Hands on something other than a keyboard
September 10, 2009 8:58 AM   Subscribe

I am tired of staring at a computer screen all day. I think I want to work with my hands and definitely would like to be out of the office/cubicle most of the day.

I have an BA in Useless, as I've seen it called as I've been searching on here for help.

But I'm having trouble finding answers to my ultimate question. I"m in IT right now (admin asst), I don't really like it. I enjoy technology and all, but as a hobby. I really HATE being an admin asst - yay, process invoices etc. And I really don't want to be in telecom. I hate managing our phone systems. It sucks.

I am taking some classes at local Community College in web design. I've always wanted to know more about it. But again - that's staring at a computer all day. I am making an appt to speak with a career counselor there soon, but I wanted the MeFi answers as well. The career counselor is bound to have their own biases.

I know all these questions get answers like "what do you LIKE to do?" or similar. The best I have ever felt, when I felt that what I had accomplished was indeed good, wonderful, and done to a level I felt confident in...it was when I was volunteering/working with a nonprofit that did creek clean ups. Spending all day in the sun or rain picking up trash and debris...not just candy wrappers, i mean serious put the waders and gloves on stuff - tires, cinder blocks, shopping carts, mattresses (yuck!!!!), etc. Then tossing all that stuff in the dumpster and seeing that huge pile of trash, muddy and stinking OUT of the creek.

I tried working for the nonprofit but the awful leadership and beauracracy of the whole thing ended up causing its downfall and my disillusionment with it.

I don't think I want to be a trash collector, tho (ha ha). The ability to physically SEE what I had done, not on a screen, not a paper report, but to SEE it, to FEEL physically like I had done a bunch work that resulted in something tangible - that was pretty awesome.

I am a strong NP (INFP, ENTP). I came out right in the middle on the I/E, F/T thing. When I take the career assessment though the community college, it comes back with electrician and diagnostic medical sonographer. I don't want to take care of people as far as helping them go to the bathroom etc, but otherwise like the idea of the medical stuff. It never really occurred to me before.

I don't necessarily want to leave technology behind (hence sonographer of any kind seeming interesting), but I'm kinda tired of sitting all the time and updating spreadsheets and databases and telling people how to work the damn lcd projector. I've been doing customer service and now admin asst work since, let's see, I was 20? ugh.

I'm 30 years old, female, with liberal arts degree. I'm willing and able to take classes online or evenings/weekends. I don't really dread going to work everyday, but want to take steps towards a fulfilling career/life path.

Anyways, ask questions, I'll answer and maybe I'll get my current brain soup to congeal into something more solid.
posted by sio42 to Work & Money (18 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
It's been getting a ridiculous amount of publicity, so you've probably seen it, but here is the original essay that the book Shop Class as Soulcraft was based on. Read it over; it may help you solidify what you're thinking of, or give you new questions to ask.

Personally, I went from a theatrical designer to a stagehand, and have never been happier. Design is too much paperwork and desk work, where being a hand gets me working with my body and running around all day. At the end of the day, I can look at the stage and see what I've done. I hung those lights. I built that dress/staircase/handprop. Sure, I go to bed aching and sore some nights, but that makes me smile.

Good luck! The trades are vastly undervalued in this day and age.
posted by mollymayhem at 9:16 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

you know, i saw that guy on PBS the other day. i thought it was funny that he has Phil PhD and now does motorcycle maintenance. (lulz zen and art of...)

i had already been thinking about this stuff for awhile and i guess seeing him talk made me think i wasn't alone or crazy for not wanting to sit here at "work" waiting for something to go wrong so i can get up and do something.
posted by sio42 at 9:20 AM on September 10, 2009

You'll end up staring at a screen all day too if you're a sonographer. When my wife had her sonograms done the person at the machine spent far more time typing on the keyboard and clicking around on the screen than anything else.
posted by zsazsa at 9:30 AM on September 10, 2009

I'm 22 and graduating unemployed has left me with a lot of spare time. It's forced me to seriously think about what I would like to do as I prepare for the coming recruiting season.

Like you, I enjoy troubleshooting and technology/computers and graphic design, but my summer internship taught me that I didn't want to do work like that for a career. I didn't like being stuck in a cubicle all day doing things that personally didn't feel very... impactful (?). People take aesthetically pleasing design for granted all the time and no one appreciates your work unless they're in design.

In the end, I don't think blindly doing what you enjoy is necessarily the best way to choosing a career. You might enjoy doing a certain thing, but it might not give you enough satisfaction career-wise. At least, that's the way it was with me.

So I approached the problem logically, as is usual with my supposed personality type (INTJ) and went about writing a list of what I wanted out of a career. What about you? Try really distilling essential qualities from what you know about yourself and what you enjoyed about certain jobs. The key word is essential.

To start off, it seems like 1) you need to be able to have tangible, visible results (rather than virtual computer-related ones). 2) Work that is going towards the greater good. 3) More responsibilities that are befitting of your abilities/skills -- I mean, I worked 3 years in IS/IT and nothing is more frustrating that having your computer abilities boiled down to solving the most inane, elementary problems for the computer-illiterate masses. Can't people learn to GOOGLE their problems before blindly yelling for help?

Anyway, what do you think? Are my assumptions correct?
posted by hellomina at 9:46 AM on September 10, 2009

Have you considered working for the National Park Service?
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:47 AM on September 10, 2009

hellomina - i think that your assumptions are correct. i'm hoping the career advisor at the community college will be able to translate those things into an actual career that doesn't require me going to back to school for another bachelor's or a master's. i just don't have the time and money for that.

luckyseven~ i have looked at the NPS before, but i know someone who used to work for them in my area and really hated the people she worked with, plus the hours really sucked and she didn't get paid a whole lot. without a history or science background, the positions that open up that i could qualify for are pretty low on the payscale. otherwise, it would defnitely be a good fit!
posted by sio42 at 10:09 AM on September 10, 2009

Landscape architecture?
posted by Wordwoman at 10:14 AM on September 10, 2009

wordwoman - do you know anyone that does that? it does sound interesting. i'm wondering what their day-to-day is like and that's a thing you can apprentice at or if you need a to have an 4 yr degree.
posted by sio42 at 10:17 AM on September 10, 2009

i was just looking and the community college has an Ornamental Horticulture associates degree. i'll put that on the list of things to ask about. thanks for the idea on that one!
posted by sio42 at 10:30 AM on September 10, 2009

Fiber installer. Outdoor wireless tech. you can still be active and outdoors in the IT field.
posted by anti social order at 10:35 AM on September 10, 2009

You could look into nursing if you're at least mildly interested in medicine. It's hard, and the hours suck, but you will always have a job and it's definitely hands-on.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:39 AM on September 10, 2009

aizkolari - with nursing, i've always thought that you would have to deal with bedpans etc. are there parts of nursing that don't? there's a program in PA that pays for nursing school cause we're really low on nurses. i don't mind blood and guts and vomit, but it's the other people's poo that seems to get me. of course, i guess you learn how to deal with that in the training?
posted by sio42 at 10:44 AM on September 10, 2009

If you enjoy working outdoors but still want to be involved with technology, you might want to look into Land Surveying.
posted by zombiedance at 10:58 AM on September 10, 2009

What do you think about dental hygiene.....It could give you that "hands on, something accomplished" feeling when the teeth are clean and look nice. The hours are good and the pay is surprisingly high. It usually is an associate degree program. Typically not dealing with poop...

Another one you might like is a surgical technician. Hands on, limited screen time, and I think you'd get a feeling of physical accomplishment.

Also to address the earlier question about Landscape Architecture...I know several people who work in this field, there's more screen time in this than you would expect. You do site visits, but most of the design work is computer-based using AutoCad. Maybe look into surveying if you want to be outside.
posted by mjcon at 11:01 AM on September 10, 2009

Solar panel installation? Outdoors, lifting heavy things, tangible feel-good result, and some technology.
posted by collocation at 11:20 AM on September 10, 2009

I recommend checking out backdoorjobs.com, greencorps.org, and idealist.org
posted by VC Drake at 1:14 PM on September 10, 2009

Do you have a feeling for and interest in mechanical things? At physics departments (and probably small companies too), there is a generation of machine shop technicians retiring right now. New ones are difficult to get hold of, and they are needed as much as ever before.

I believe this setting is quite different from working in a big shop where operators program advanced machines according to customers' drawings. The research technician has a small workshop of his own with a manual lathe and mill and any hand tool you can imagine for making things out of metal. Sometimes people know exactly what they want and just give you the specifications. The scientists you work with are not machining or mechanics specialists though, so if you're skilled and smart and have gained some experience, people are likely to approach you with a problem they need solved, leaving you a lot of room to be creative.

That's how it is in the group where I work at least, and I've often thought that this is one of the nicest hands-on jobs one could have: You get to build all sorts of beautiful little things and since nothing escapes the lab, you can walk around and see thankful grad students work with the things you made for them.

I don't think the pay is all that great, but there ought to be courses available in evenings and weekends. Go talk to one of the old guys if you want a better idea of what the job is like.
posted by springload at 3:29 PM on September 11, 2009

follow up here... i ended up talking with some career counselors at the community college and it seems like the Allied Health/Nursing field will be a good fit for me. i can train to be an RN in 2-3 years and then i can go for my BSN at the university here. there's also an academic hospital here so i can get into clinical research/nurse education later on in life.

i've been on some of the other sites like idealist. org etc in the past - unfortunately a lot of those jobs just don't have the income potential i really can feel about. i don't expect to be driving a maserati, but i do like to travel and want to retire comfortably. i've seen what has happened to some people with no retirement money and i just don't want to be there.

thanks all for the suggestions tho.
posted by sio42 at 1:19 PM on September 28, 2009

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