About a year ago I have taken a decision, and I am now taking a leap of faith. This blog is gravitating about this decision, and I am writing now about a journey that began a while back.
I am finally working on plan A again, after I had been quite successful in pursuing plan B. I am not all sure where to begin with, and this is probably the reason I am writing a blog and not a book. So I will simply jump right into the middle of the story and select some menial and unspectacular moments that were important to me.
I had studied physics and worked in R&D for some time, then I switched to IT. I can – and probably will – talk endlessly about what physics and IT have in common; actually more than what seems to be obvious and actually it is not “IT”, but some special subfield that matters. But for now, it is only important that the following repeating pattern in lunch-with-customers-small-talk hit me hard from time to time.
Small talk goes like this:
- You studied physics! Really! How interesting – what did you work on?
- … superconductors … lasers …
- How did you end up in IT?
- <Insert some description of post-doc life-style here, and about job prospects for people who want to explore the secrets of the universe>
- <Add some unbiased and optimistic statements about my current field, and why IT naturally connects to physics. Think quantum cryptography.>
- <Add more cheery stories about my current work.>
- <Skepticism expressed non-verbally by the others>.
- Yes, but why are now working on that stuff? (Should probably mean: On the same stuff we do not like either.)
- You ditched physics for THIS?
This is not a verbal transcript; it is exaggerated and an amalgam. And I was able to handle the conversation better sometimes, and there is a positive version also that goes like this
- <One of my workshops on cryptography and its applications.>
- <Maneuvering the chat towards foundations of physics or history of science.>
- <Some time may pass till this short conversation>.
- Yes, everybody in the room could notice that this is what your heart is really in.
The latter sentence was key: A stranger said this to me, a colleague I met the first time for business lunch. In this business lunch I thought I would play my role so well – the role of the seasoned IT industry expert. I could not even remember later that I said anything about my personal history. And yet, later I was remembered most strongly for some statements my subconsciousness had driven to the surface.
Finally, I took my decision instantly – after months imagining myself writing letters that started with: Dear customers and colleagues, I need to tell you about a personal decision affecting my professional life and our business relationship. I never wrote any letter of that sort, not even now. Now I only tell the current version of the story to whoever would still ask for IT consulting. Within one hour I finalized a plan to switch fields *right now* and to go for another (engineering) degree. I took the decision all on my own – no hesitation and no counselling and asking friends for their advice. And once for all I stopped thinking about explanations. I kept the decision as a secret and cloaked it as “another big project I am going to embark on”, so that it will keep me from embarking on the usual stuff I did for years.
I made appointments with colleagues, determined on still talking business as usual and silently sneaking out of the door. But spontaneously and not prepared well in advance, I started talking about the changes I am going to make. Colleagues had often called me good at self-marketing and presentations, but for sure these talks were not my best presentations. However the point of all was to reduce the dependency on any kind of feedback. I do not need venture capital, I do not need to be everybody’s darling, and I do not need and want to be expert no. 1 in country X and field Y. Not any more. So I did not care if I failed the pitch, maybe.
And then I made the same strange announcement to the colleague I mentioned above, the colleague I met for lunch. This time I thought I would play my IT girl role, as there is no need to make an announcement to somebody I had not quite started to have a business relationship with. And then I heard this answer some weeks later: Yes, everybody in the room could notice that this is what your heart is really in.
Do not be mistaken: I never did and never will advocate the follow-your-heart-and-everything-else-will-follow advice. I am down-to-earth, a control freak, and great at crafting detailed plans and paranoid fallback scenarios for whatever. My plan A is solid (I do not think my calling is to be a theoretical physicist and work on string theory), though still considered unusual given my history and track record.
But nonetheless both the negative and the positive versions of the physics-or-IT-small-talk finally drove the evolution of this decision. It is not so much the feedback given by somebody else. It is a statement that struck a chord with what some part of myself tried to tell me unsuccessfully so far.
Now I am listening.