Last night, a reader started the thread, “Career Confession: I have no idea where I’m headed,” in the forums. She’s in her early 30s and has several advanced degrees in writing, but after graduating from a Master’s program in 2007 and “watching the bottom fall out of the economy” as well as moving out to a new state without a job, she took multiple customer service jobs just to pay the rent. As a result, her resume is littered with contract jobs, mostly call-center and phone work. Now she’s working at a company she really likes where she was promoted quickly to a managerial-type position. But she doesn’t know where she wants to go from there.
The main problem is that I’ve never in my life taken a business class and all I want to do is to be talking about literature or film or television or theater at a university all day long – and also be constantly reading and writing about it – but that, as I referenced above, won’t pay the bills. Also, I’ve discovered in my short career thus far that my communication skills are highly valuable and produce really great results in a corporate setting and I have a feeling, if I play my cards right, I can use them to my great advantage. I just don’t know how! Would I be good at managing a team of people just because I can speak and write well? I don’t know. And, of course, all of this is hypothetical. I have no idea if my manager would ever even promote me to such a role.
As if that weren’t enough, I also feel like, at 31, I am way behind on the curve and should’ve figured this stuff out years ago. My career has sort of “happened” to me…until now, that is. It’s a privileged person’s problem for sure, but at this age I know I need to begin setting myself up, and right now my whole plan consists of doing the best I can in the role I’m in and looking to move up within my current team. Beyond that, I got nothin’.
Can anyone else relate?
Yes! Yes! I think many of us can relate! My entire adult life has been a string of jobs that rarely have much to do with my degrees (a BS in electronic media and an MA in English). I’ve worked as a radio station copywriter, an after-school assistant at a private school, a floral designer, a publicist at a publishing company, a research assistant in grad school, a clothing store sales assistant, a writing teacher to ex-cons, a researcher for a company that analyzed educational methods and programs in public schools, an adjunct college instructor (English), a blogger, a barista, and a website marketer. And there are probably some other gigs in there that I’m forgetting. [Updated to add telemarketer, office temp, and time-share ticket salesperson to the list.]
My point is: I’m 38 years old and sometimes I still don’t know exactly what I want to do. Or, I guess more accurately, I know what I want to do (yay, I’m doing it!!) — I just don’t always feel confident I’m on the right path to continue doing it long-term. What happens when you “do what you love” but the money doesn’t necessarily come (or it doesn’t come quickly enough or there’s not quite enough of it)? That’s sort of where I am now and, although I still have a little time to figure it out/ make it happen (the privilege of being married to someone whose income can support us at least for the time being, though not with as much wiggle room as we might like), something will need to change eventually. And I have to think about where the skills I am sharpening here might take me if Plan A doesn’t work out.
Anyway, I don’t have answers to the questions posed above, but I thought these were issues many of us could relate to and it was worth opening a larger discussion about them here. Maybe we can share some of our career trajectories and talk about what has worked for us and what hasn’t. Is anyone doing something she (or he) really loves (and that effectively pays the bills)? If so, what was your path? Did you career “just happen” or did you map out a plan and stick to the course? Any words of wisdom from people further along in their career “journeys,” for lack of a better word, to those maybe just starting out or feeling stuck?
The best thing I can say about having had lots of different jobs, some soul-sucking and some pretty fun, is that I got something out of all of them. Each job, in addition to providing a paycheck — and some were definitely bigger than others — brought me a little closer to what I felt was “my calling,” I guess (sorry, I hate that phrase, too). Along the way, I learned not just about myself and what my skills and interests were in the work place and how and when and where I am most productive (alone, in the morning, somewhere quiet); I learned about other people — what makes us unique but also what binds us through our common humanity. Those experiences – and of course, there were just as many if not more in my personal life, away from work — provided a pretty big foundation for what I do now. (And specifically, as a writer, what has been immeasurable to me personally and professionally is that I have written nearly every single day, often thousands of words, for over ten years. If you want to write: write. If you need to get paid to do it, you don’t really want to write. Which is fine.).
Do you feel like the jobs you’ve had, even unrelated to your degrees or what you’re currently doing, were important on some level, either personally or professionally? What are some lessons you learned, especially from jobs you maybe didn’t love?