As I was born 40 years ago today, or so I’m told. I don’t actually have a clear recollection of the events of that day, or indeed that decade. But the people who were there have proven to be caring and trustworthy, so I will take this as fact.
I didn’t really know anything about anything at the time, apart from what was in front of my own eyes. I imagine that I really liked my mother, food, brightly colored objects, and so on. But then again, as noted above, I don’t remember it all that well.
Quite a lot changed over the next 10 years. By 1982, I had used a computer (a beige box invented by 2 guys also named Steve), taken up the clarinet, and developed an fascination with Star Trek. This last bit is quite odd indeed, since I don’t believe that my family had a television set at that point. At the very least, television, computers, and telephones were not a big part of our life.
I had some aptitude for math and science, but not an exceptional amount. Truthfully, I was better at writing but was far too shy to share much of what I wrote beyond my teachers. Still, I was put in the advanced classes, and my parents chose the “alternative program” of public schooling for me. This meant I could spend more time working on the things I liked (acting in a play, writing stories, and building extravagant cities out of wooden blocks) and less on the things I didn’t care for (handwriting, multiplication tables, and homework).
High school and college was a massive transition for me, and by my twentieth birthday I had discovered quite a bit about myself. We got a color television somewhere along the line, along with cable and a VCR, and I got into sci-fi movies and discovered music and girls that my parents didn’t like. I never really went home after leaving for college, so I was living on my own in 1992. Home was not a bad place for me; I just didn’t need to be there any longer.
I still didn’t have much aptitude for math and science, in retrospect, but I somehow managed to be enrolled for an engineering degree. I suppose no 20-year-old really knows what he will do later in life, but I knew that the strict path of mechanical engineering wasn’t for me. I switched to an open major, focusing on my interest in architecture and urban planning in a program that studied the interaction of science and technology with society. My shyness disappeared somewhere along the line, and I published my poetry and formed a punk rock band with my buddies.
By this time I had developed passable skills with computers. Experience with my 8-bit Atari and IBM PC clone lead to involvement at WPI with UNIX systems. My roommates had transformed GweepCo from a joke into an actual computer network, but I saw no mass-market future for the Internet and no place for myself in it.
I was wrong, but this is no surprise. Unable to find anything more interesting, I began my professional life as a systems administrator sustaining e-mail and Internet communications for a public company. Over the next decade I stumbled into something of a career in IT, focusing on large enterprise systems and storage devices. But I still had no idea where I was going with all this work.
I was distracted on my thirtieth birthday by my newborn daughter, who had been born just a few weeks earlier. My wife and I tried to find balance and rhythm with two children and two jobs. We would soon welcome a third child, upsetting any semblance of order in our house. After time spent in Houston, we returned to Massachusetts and big colonial house we could barely afford as the housing market rose. So we traded it in for an even bigger, more expensive one in a nicer neighborhood, like so many others around us.
My sort of career in IT had become more of a career in consulting on the advice of a former manager. By 2002 I also amused myself as a speaker at industry events and a columnist and freelance writer in paper publications. Over the next decade, this sideline became more of a career than anything I had done previously. I suppose that’s what happens in the modern world: We bounce and move and shift and find ourselves in an unexpected place.
I woke up this morning 7 miles over Chicago. My trip to Los Angeles put me in front of an audience that seems to care what I have to say, and my career has taken an unexpected turn. I now have my own company, and I write and speak and organize and make more of my own life than I ever could working for someone else.
I have learned that success is something that can be manufactured, and I believe I am more successful than I could have hoped to be 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Looking out of the clouds over Chicago, I smiled at the blue sky despite a sleepless night in seat 7A. I don’t have any idea where I will be on March 8, 2022. But then again, who does?