One of my gym buddies called me an ‘opsimath.’ He told me what it meant, but I looked it up anyway. (Once an editor, always an editor.)
Not long ago, I embarked on my fourth career, one that requires me to learn new things every day, so yes, I’m an opsimath.
A recent interview triggered some reflection on my career path, which I’ll share with you.
My careers all have had these traits in common:
Career #1: Education
After college, I taught English as a Second Language, ESL (the precursor to ELL) for 3 years while earning my Masters’ degree in Education. Teaching, of course, was not a new field, but ESL as a specialty, was relatively new.
In addition to teaching, I wrote a handbook and other materials for classroom teachers with suggestions for helping their non-English-speaking students to succeed. This was my first foray into professional writing.
Career #2: Technical Editing & Writing
In the late 1970s, I joined the then-booming field of software technical editing and writing. Yes, the field of technical writing existed when I was in high school, but it was mainly writing for military contractors (“mil spec”). The computer industry was still young and personal computers hadn’t yet been birthed, let alone mobile phones, tablets, and their apps.
I learned about editing, computers, and a wide range of software products.
I held several positions and titles over a 25-year period, including Principal Technical Editor, Documentation Manager, Usability Engineer, and Software Documentation Architect. Regardless of the title on my business card, the work I performed was all about sharing information with other people.
I also wrote a book about technical editing that is still in print and in use as a college text after 26 years, taught workshops throughout the US, participated in panel discussions at professional society meetings, and gave keynote lectures. I taught technical writing in a special post-graduate program at a local college. I also ran a consulting company, first with some colleagues and I later branched out on my own.
Career #3: Fitness Instructor/Personal Trainer
In my spare time, I transformed my life through fitness.
I studied and got certified as a personal trainer. Fitness was a hobby that generated enough income to cover its own expenses (teaching materials, insurance, certification and continuing education).
The next chapter was a brief early retirement, spent mostly on volunteer work. I did a lot of writing and editing as part of that work, including writing, designing, and maintaining a website for a nonprofit (a dog breed rescue). I also wrote another book.
When it was time to return to paid employment, I chose not to return to the 80-100 hour work-weeks of high tech that had burned me out.
At the encouragement of one of my group fitness students, I started a career as an in-home personal trainer.
Many people know me only in that capacity, so were probably shocked when I announced Career #4, even though it was a return to my writing roots—just with different media.
Career #4: Email Marketing and Social Media
In addition to training fitness clients, I was running my own fitness business, including doing my own marketing.
Along the way, I learned how to use LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, MailChimp, Constant Contact, and a bunch of social media management tools.
Did I mention my geek streak? I like learning new software and have a good track record of getting up to speed quickly. (My secret: I actually read the documentation!) Once upon a time (Career #3), I learned computer programming, since in that job I was editing programming language manuals and needed to understand what I was reading as well as to be able to test the coding examples.
A couple of years ago, a colleague from a networking group I belong to asked if I had time to help with sales and marketing support for her payroll company. It was my seasonal slow period, as most of my fitness clients were away for summer vacations. I’ve continued working for her a few hours a week, producing her monthly client newsletter, writing direct mail campaigns, and setting up and managing her business social media accounts.
Before long, another colleague from the same networking group asked if I could write newsletters for his clients. And then another. And another. And another. Before I knew it, I had a side business going. I liked that I could work at home on a flexible schedule.
I took the plunge in February, turning away new fitness clients and focusing on growing my email marketing and social media business. Business has been very, very good, thanks to referrals from satisfied customers. This will probably be my final career change because it pulls together so much of my experience and steadily presents new challenges to keep me interested.
Someone who learns late in life. An opsimath. I am one.
Are you an opsimath?
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Judy Wolff is a writer, editor, and computer geek.
Helping small businesses increase sales and nonprofits increase donations by engaging with customers through email marketing and social media.