My Weird Career Path, Part 1

I've done a lot of weird things in my life. I don't mean eating worms or swimming naked in lakes (well, once). I mean my career path. I'd like to run through my story to make a point; you should never feel like you're stuck somewhere to get somewhere, and all who wander are not lost. Really. 

This ended up being ridiculously long, so it's in three parts now. Bless you if you're planning to read all three segments, but that's the great thing about a blog, right? You can turn me off whenever you like. 

My career has always been a tool for me - a way for me to get what I want when I want it, and change my priorities to meet the needs of my family. 

When I was young and figuring out what I wanted to do with myself, I knew only a few things. I knew I wanted a family, and that I had a very specific idea of what that meant. I wanted to consciously raise kids. I knew I needed to be creative somehow throughout my life. And I knew that I was going to try to never do something just to make money. 

Those values have definitely not allowed me to get rich quick (yet), and they have required a huge amount of flexibility, multiple skill sets, redesigning myself to be useful in other ways, and constant re-evaluation. 

The Early Years

I grew up with extremely creative and supportive parents who also had high expectations. That set me on a path to be ambitious and always looking for something new. I graduated from a high school with a class of 19 students, some of whom were pregnant for graduation and/or planning to marry the following summer. I'm not sure how it came to pass, but I decided I was either going to Yale University or Colorado College. Back when I was applying to colleges, there was no such thing as the Common Application, and I remember a lot of hours in front of a typewriter with Wite-Out in my hand. So I think I applied to three places. When I went to visit, Yale terrified me; highly competitive and strangely inner-city feeling. So CC was it.

I don't recall ever consciously deciding to go to a small liberal arts college, but it was truly one of the best decisions I've ever made. In large part, CC made me who I am and set me up for a career where I could move around and try lots of things. I was an English major because I didn't really know what else to do, and continued my love for theater by immersing myself in that department. I thought I wanted to teach English, but my English teacher mother sat me down and talked about a gazillion papers to read and low pay, and I rerouted. I discovered that I really wasn't the singer I thought I was, and that there were a lot of people in the world who were WAY smarter than me. 

I found a lot of great people at CC, in particular my husband of going-on-27-years now. We went to University of Wisconsin-Madison after graduating from CC and he got a masters degree in piano performance while I got mine in Theater. Our plan was to continue with PhDs and teach college. Life took the first major turn when I realized that higher education was not for me. Everyone just seemed unhappy to me; I'm sure they weren't, but it was a time when I thought I wanted to spend time with feminist thinkers, but because I didn't fit the mold of a feminist, they didn't want to teach me. Being married and wanting to have kids was a major liability at the time. My voice didn't feel welcomed, and it was rough.

By this time, I'd worked as an editor for magazines, a nanny, a lighting designer, and a stage manager. During my years in graduate school my mother was the editor of a major quilting magazine, and I knew how to sew. She told me that if I learned how to machine quilt beautifully enough that they could do close-up photography of equally spaced stitches, she could keep me employed from a distance. So that's what happened. 

Once we graduated from UWisconsin and got back to Colorado, we weren't sure what we were going to do. That's when the weird skills started to be essential. Ryan decided to get a certification to teach elementary school. I'm not entirely sure how he got around to that, but he was great at it. He ended up a collector of degrees; three masters degrees to date; education, science education, and piano. Then came the principal certification. He is now an elementary school principal, and really stellar at his job. 

I decided I wanted to try my hand at production for real, and went to the opera company that employed me once during the summer. I had to do a lot of fancy talking, but I eventually talked the artistic director Don Jenkins into hiring me as a production manager and education coordinator year-round. I designed opera programs we took to schools and produced the summer opera. I arranged flights and housing for singers who came in for one month and then flew away. Sometime around July 22, a week before we opened the opera, my new good friend Deborah and I talked about how maybe this was the summer we were actually going to go insane because of the stress. 

As I often say, if you can talk a tenor into going onstage without his gold boots that make him taller than the soprano, you can do anything. Those are the things I learned; program management, people management, life management. I'll always be thankful for those years of just figuring it out and making it happen. My mentors there allowed me to take on a very high-stakes job and behave as though it was commonplace. I will never forget their generosity. 

During the time I worked there, it was time to start the family. Sophie came and I was allowed to work at home some of the time and go to the office a couple of days per week with Sophie in the Graco playpen. I managed rehearsals and toted her along for the ride. I have a vivid memory of one day when the singers got to the end of a complicated ensemble piece and Sophie stood up and yelled, just as the director had done several times that day, "Okay, AGAIN." She shook her head, unsatisfied with the effort. Sheesh. 

So there's part 1! The start of a family, out of school, trying to figure out what we wanted to make of ourselves in the world. This time was about building skills and getting ready for whatever came next! That's in the next post. 


Maria Capp