Yes, this is sort of a Muse reference. But it’s more of a reference to the allusion Matt Bellamy was making in the first place. The phrase comes from a think tank called the Club of Rome. When gathering to discuss a particular issue, they begin with an overview of the situation, which they call a “map of the problematique.”
So how does this apply to me? Right now I find myself at a crossroads. Actually, it might be more accurate to say I find myself at one of those complicated highway interchanges with flyover ramps going in 20 different directions.
The professional landscape
At the moment I’m in the latter stages of a PhD program in computer science. When I started the program, I was gung-ho about getting an academic job, but that no longer interests me. That in itself isn’t a big deal – a little over half of PhD graduates in our field go into industry anyway.
The question at hand is – what sort of job do I want? An obvious choice might be as a high-end software engineer for a big-name tech company. The thing is, I don’t really want to sling code for 12 hours a day, even if it’s fancy, well-crafted code.
So now we’re getting a little further off the beaten path. But I think my options generally boil down to 2 possibilities:
- Things like data science or consulting that don’t directly map to my background but are considered a worthwhile use of an advanced degree
- Things that map more directly to my background but would probably be seen as a “step down” since they don’t typically require advanced degrees, like technical writing or UX design
The first option is almost certainly more lucrative. However, there is the risk that I might not enjoy that kind of work, and no amount of money is worth dreading getting up in the morning.
However, it could be argued that I’m selling myself short by going the second route. Perhaps these options are a reflection of a lack of imagination on my part.
The creative landscape
I mentioned in the previous entry that it’s essential for me to have some kind of creative outlet. This blog is part of that. I also enjoy photography and was even asked to photograph a friend’s wedding earlier this year.
The question is, am I interested in making careers out of those endeavors?
Society seems to be wising up to the idea that “follow your passion” isn’t always good advice. It sounds great to be making a living off your creative pursuits, but there’s a huge potential downside. Sometimes people who are able to make a living from their creativity feel like the need to pay the bills turns their pursuit into the drudgery of a regular job. That can take the fun out of doing creative work in the first place.
I have some experience in this area. My bachelor’s degree is in music, and I served as a musician in the military for 8 years. It’s not quite accurate to say that the experience killed my passion for music, but it became clear to me that I didn’t really have a passion for performing to begin with. I love listening to music and talking about it with people, but I was surprised to find out that I could take or leave performing. My passion was actually for applause and glamour, and music felt like a means to that end.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic has an interesting take on the subject. You’re probably familiar with the self-help rhetorical question, What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Gilbert turns this idea on its head in a way that resonates with me. She argues that failure is an inevitable part of the creative process, especially if you challenge yourself in meaningful ways. So a better question might be, What would you still enjoy even if you failed at it? That way, even if the result isn’t what you’d hoped for, you still have a journey that you enjoyed.
I don’t know what my answer to that question is yet, but it seems more answerable than things like, What is your passion? And that general idea is why I’m not putting any expectations on this blog at the moment, other than I will post to it. I trust that the process of writing frequently will be beneficial for me in some way, even if nobody reads what I write. Hopefully in a few months I will have a better idea of where I’m going, but for now, taking any kind of step is better than nothing.
How do you find that creativity works best in your life? Talk about it in the comments!