Living His Mission: Why One Engineer Chose Art Over HVAC

The first time I saw Rick Huddle perform was at Edgefield in Troutdale, OR. We were surrounded by children with painted faces and parents with pints. Someone told me he was also an engineer.

Whaa-at? An engineer? That guy who was imitating a cow just a few moments ago?

Yes, in fact. Below is an interview with Rick Huddle that shows how he evolved from being a project manager for a construction HVAC company into a children’s storyteller. Given that Rick is a storyteller, I’m going to let his answers speak for themselves.

What was you previous job title and industry? My degree was in mechanical engineering. At the time I decided to make a change, I was working as a project manager at a commercial HVAC construction firm.

Why did you want to change jobs/industry? There was this moment… I’d only been there 3-4 years, and I’d just hung up the phone with this vendor who sold heating vents, and I’m sitting in this sea of cubicles sitting under heating vents so I can help other people in a sea of cubicles sit at their desks under heating vents…What was I doing here? What’s the purpose? It was like a real-life MC Escher painting.

I realized I needed to do something that helps people. And, yes, engineering helps people, but I needed to do work with more heart in it. After I’d graduated from college but before I started my first engineering job, I’d worked at a preschool making no money and eating townhouse crackers for lunch…but I LOVED the job. We had a direct effect on these kids’ lives. This one kid had been kicked out of four other preschools, but we took him in and taught him empathy. And sure enough, it worked. That’s what I feel is important and what I’m trying to do now through telling stories and singing silly songs.

What do you call yourself now? What’s your mission? Children’s Performer and Educator

My mission is to teach empathy; to create understanding of self and others through humor.

What were the signs that it was time to get out – NOW? Well, it took 10 years after that MC Escher moment to quit engineering and perform full-time. I went to part-time for awhile, but I was really struggling with it. It was a great job in a lot of ways—good salary, really good benefits. By the end I’d worked there for 13 years and I could just show up and it was fairly easy work.