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Is changing your career path worth it?
When I was mid-way through high school I decided my career path was going to be in medicine. I was going to be a doctor and medical school was the natural destination. In my mind at the time it made perfect sense; I was great at science, I loved performing the dissections and biology lab experiments, and it was professional career path.
By the time I got to college, however, my track got waylaid. My attention and interest in science didn’t extend over to the first level college classes for the science track, and I was soon fuddled up with calculus and inorganic chemistry. I barely passed the chemistry tests, and I ended up having to drop out of the calculus class.
This was the first time in my life I had to re-assess my personal direction. I ended my first semester with a 1.9 GPA, so I had to fix my path quickly if I wanted to succeed.
Fortunately, I was able to switch to my other skillset which was writing. I opted for the most likely professional career that used writing, in my eyes: a lawyer. So I spent my college career in government and English/composition, figuring that was the best preparation I could give myself for the legal field.
Once I found my groove, my success became predictable. A typical day involved going to my requirement classes in the morning or those for my minor, government, and then I would take on my major classes in the afternoon. By 4pm the class day was over. I would spend the next few hours having dinner and relaxing. The evening was either working on a paper or hanging out in the library working on research.
Unfortunately, after graduation the job market was far from expected. Unlike generations before who would come out of school with a degree and could expect a good job to be waiting, our generation had to deal with the 1990’s Recession. After the great ceremony, most of us would cross paths repeatedly at interviews and walking the street filling out job applications. Our competition was also thousands of mid-career folks who had just been laid off.
More than once I would find one of my classmates being the office assistant managing the entrance door to a firm. Those were the lucky ones among us; they had a paycheck. Finding no results quickly in the office world, I had to fall back on my old skill and work talent in high school, being a cook. I spent two years in a kitchen after college until I was accepted into law school.
This was a hard transition because, as I mentioned earlier, every generation before had their career handed to them after earning a degree. My graduating class was among the first to come out of school in the “new economy” that essentially said it was every man for himself. Having no preparation for this kind of competition for a basic starting job, it was hard. Many of my peers scrounged around in part-time jobs.
Fast forward another five years I went through law school and then switched to a business master’s degree program. I started out with the goal to be a marketing analyst, and I finished the program with a job as a government financial analyst. I never saw myself in high school ending up as a number-cruncher, but it did happen. I even managed to pass calculus with an A grade when finishing my business master’s degree!
Today my career is an extension of that initial financial analyst job. I’m a chief financial officer of an agency that manages 7,000 employees with a statewide presence. I manage a budget that is close to $1 billion, and I have 100 staff that report to my area directly. I’m halfway through my career course, and I expect to be an agency director by the time I’m ready to retire.
Looking back at what I needed when I came out of school, I would definitely recommend for today’s graduates to be ready to work for themselves. This may mean freelancing, working two or three jobs at a time, or leaving the country to find better job markets overseas. If I could do it again, I definitely would have come out with a business degree as well as a writing degree from college. This combination provides the best flexible package to fit multiple career paths.
The toughest part of starting out, more so today in 2012 than it was in the 1990s, is managing the frustration and depression while looking for a job. The job world is harder than ever. Folks need to rely on their wits, be willing to work independently, and be flexible enough to move where the work is at a moment’s notice. The “new economy” wants commandos that hit the ground running; the days’ of respectable, stable careers are long gone and it’s up to you to make it in today’s economy.
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