The Blessed Curse of Opportunity

I am part of the generation that has been told from birth that “as long as you have your college degree, you can grow up to do anything you want.” Realistically speaking, this concept is flawed, or at least overly general. I can’t become a Brain Surgeon with a degree in Social Behavior, and I might have some trouble becoming a Corporate Litigation Attorney with a degree in Computer Science or Mathematics. There is always more to the story.

I’ll admit, I hated college. It may have been my own biased world view, but I didn’t agree with the black/white boxes that everything seemed to be forced into. Granted, I majored in Global Studies at a very left-wing State University, and my first semester started in September of 2001, so I should not have been surprised when the curriculum took a very sharp turn towards ‘Humanity vs. the Capitalist War Machine’.

When it became clear that my education credits would not transfer to another school that was more aligned with my ‘embrace the grey area’ personality, I sat down and determined the most efficient course of action to get to graduation. In order to further crash my schedule, I only focused on the ‘critical path’ classes that were required to graduate, and I did not take any ‘nice to have’ classes.  If a single class qualified for two or more requirements, that’s the one I took.   One semester, I took 27 units (rather than the required 12 or standard 16 for full-time students) in a single semester so that I could have all of my pre-requisites taken care of and move forward more quickly. I managed to graduate with my 4-year degree, cum laude in 3 years, with exactly 2 credits more than the minimum required to graduate.  My parents were thrilled, since not only did I graduate with honors, I managed to do it 25% under-budget.  I guess you could say that I was born to be a Project Manager.

Chicago Condo Building
via Flicker by John Picken

Armed with the piece of paper that demonstrated my grown-up status, I set out to do what was promised: whatever I wanted.  I stormed the workforce like a racehorse when the gates are opened. But when faced with hundreds of job descriptions, I froze. What exactly did I want to be when I grew up? I think I had assumed that as soon as I graduated college, I would automatically know what I was supposed to do; but unless I wanted to work for the United Nations or the Peace Corps, I was flat out of ideas. The options were endless, and I mean *endless*.

People wistfully fantasize about what they would do if they could do anything they wanted; but when actually faced with limitless options, it is easy to get completely overwhelmed by paralysis of analysis.  The sky was the limit, and I had no idea how to break things down to find out what I wanted to be now that I was grown up.  Rather than take a step back and do some internal requirements gathering on what I thought would be a good career for me, I applied for any job that had the words ‘entry level’ in the title, and hoped for the best.

After a few years of wandering from job to job, industry to industry with no real focus or goal, I managed to get a copy of Scrappy Project Management by Kimberly Wiefling, courtesy of my father.   I’m fairly certain that my father knew long ago that I was destined to be a Project Manager, and he may have even told me to look into it; but it wasn’t until I had the book in front of me that I really understood what a Project Manager did.  I read the book on a flight from California to Chicago, and it was as if a light bulb went off in my head. Everything in the book made absolute sense, and it was finally clear to me what I was supposed to do with my career.

Finally able to narrow my job search parameters to more than just the city I wanted to work in, I was faced with a new problem. Almost every Project Management position required at least 5 years of experience as a Project Manager. Exactly how, pray tell, are you supposed to get 5 years of experience if you can’t get a job to that allows you to earn the aforementioned experience?  I started talking to all of the project managers I knew at the time (read: 1) and learned that you start your career in Project Management as a Business Analyst, and then get yourself promoted up to a Project Manager within the company. I redirected my job search parameters to ‘Analyst’ positions, and found myself a Compliance Analyst position.  During my interview, and throughout many discussions with the management team, I made it clear that my goal was to ultimately become a Project Manager.

Meanwhile, I spent a lot of time looking at the processes and procedures that dictated the Compliance rules, and trying to find ways to improve the process.  I worked with different teams to determine the most efficient way to get the work done, while maintaining compliance for the required governing bodies.  I re-wrote many of the procedural documents, and worked to make everything more efficient, even status meetings!  It certainly wasn’t easy, but I enjoyed working to make everyone’s job easier; and when a need came up for a Project Manager, the management team knew exactly where to find me.

They gave me a project that had been suffering from a lack of organization, and was already late and close to over-budget.  Using the relationships I had built from my Compliance days, I managed to get everything back on track and moving forward in a few weeks, and we went live shortly thereafter.  My official transition to Project Management was complete, and as a reward, I was given the opportunity to pursue my PMP certification.  I consider myself very fortunate to have fallen into this line of work, as it is absolutely clear that I have been a Project Manager my entire life – I just never knew there was a title for it.

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1 thought on “The Blessed Curse of Opportunity”

  1. Abby, it was an absolute delight to finally meet you last night! You are the first person whom I know of who has claimed to have become a project manager due to reading “Scrappy Project Management”. Wonderful! And after meeting you I can attest to the fact that you were born to lead and manage projects. You have the wisdom to balance people, process and product, and a particular gift of distilling order out of chaos that encourages people to carry on when they might otherwise give up. Stay scrappy! The world has plenty of “impossible” problems that need solving, and I have a feeling you will be moving up to bigger challenges very soon. Wahoo!

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