counterfactuals

As further evidence that I am in the throes of the lamest midlife crisis ever, I have spent much of the weekend spurning pleasant social opportunities in favor of working alone on a new hobby so geeky/dorky I cannot bear the idea of talking about it publicly.  And given things I have mentioned about myself over the years in blog posts, that’s saying something.  (No, of course, not filking.  I would hope that in this world I have the sort of friends who would perform a serious, if necessary fatal, intervention if I ever became involved with filking.)  I feel like somewhere in my early thirties I took a wrong turn and have since been careening toward becoming a de-Enidized variant of Seymour from Ghost World.

OK, while I still don’t want to talk about it, part of what I’ve been doing involves some computer programming.  I say this only because the thing with me and programming is that when I’ve got something I want to program, I can work for 12 or more hours straight without any especial need for social interaction, websurfing, reflexive e-mail checking, food, or hygiene.  (This does not always mean that I will have a great deal to show for those 12 or 14 hours, depending on if I’ve gotten stuck on something.)  If I could fire up the time machine and go back to age twenty and start an alternative career fork, computer programmer would probably be it.

I was telling a friend about this and she promptly said, “It’s not too late!  You could still go become a computer programmer.”  Oy.  I really like being a professor.  Partly precisely because it’s a job title so broad and with so much autonomy that you can shape your actual work into a number of different things.  Why I don’t actually do more programming in my work is a different question.  As an assistant professor, I was doing a lot of programming-like work for awhile on a certain large survey I’m involved with, but then I cut that way back on that because it seemed like it was taking too much time away from other things with clearer external rewards.  Perhaps I should revisit that decision.

Does anybody else have a counterfactual career they wonder about?

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Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

23 thoughts on “counterfactuals”

  1. I played my guitar 7-8 hours per day from the age of 12 to about 21 and recorded many demos. So instead of a sociologist, I wanted to be a rock guitar player. The good thing is that sociology pays well and I’m dreaming of someday getting a real Marshall stack and some fantasy guitars when I “make it” in the sociology business.

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  2. i can’t tell you at how many junctures i’ve thought about quitting sociology to become an engineer. in fact, i even know credit requirements at berkeley, i’ve thought about it often & recently enough.

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  3. 1. Small animal vet.

    Instead I enlisted in the Marines then discovered I liked working in IT.

    I still think I’d be a good critter doctor.

    2. If I’d stayed in the Marines and taken it more seriously than I did, I would have been a pretty good warrant officer – or gone mustang and accepted a commission.

    I shied away from going for a warrant – by that point in my career I was working for a CO and a unit that was a huge bust in the ol’ morale balloon and I wanted nothing but out. I didn’t pursue a commission earlier because I felt at the time that I didn’t want the responsibility of command.

    Probably more than you watned to know but my mouth will run away with me.

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  4. Given that I’m still in grad school, these are my “If somehow sociology fails to work out” options:

    1. Park Ranger — In a historical-type park, though. Sort of like teaching, but without worrying about whether anyone learns anthing — and you get to be outdoors and all.

    2. Brewmistress — I like beer, what can I say?

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  5. I haven’t thought about doing anything other than sociology for a long time (albeit in a number of capacities), but I do wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t decided to take a couple classes at the local community college while I was working at McDonald’s. Before I got a taste of college, I had big plans to marry a fellow shift manager, move into the “swanky” apartments across the street (they had carports AND fireplaces – talk about livin’ large), have a McFamily, and work my way up store manager.

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  6. In my alternate life, I invented sealed air packaging and I made a lot of money young. Bored with my affluence, I take up strategic philanthropic activities. Sometimes I daydream about how this fantasy massive fortune could make a difference in problems like chronic homelessness and children in long term foster care. Oh, and also how I could then afford to go on a real vacation.

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  7. After I retire, or finish grad school, whichever comes first, I’d like to become a graphic designer and do letterpress cards, posters, and stuff like that. Or in a similar vein, design furniture.

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  8. marine biologist. i made it pretty far to the degree until i realized i just really like scuba diving.

    when i got married, my husband and i both changed our last names to his middle name. if i’d stuck with biology, however, i would have taken his name and been… Dr. Fish.

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  9. Programmer here, too. This: “I say this only because the thing with me and programming is that when I’ve got something I want to program, I can work for 12 or more hours straight without any especial need for social interaction, websurfing, reflexive e-mail checking, food, or hygiene. (This does not always mean that I will have a great deal to show for those 12 or 14 hours, depending on if I’ve gotten stuck on something.)” rings incredibly true for me. The only reason I let myself near a programming… program… is that I do tend to produce something useful at the end of it all – e.g. a web browser that pulled URLs out of a big Excel dataset I had, let me enter a code for the result, and then sent the code back to the right record in Excel. And… um… the program that I’ve been working on for the last 8 hours even though it’s totally unrelated to my finals but will make a totally rockin’ paper someday.

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