Technical communicators face many of the same challenges that confront information professionals when it comes to staying Future Ready in a profession that changes constantly. We reached out to a group of prominent movers and shakers in the profession and asked how they manage their careers, and these are their stories.
by Kurt Stewart, Kuala Kangsar, Malaysia
In December 2010, I knew beyond any lingering doubts that I was ready for a change. My wife and I had just sold our business of 20 plus years, an English nursery school and language institute we had set up in the Atlantic seaboard town of Porto, Portugal. And now the future was staring me right in the eyes. At the tender age of 55, I was in that scary but exciting place where I could dare to ask: now what?
I grew up in Oakland, California, and went to high school outside Portland, Oregon. I’d spent most of my adult life working as a trainer and teacher, first in Paris (my glory years), then later, in Porto with my Portuguese wife (the “mature years”). Along the way, I’d put together a skill set that gave me a few options in the education field.
In other words, all along the way, I’d kept myself Future Ready. Looking back, it seems like I had a plan all along. At the time, some of those moves smacked of fear and desperation. I worked as a consultant in Paris helping companies create language training packages for their employees. I earned further qualifications in “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” (TEFL) by obtaining the Royal Society of Arts diploma, and later, I got a job teaching writing at a private university in Porto.
I also kept up some freelance writing for newspapers in the U.S. and a magazine in Paris. In 2005, I thought I’d add another odd-colored feather in my cap by becoming a certified professional coach. All of these skills had made me Future Ready, but back to a central question: now what? Was I really ready for the future?
At 55, I knew windows were closing fast in areas where some of my skills might still be required. I considered my experience in TEFL and began searching for teaching positions abroad. But not just anywhere–I wanted to realize a lifelong goal of mine–to live in Southeast Asia.
I patiently searched the web for positions in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and southern China, until one day, up popped The Perfect Job. WANTED: mentor/teacher/trainer in rural Malaysia; three-year project, sponsored by the Malaysian Ministry of Education, working with grammar school teachers of English to help them develop new teaching methods. Bingo!
So now, here we sit, while the blades of an overhead fan stir the hot, humid air of my little Malaysian terraced house located in a small town on the Sungai Perak. Every day, I drive through thick strips of verdant jungle, past coconut groves and rambutan trees, on my way to the five schools I oversee here. Everything is different, and everything is new.
You need to start by embracing change, but keep going. Go out and grab it. Plan for it, work for it, and stalk it like prey. Just think about what it is you really want from the rest of your time on this planet. Think long and hard if need be, because the sooner you can see it in your dreams, the sooner you can make it happen.
Kurt Stewart grew up in northern California and took his degree in Classical Languages at San Francisco State University. When he realized that there were few people he could speak dead languages with, he moved to Paris where he studied French. While there, he worked as a freelance writer for USA Today and wrote for Paris Passion Magazine. To help pad his income, he started teaching English in companies in France. He liked teaching so much that he obtained a diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) and eventually started his own language training institute in Porto, Portugal. He became interested in coaching and mentoring, and in 2005 became a certified professional coach and member of the International Coach Federation. He started his own coaching business, and became a trainer for the International Coach Academy. He currently lives and works in Malaysia where he has the good fortune to apply his passion for teaching and coaching, training and mentoring English primary teachers in rural parts of the country.