Making a career in this community also means that I don’t have to divide my efforts or shift gears between work and play- my work is my play and my tools are my toys. – Chuck Stephen’s journey continues… (Click to see Part I and Part II)
I started to make small changes in my personality and outlook. First of all, I realized that smiling was the last revolutionary act. I was living in an age where the anarchy symbol, something that had deep meaning for me, could be purchased on a t-shirt at Hot Topic. Mohawks and the visual cues of punk rock no longer scared the pinks and norms- Green Day and Rancid had scored top-forty hits with their brand of radio friendly ‘punk’. Goths went to gyms. As Perry Ferrel sang, ‘Nothing’s shocking’, yet smiling at strangers was revolutionary. People didn’t know how to take it. Real change had to come from an inclusive, positive place, so I started smiling all the time. It was hard, but like the twelve steppers say, just fake it til you make it.
I also realized that there were many different kinds of smiles- the smug sneer of a hipster, the false reassurances of a salesman, the faux piety of a televangelist and the genuine smile that comes from being content and happy with your path. I’d always laughed at Joseph Campbell’s quote about following your bliss. It seemed so pollyanna-ish to me. It also reminded me of the self-righteous new-age spirituality that so many people used as a thin veil to cover their greed and narcissism. It was quite shocking to finally see what Campbell really meant. Here I was, finally following my bliss, and it was all starting to click.
LI4E (Learning is for Everyone) did some amazing things until outside forces of deceit and greed destroyed it. While the loss of LI4E due to mission creep was painful, it was also an incredible learning experience for our team. I will forever be indebted to the sad people who taught us this lesson! Eureka!Factory rose from the ashes like a phoenix, stronger than LI4E ever could be. Our experience showed us that we needed to be true to our vision, retain our independence and stay the course.
Part of staying true to our vision and retaining our independence was our decision to unbrand with Maker Media and launch Gulf Coast MakerCon as the successor to Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire. A greenhouse is an ideal place to start new growth, but the structure and security that protects a growing seed can also impede it’s growth eventually. Maker Media provided a great incubator but it was time to leave the greenhouse and let our branches reach for the sun.
The advent of Eureka!Factory and Gulf Coast MakerCon empowered us to branch out. We expanded ROBOTICON, an off-season competition for FIRST teams from around the state that we had originally produced as members of LI4E. I had worked with the kids from Team Duct Tape, but ROBOTICON was a real eye opener. I realized that TDT wasn’t a fluke- the FIRST community was chock full of wonderful kids and amazing adults dedicated to letting them shine. I reconnected with Team Hydra and met many others. It was a great weekend and it energized me for the tasks ahead. FIRST and the kids the organization served became very important to me. This was the future, and by providing these kids with opportunities to follow their own bliss I was taking a small role in improving that future.
These events were like tent revivals for me- I left them ‘filled with the spirit’. If I ever started to doubt my path, there was always a robotics, STEM or maker event to rekindle the fire. I also realized that my own personal outreach was important. I joined Instructables to document my own projects and share my creativity and skills with the world. I also started to bring some of those projects to people through my work with Eureka!Factory, speaking to gatherings of educators and librarians about the opportunities that experiential learning and STEM programs had to offer and engaging them in hands-on activities. The really amazing thing was that not only where folks eager to listen to what I had to say and try the projects I brought, they would even pay me to do it sometimes. This wasn’t just a passion for me anymore, it was becoming a career path.
To me, making money was always something unpleasant that got in the way of what I really wanted to do. Being paid money to do something that I loved had never occurred to me. I’m a socialist at heart and I’m always suspect of people who are driven by financial motives. My experiences with LI4E only served to reinforce this opinion. Like so many of my long-help opinions, my involvement with the maker scene changed that. I met an amazing business man, Tony Selvaggio of Scrap on Spot. He seems to perfectly balance a social conscience with a desire to make a living doing what he enjoys. I’ve also met the folks at Boca Bearings who use a portion of their profits to help FIRST teams throughout south Florida and beyond.
The important take-away here is balance- there’s nothing wrong with feeding yourself, as long as you make sure others are eating too. Making a career in this community also means that I don’t have to divide my efforts or shift gears between work and play- my work is my play and my tools are my toys.
Look for the fourth and final installment of Chuck’s journey to makerhood next week! Have a Maker story you’d like to share? Drop us a line!