Long before Pope Francis issued his landmark encyclical on climate change, I was plotting my career move to become a wind turbine tech.
Though the Pope’s statement resonated that “technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay,” I can’t say it was as impactful as the photos my friend Mike Vasquez was posting to his Facebook page.
An Austin recording engineer for more than 20 years, Mike’s wind energy journey began in 2012.
I’d followed his progress through Columbia Gorge Community College near Portland, and eventually his globe trotting career with Granite Industries.
His spellbinding photos from atop the various turbines he serviced around the country were what called to me, as I sat, relatively motionless, fingers resting on keyboard, staring blankly at my 17-inch LCD monitor. The same way I have “sat” for 20-odd years.
There’s a compulsion within U.S. culture, particularly in first-generation immigrant families like my mother’s, to disparage blue-collar work. Aim high, we were told. Go to college, get a good paying job, and proceed to sit behind a desk and computer for 50 years.
While I was not the first in my family to complete university, desk work – confined more and more to staring down a computer screen these days – has proceeded to lose its romance in direct proportion to my age. Given the fact I can’t afford another sports car, I’m willing to call this the best expression of a mid-life crisis.
The cold facts of life require us to spend most of it NOT living our dreams. As one comedian riffed on tried-and-true high school counselor wisdom: “Find your passion, follow your bliss…and do it every weekend of your life.” Sadly, for many, our life’s passions and our life’s “job” seldom line up.
I was a good writer. However, freelancing for fickle publications was intermittent at best and always required a steady paying job on the side. I found that as a newspaper reporter I could sustain a living – as impoverished as it was – and still write freelance.
In so doing, to my surprise I quite enjoyed the life of a medium market reporter, complete with City Council and school board intrigue, commissioner’s court scandals, and always incendiary water planning conflicts. I’d discovered a passion for politics and research I didn’t know existed.
However, when my two sons came along, the stakes were raised and the jig was up. I need to make a living. So, like many journalists, I entered the world of public relations for an Austin trade association, making a decent income, repairing my credit, paying student loans, and taking care of my kids.
It’s much easier to just blame the pope for my decision to leave that comfortable chair, office and staff – a position my mother may have envisioned in her infinite pleas for me to complete college and get a “good job somewhere” – than to explain my decision to pivot from a solid position as a social media/digital communications/web content guru, gut my 401K, and go back to school to learn how to work on wind turbines.
As my time in Austin and at my current job winds down, and I prepare to move next week to Sweetwater, Texas, and Wind Energy 101 at Texas State Technical College, I am reconciled to a mixture of terror and exhilaration. My passions and my “job” are once again lining up in a way I never expected.
And when you think about it, PR and Wind Energy Tech are not that far removed from one another. As a colleague recently mused, “So basically, you’re exchanging one form of hot air for another?” Touché.