Like a river

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To say that my career journey has been a winding river would be selling the story short. For the past year I've been a software engineer for a major financial tech corporation. Before that, I was an interactive theater educator on a tall ship in San Francisco. Before that I was a backcountry leader for trips into the wilds of Washington, Colorado and Maine. Before that, I was a printmaking instructor and photographer.

I grew up thinking myself creative, but never really ascribing to the artist ideal. I drew, thought, and wrote, but also rode horses, played sports and spent most of my free time building forts next the river by my childhood house. My mom and I also spent many amazing months traveling in a VW Vanagon around North America. I was definitely more Indiana Jones than an aspiring Georgia O'Keefe.

In college I dabbled in all of the subjects, taking sciences, writing, and so many extracurriculars that I stopped getting credit for them. Because credit is exactly why I learn. My senior year I took the Myers Briggs test at the career center and landed exactly in the middle of all the categories. My career counselor took a pen and drew a ladder in the middle of a piece of fresh white paper. She looked at me as she crossed the ladder out with a heavy blue X - “your path will never look like this,” she said. She then drew a soft and winding river - “it will look much more like this.” I hope this woman becomes president one day, because this was one of the most useful things anyone could ever have told me going out into the world.

And so four years passed. I followed the river, not minding too much the insecurity of seasonal jobs, the low-pay of education, and the toll working outside took on my body. I got to work with passionate people, athletic people, crazy people and really really smart people - and then somewhere along the line the river started drying up, and I began to step forward onto rungs, and worry about slipping from the next step. A part of this was moving from mid-to-late twenties, and another part pressure from the people around me that I placed on myself - expectations of achievement and definitions of success that I made my own.

In March 2014, I had done a coding bootcamp with the goal of being able to fund a nomadic lifestyle as a software engineer in a way that a job as a theater educator on a tall-ship just couldn't. I knew during the entire course that I didn't enjoy the coding lifestyle, but forged ahead because I had a goal. I felt chained to the computer, learning tools and algorithms that didn't apply to anything but the work I was doing. A physics phenom in my cohort would sweat and gesture and become so animated during coding that he literally looked like he was going to explode - I knew I definitely didn't feel the same way.

After the course I quickly found a job in software, becoming an engineer for Capital One, a financial behemoth with 50,000 employees worldwide. I traded freedom for a badge number and a Macbook Pro computer filled with the latest in software tools. I would like to note that I've found two freedoms in the world - that of time and that of money. Here, I traded the former for the latter.

And then I looked around. I had planned to work for the company for at least a year, saving everything for a surf escape, a school bus and 'the future.' Six months into my software job, I was in a quandary; this was a bend in the river that contained bigger rapids than I cared to admit. Financial Technology was not what I wanted to be doing with my life.

I began searching for a way to utilize the skills I’d learned through these disparate experiences, for a return to the creativity I’d felt growing up, for a life of presence rather than achievement; for a way back to the river. I looked at graduate design programs, MBA programs, WOOFING and Online Courses. Nothing seemed to fit - I wanted community, immersive learning, and relevance to my own life. And then I found Ei - hands-on learning in real world experiences around the globe. I applied, interviewed, was accepted, and in late August I arrived in Chicago to explore a way back.

Since arriving, I've been woven into a an amazing group of fellow students: designers, engineers and assorted badasses. Hailing from Berlin, L.A, San Francisco, New Hampshire, Normal, IL and other assorted locales, this group has turned out to be an absolutely amazing group of humans (note photo at top). We've been thrown into two weeks of storytelling, writing, design and expression - and I'm so grateful to have made the leap. I feel passionate, invigorated, exhausted and excited for each coming day. I know this year isn’t going to be easy by any means - but it definitely feels right.

Most importantly, I feel like the river is once again within sight. This spring, while I awaited the beginning of Ei I got a call from my Mother, asking me, 'Why? Why are you doing this - I'm worried about you - it seems like you're searching for something you'll never find.' I didn't have an answer for her then. This week, on the final evening before we went our separate ways, on the rooftop of a building in downtown Chicago, we read letters to our future selves. Now, normally I'd reserve this for the mushy, ooey-gooey category of too much information, but right now I'll share an excerpt from that letter.

Aug. 25th 2016

"My year was a success because I brought my whole self to every day. Instead of compromising my values of movement, truth and compassion, instead of acquiescing to that small voice of safety and future, I forged a life of presence and depth and community. I write this as a human who accepts her humanity - who realizes her flaws and celebrates them for the uniqueness they bring to the world, for we are perfect humans already, hidden inside rough cut gems. I write this to you as a traveler who will never reach her destination. And I am ok with that. For I have found many waypoints along the path."

Claire Montana Jencks

Claire is a physical adventurer in a digital age. From Interactive Theater Educator, to Software Engineer, Designer, Photographer and Wilderness Guide, Claire’s work experience points definitively toward Jane-of-all-trades. Whether in the backcountry or the boardroom, Claire is fascinated by the intersection of creativity and entrepreneurship. She is always ready for a game of pick-up ultimate, a conversation about Urban Design or a snack of any kind.

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