I’m on the air, standing alone in front of a small TV audience. I’m with my Bluebird or Brownie troop (depending what I was at the time, possibly even a Cub Scout), visiting the Heck Harper television program in Portland. This was the time when TV was new, black and white, and kids traveled with youth groups to the stations so their parents could see them on television, which for most kids would be their only 9 minutes of fame as they stood paralyzed by the lights and cameras, squirming or shoving fingers up their noses.
Heck Harper, the local television cowboy (every station had one) with his white Stetson, thrusts a microphone into my face and asks, “And what do you want to be when you grow up? A nurse? A teacher?” He’s thinking I’ll say “A mommy” or “a housewife.” But I know the answer to this one.
“I want to be a Project Manager.”
Heck looks at me blankly and moves on swiftly to the next kid. It’s a reaction I’ll become familiar with.
From the time I was small, I had one ambition in life: Project Manager. This was confusing to my mother who, because she worked on Portland’s “Film Row” at the branch offices of MGM and later Universal, encouraged her daughters to seek careers in the film industry. I believe Mom envisioned for my beautiful red-haired older sister the life of a movie star, and me, possibly a Grip, Best Boy or Boom Operator.
But I’d had a vision of “Project Manager,” and I was determined this was The Way.
When little friends of mine played dress up, with Joan costumed as a princess, Margaret a cowgirl, and Ricky a Ballerina, I carried a clipboard, pen and a sheet of costly wide-lined bond paper on which I drew a work breakdown structure. I couldn’t tell you where this idea came from because, like the “Project Manager” vision, incredibly not one person in my immediate or extended family had shown the persistence, diligence and fortitude to work in the nonexistent field of Project Management.
My high school counselor, Miss Settee, tried to discourage me about careers. “It’s almost impossible for a woman to be a journalist, a lawyer, or a corporate manager,” she said, looking out her office window at a fresh-faced blonde-haired youth pouring soap powder into the school fountain.
Enthusiastically, I shook my head in agreement.
She finally looked at me. “So what do you want to put down on your college applications as your career choice?”
“Project Manager,” I said.
She wrote down “Home Economics Teacher.”
I was admitted to UCLA, but they didn’t have a “Project Manager” major. I decided I could live temporarily with a popular major—Political Science. Years later, people who’d majored in any social science quietly changed their majors on paper to impressive ones like Pre-Med, Pre-Law, Pre-Social Welfare, and Pre-Eclampsia.
By the time I finished UCLA, I wanted to apply to graduate school. Once again none of the schools across the country offered a “Project Manager” major. Meanwhile, since I had to pick something, I studied to become a social studies high school teacher and later a lawyer, both excellent careers to sharpen up one’s skills in public speaking and reading the “Want Ads.”
The closest I came to my dream job was when computer dating became a reality and I filled out an application claiming to be a “Project Manager.” At last I could come out with my career of choice. I sincerely believed the computer dating service when they insisted they would match me to men who would respect my Project Manager career goal. And in fact several potential dates on their applications claimed they were “open to new experiences” and “willing to meet a woman whose career goal was Project Manager” especially since, as one wrote, “I have nothing against bisexuals.”
Over the decades I searched repeatedly for a job opening as a Project Manager. When I got married and raised a family—though not with a computer date—I put aside the career dream. Eventually I concluded that my two sons were probably not going to prison and I could resume looking for my elusive Project Manager job. A computer I acquired promised to make my job search easier and it did.
However, to my astonishment there were now at least 42,000 Project Manager jobs on CareerBuilder, 1,000 Project Manager jobs on Monster.com, and 36,000 Project Manager jobs on Indeed! One site estimated there would be a need for 500,000 Project Manager Jobs in the near future! Project Manager jobs—MY original job of choice—-were everywhere!!
Now there were too many people calling themselves Project Managers. I couldn’t get through the door for an interview. Some Project Managers had to have such absurd backgrounds as contractors, architects, computer nerds, engineers, and MBAs. All to clog up the simple field of Project Management so they could remind everyone they’d aced Algebra 2, Calculus and Trig in high school. Other Project Manager jobs that required specific Project Manager experience were listed as available at nonprofits like poetry societies, nursery schools and cat-sitting services.
I had no chance.
Desperately, I went to the local state employment office where a career counselor administered several career assessment tests.
The results were clear. The best two choices for me for a career?
Project Manager. Baptist Minister.
The rueful career counselor said, “Look, you need to be realistic. Pick a traditional job—like sales—where your only competition is every recent college graduate and everyone in their 20s and 30s. But at least that narrows the field. Or pick a field that was formerly oversaturated and now occupied by only a few people. A field where you don’t need to go back to school, your college major doesn’t matter, you hardly need work experience, and your decades of unemployment won’t count. Best of all, a field where your business card alone will impress hell out of everyone.”
Suddenly, it was clear. A bright future lay ahead. We both knew if I couldn’t be a Project Manager, there was that one job just tailor-made for me.
“You’re right,” I said. “I’m going to be a Consultant.”