END DETOUR road sign

Value Propositions for Taking a Left Turn

After a recent search for some wisdom on finding the right professional destination when your career path is full of left turns, I came up a little short of anything recent, so I decided to put my own thoughts down and do my share towards filling the vacuum. 

I am at the start of my second (or third?) career, depending on what you count. I never fit with the traditional model of working your way up from entry level to management. In my twenties, I had so many different work experiences, moved so many times, and thought I’d never acheive anything of import because I still believed in that traditional model, even if I couldn’t wear the shoes. Later, I started following the philosophy that it is pointless to limit your potential to one role or one industry, or one career trajectory, just because it’s what you’ve been doing so you feel you must continue. In fact, life is too short for those kind of metrics. So I always took the job that seemed like the challenge with the biggest payoff, even if it was a sharp left turn from what I had been doing up to that point. I did so with the rationale that as long as I was always building on my skills and experience, increasing my responsibility, professionalism, and credibility, I couldn’t go too far wrong. 

This is how I ended up working as a Senior Project Manager and Business Analyst, with a BA in Japanese Art History. And this is also how, after 6 years of managing the design and implementation of digital workflows, I was drawn to seek an MFA in New Media and interactive art. 

Now, at 44, with a newly minted Master’s, I have followed my challenges from Maine to Spain, and I’m seeking work in a new country and culture for the first time. This has been a disorienting transition to say the least. One of the biggest questions I have needed to answer is, What is my Job? Am I a Generalist? A Consultant? A Strategist? An Artist? A Researcher?

The job market today has completely transformed since I first joined the workforce. Every. Thing. Is. Digital. Everyone is a social media influencer. And kids on Instagram have a natively intuitive grasp on navigating these waters, unlike us over-the-hill GenX-ers who nonetheless invented these platforms. I used to be confident that the breadth and depth of professional experience usually won out over the blank slate of a twenty-something recent graduate, but this is not necessarily the case anymore. Companies are hiring SMEs with extremely narrow focus, who can state their value propositions in a single page resume, and the millennial crunch means that it’s truly an employer’s market, especially if they are willing to overlook older, more experienced (more expensive) candidates. What’s more, many of these narrow silos of expertise did not even exist as standalone distinctions from Project Managers, Designers and Programmers, little more than 5-10 years ago. Customer Success Managers, SEO gurus, Community Managers, AB Testers and Conversion Analysts, welcome to the stage. 

This is why I’ve come to the recognition that those of us in the middle age of our professional lives, especially those of us who have pursued multiple career directions, and whose CVs reflect multiple left turns, have to focus more than anything else on defining our own value propositions. We have to be able to articulate with confidence and authority that our wildly diverse experiences actually knit together into a compelling narrative that tells a story about who we are, and why This is my Job. 

At 44, I have to be crystal clear that I am steeped in the digital domain as much as your next YouTube content marketer. That while I remember when we used to fly cross-country to visit our clients in person, instead of zooming or slack chatting, I also know the benefits of both relationship models and how they affect communication across different domains. I need to be able to articulate that despite the plain-jane job titles on my CV, I was doing UX research as a vital part of project management, before there was a dedicated role for it, or Data Evangelists or Centers of Excellence to support it.

This is also my reflection on getting an advanced degree late in one’s career. I may have gone back to school because I was burnt out from a toxic work environment and needed a change, or because I wanted to ‘follow my bliss,’ or any number of reasons, but starting over again after taking a 3+ year break to earn a Master’s in your 40s means that everything that came before has still got to prove out as the foundation for this new direction. There is a reason why I ended up working as a PM in process analysis and solution design to begin with, and it’s the same reason why I pursued systems-based interactive art and Human Computer Interaction as a creative researcher. The reason is that my brain is wired to figure out how things work, and how to optimize them. I am better than most people at grasping the big picture AND how all its tiny parts affect the whole. And I am driven to connect with people by telling these stories in meaningful ways. 

So while formatting my value proposition to fit on a single page CV may still be a work in progress (How long is this essay?), these fundamentals are shaping up as my landmarks while I’m scanning the horizon of this job search. I may not know exactly what my next job title will be, but I know it will be a challenge with the biggest payoff yet. 

An image of the promotional poster for the 2018 performance, "I Am Sitting... IV" in Bergen, Norway, depicting Champlin with a 3D printed EEG device on her head.

I Am Sitting… IV

Past performances: 

  • May 17, 2018; Without Borders Festival at Lord Hall Gallery; Orono, ME, USA (view on youtube)
  • June 10-12, 2018; Thresholds of the Algorithmic at Lydgalleriet; Bergen, Norway

Link to video of “I Am Sitting… IV” at Without Borders Festival in May, 2018.

I Am Sitting. . . is an immersive performance and sound installation in which a live performer is seated, in meditation and wearing an EEG instrument, in the center of an array of 8 inward-facing speakers. Eight channels of live-streamed EEG data are transformed into a sonic landscape that is both intimate and expansive. The sounds are spatialized in accordance with the geography of the eight electrode sensors of the instrument in order to create the sense of listening to the brain from the point of view of its owner, the performer.

The performance space is defined by the perimeter of speakers, and invites the audience to enter into the space, move about within it, and become part of an immersive bio-feedback experience. The resultant sound responds to the environment, especially the presence of the audience, by articulating external influences on the brain activity of the performer.

This work speaks to the thresholds at work within our perceptions – of self, of environment, and the distinctions between the two.

It also illustrates a dialectic between author and subject. Do our perceptions and actions generate our world, or are we experiencing a determined universe, an algorithm that is simply playing itself out? This quandary extends from the performer in meditation through the audience experiencing the piece, both questioning their role at the threshold of influence.

Finally, I Am Sitting. . . hovers in the space between the intimate and the interpersonal. How much of me is you? Can we fine-tune our perceptions to be more, or less, sensitive to our social conditioning? Which signals qualify as communication? The piece puts the audience (and performer) in an active state of testing these thresholds, teasing our intuitive and intellectual senses to dialogue with one another and form dynamic hypotheses about the nature of perception and interaction.

This piece is dedicated to the inimitable Alvin Lucier.



Transfer is an experimental photographic study using tableware and direct sunlight. This study was undertaken as an exploration of signal transference, mediation, and pattern recognition. The components used recall the elements of a traditional still-life construction, but the results bear no resemblance. The images produced and presented have not been manipulated for effect, but are simply a record of the informational transactions between the sun, the object, and the camera — or in terms of communication, the transmitter, the filter, and the receiver.

These images, as with all still-life images, exist in the continuum between formalism and semiotics. The history and tradition of still-life is nearly as long as that of human image making, but are these images a study of pure light and form or are they a study of symbolic objects and their situational rhetorical vocabularies? At what point in our communications stream do we grant the attribute of meaning to what is otherwise simply data?

Transfer is on exhibit at the IMRC Center of University of Maine from November 27 to December 1. More info….