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Does trying to wrap my mind around life decisions count as exercise?

Friday, November 16, 2012

A harmless conversation with my husband at lunch got me thinking - seriously thinking - about the future. Sometime earlier this year, thanks in part to having my health and finances under control for the first time in my adult life, I caught a glimmer of something in the back of my mind. Over time that's grown, to the point where, at the age of 33, I think I know what I want to be when I grow up.

Now that I have that tasty bit of information that I was missing back when I was 15, I'm wishing I could go back and have a chat with my high school guidance counsellor. I need a response when I say "So, what now?" Unfortunately, once you're past a certain age, you have to answer that yourself (or throw it out to a bunch of smart buddies on a weight loss site).

Nick and I haven't exactly been plan-less. I want to buy a home in the not-too-distant future. Nick wanted to find a better job than the security job he was working. We wanted to pay off our debts and set an intelligent budget to live on. All of that is going great right now. In fact, as of yesterday, my dedicated student loan bank account is holding the $866 dollars I still owe the government, and at the end of December that chapter of my life will be done.

Can I get a woo hoo??

So, we're clearing some major milestones this year, which means it's time to move the planning up a bit. Hey, I'm a planner (I know, you guys are shocked), and I need to keep things interesting. Paying off debt and getting financially comfortable has been the goal for so long, that it's a bit scary to see the wide open possibilities beyond that.

Hmm... What's a good branching life path icon? Let's go with the tree.

emoticon Right now the the easy plan is to keep doing what we're doing, pack away money, and buy a nice condo once we hit that magic goal. No matter what, we'll keep working toward that. Things at my job are going really, really well. I enjoy it, and I'm in a good spot. It's a healthy part of my life, and there's opportunity for me to grow.

emoticon The first detour branch involves Nick going back to school. This is looking pretty likely at this point. There's a two year program he's interested in taking, and there are some really promising job opportunities at the end. Two years of full time school will be a challenge, but the rewards at the end are worth the risk. It pushes our home buying plans back a little bit, but sets us up for a much stronger future. I can live with that (as long as I can still walk to the river and paint my bathroom at some point).

emoticon Of course, that leads to more options that I haven't really considered yet... like whether we even want to stay in this city. That's where it gets scary. My job is based in this city, and Calgary in general has a very good job market, especially if you're involved in engineering in any way (I'm not an engineer. I just support them). I have good skills that should translate over to other locations, but I don't have a degree. That scares the crap out of me when it comes to job hunting.

The reason this has come up is that we'd both like to move back to the coast. We're both from BC, and my entire family lives in the Victoria/Vancouver area. Every time I fly back from a visit, I feel it in the pit of my stomach, like I'm leaving my real home.

The west coast is horrendously expensive. So's Calgary, but the coast is worse. It would be a huge gamble to move back, but I know that's where our hearts are. Especially Nick, since he left his small town BC mountain home to live with me in the ugly city. I do have a good support network there, including a landing pad if we need it (my dad has a separate rental property we could use). Expensive, yes, but if we can get our careers into the right place and plan it well in advance, it could happen. My parents took that leap themselves on a single income with three young kids back in the 80's, and it was the best decision they ever made.

Up until this point, Victoria's been one of those 'it would be nice' dreams that pops up occasionally. It's a little stronger every time we visit the family, but it's never gotten to the point where we've started seriously planning how to make it happen. And now, suddenly, we're looking at it as a legitimate option. If I work and make the most of my current job, Nick goes back to school, we continue to build up our savings, then... we either set down permanent roots in Calgary by buying a home, or we take the leap and move to the place we really want to be. If we're going to do it, the ideal time would be after Nick finishes his program.

emoticon Which leads to another branch, and back to me figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. I like my job, and I like the way my career has been going. I wouldn't be upset if I kept doing this for the rest of my working life. I'm fairly confident that I could find another administrative role in a similar industry, even if I had to take a bit of a paycut to relocate. But... if I'm moving anyway, why not look at making another change?

And that's why I was checking out civil engineering programs today.

The thought makes me laugh, because if you'd told me back in the day that I'd seriously consider a career in engineering, I'd have thought you were high. For one thing, I was never good at math. What I was good at was design, which is why I went to design school. I love looking at the space we occupy, whether it's a single room or an entire city. Since living in Calgary, I've been very interested in tracking the city's expansion, along with what works and what doesn't. I've been reading city planning projects for fun and watching as Calgary's begun the slow turn-around from one of the worst examples of suburban sprawl in North America. I'm fascinated by how the city's history and the oil industry has directed the growth of our little cowtown, not always for the best.

So, not too long ago, I realized that if I could do it all over again I'd love to worm my way into working in some sort of city planning position. I don't have to be the one in the hard hat cutting the ribbon, but I want to be involved.

And when I look back on it, this isn't even a new thing - as a child, I was fascinated with the LRT system here. Not the trains themselves, but where they went through the city, how the stations reflected the communities they passed through, and how that little colourful map tied the city together. Yeah, I was a weird kid.

Believe it or not, this is all partly Spark related. Since getting serious about my health, I've realized just how much environment can play a role. Parks and pathways, roads, sidewalks. An emphasis on transit and walkable communities. I've grown from disliking the city I live in to considering myself pretty damn lucky to live in a place where I can choose not to drive and have easy access to healthy foods. I've been in cities where it's wrong, where everything seems to push its citizens into vehicles, and I think that's a major factor in why some of us are as sick as we are. A healthy lifestyle encompasses everything, from the serving on your plate to the entire city you live in. A person can choose a smaller portion, but they can't just choose to put a sidewalk in their neighbourhood. I want to help make things better.

So, I don't quite know what I want to do with this yet. Right now, I'm happy where I am and I may consider just volunteering or even getting involved in local politics (not running or anything, but just speaking up). In an alternate future where a genie grants my wish, I'd love to be one of the people doing the planning.

It's not that much of a step from what I'm doing now. I work in a project management office in a technical industry. I've learned a lot just from what I do now. I already have CAD skills and I'm going to be improving those even further next year. I've been toying with the idea of chipping away at a degree for a while, but I haven't been sure what to work on - more design? General just-give-me-my-paper degree? Civil eng. seems to be the place to start for where I want to go, but I'm not sure it's entirely right. I'm definitely still in the idealistic stage, and I don't know how realistic it is to work my way into the type of projects I want to be involved with. I think I could work my way through the math if I can find a program that will let me focus more on the city/urban planning aspect than the really technical engineering.

So... we'll see. That leads to another branch on that maybe future tree that's far down the line, but I'm already looking at schools in Victoria and Calgary to see if it's a possibility for the future. One thing you learn with working in project management is that ten years really isn't that far in the future. There's no harm in checking out job listings with the city to see what type of skills they're looking for and what upgrade options I have to start steering myself in that direction.

It's scary. I'm 33. I'll be 35-36 by the time Nick finishes his program. It'll take at least a year to get established if we decide to move. The one Civ. Eng. program I was looking at was three years doing a part time/co-op option, and that's just a diploma. I want to buy a house before I'm 40, because the same part of me that wants to fix cities also wants to fix my immediate environment, and I can't do that in a rental.

But then I look at my mom, who started a carpentry apprenticeship in her mid-40s. She went back to the same college I'd be looking at in Victoria after 25 years of raising kids. At 56, she now builds houses for a living and loves every minute of it. Maybe 33 isn't too old to reach for something new.

So, I don't know. Right now this is all just marinating in my brain. The immediate plan is to watch for that last student loan payment to come out of my bank account in two weeks, go for a nice dinner to celebrate, kill off the line of credit, save buckets of money, and (possibly) send my husband off to school next fall.

While I'm doing that, I'll research and talk to people and start poking around. Maybe take a couple night courses to strengthen my math skills.

And maybe someday we'll move to Victoria or stay in Calgary and I'll direct my job search to a similar position in a field more related to what I want to do. Maybe I'll go back to school and finish that diploma or maybe even a full degree.

emoticon My name is Christina, and I want to build cities.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I love looking at future life-options! You're never too old to go back to school and learn something new. Congrats on paying off the loans, too. That is very exciting!
    1946 days ago
    It only counts as exercise if you Jump to conclusions, run off at the mouth, bend over backwards or side step responsibility and after all that exercise it would be necessary to stretch the truth.

    I'm just not sure how one goes about adding up all those minutes
    1948 days ago
    Its never too late to make a positive change.
    From what I understand of American cities, there is a lot to be gained by having people with your understanding having an influence on the way cities develop. Keep exploring - you will find a niche!
    1948 days ago
  • ALLISON145
    If following your blogs for quite some time now has taught me anything, it's that you can do anything that you set your mind to.

    Without a doubt.

    I hope you KNOW that, too. :)

    1948 days ago
    It might be worth talking to your employer, or speaking with the local planners or parks and rec people about opportunities, and what they suggest that you work on. A degree is not always necessary to get far along in your career. My brother only has a GED, and is making gobs of money as a medical implements engineer. He really learned his design skills designing and building boats and windsurfers, and got into CAD and web design, then the medical implements field. Victoria is absolutely gorgeous; it would be well worth some sacrifices to live there.
    1948 days ago
    You are actually at a good age to make a career change because you are stable and you know what you want to be when you grow up and it sounds like its more of a shift in path vs. a total overhaul since so many of your skills will cross over. I suggest starting with your priorities and working backwards from there. If moving is #1 priority, then follow the branches that flow to and from that one.

    And no, it does not count as exercise but I find a swim or a run to be a great time to work on life decisions.
    1948 days ago
    I made a major job move at age 35. In my case, it was moving away from family instead of toward them. Going toward family has to be a lot easier, assuming good relationships in the family.

    But the thing that sticks in my mind was when I was 32. I whined at my boss that if I could only take one class at a time, it would take me *three years* to earn a degree. My boss, a very wise woman, looked me in the eye and said, "Kevin, how long will it take to get a degree if you *DON'T* go to school?"

    Sometimes you have to figure out what will make progress toward where you want to be and work on it, even before you're totally sure exactly where you want to be.
    1948 days ago
    Look into "practical engineering" rather than technical, I'm not sure exactly what it would be called up there (I live in the States) but an academic advisor could certainly help steer you in the right direction! And you will probably be surprised how much better you are at math than you remember being in school. All those equations that made absolutely NO sense as a teen suddenly make perfect sense when you realize this is the one that I use to balance my checkbook, this is the one that calculates my loan interest, this one is my savings interest, and that one is what my mortgage will be. emoticon

    And as for the blog title, it doesn't-but it should! And cardio at that!

    Good luck with all the plans! emoticon emoticon
    1948 days ago
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