’ve attended. I’d done this several times in the past, but never presenting the same job. One time, it “Web Master”, another time it was “Web Game Developer”, and yet another as an “HTML5 Book Author”. My job has changed and morphed as technologies and needs changed in the industry.
I realized, with my wife’s distinct inspiration sticking in my mind, that my “career” over the past 24 years has been one of learning, adapting, and being open for change.
And my chance for a real career day presentation had presented itself.
I started again.
“You know what? It really doesn’t matter what my job title is. I didn’t know this job existed when I was your age, and it probably won’t exist when you are my age. The point of my presentation today is to talk to you about preparing for jobs that you don’t know will exist in the future.”
I saw the teachers’ faces light up. I saw a few of the kids look at me intently, wanting to know what was next.
It was my opening. I had grabbed more attention then I thought possible.
I threw out the rest of my prepared speech then and there.
I told them about my odd and winding path to get to my current job.
I told them that the key to my own success was being a life-time learner.
I told them I had used my own passions for computers, games, toys, writing and web development to forge a knowledge-base from which I could mold myself into emerging jobs of the future that had not been invented when I was their age.
Then, just as I was felt I might lose lose them again, I pulled out the big guns,
Because I could next say one single word to a group of 7 year-old’s that no airline pilot, fireman, or pro athlete (God bless them all) could match.
It was a magic word.
The word I’m most proud to be associated with in my daily work.
I said to them:
“…and now I make toys for living”
The room exploded.
I explained that my current job is to help “connect toys with technology” which was made possible by all those jobs I’ve had in the past. A job I have now that most likely, will not be necessary when they are my age. A job made possible by all those jobs that didn’t exist when I was there age, some of which now, as well, do not exist any longer.
I lost my voice trying to talk over the kids because they were so excited about “toys”. I only hope that a few of them got the point mixed-in with the excitement.
So now I have a focus for any career day presentations in the future. I will never again rely solely on talking about my current “job”. Instead, I’ll speak about what it takes to find and keep a job along the career paths of the future. Of course, if the context of my current job helps drive the message home, then I’ll incorporate it. However, that won’t change the final message: to have a career in “technology” means constant learning, adapting to change, not getting stuck in the idea your “current job” and trying, if possible, to keep a couple steps ahead of the future.