Lost on the Career Path

I opened my mailbox this afternoon and immediately felt the sense of complete and utter failure wash over me.

Just in case you were wondering, I usually don't have this type of guttural reaction to fetching the mail. Most days, I actually like sifting through the pile of letters, catalogs, and yes, even bills, my postman dumps in my box. Paying a bill makes me feel like a responsible adult; receiving a paycheck makes me feel like I've accomplished an important task; thumbing through the latest Pottery Barn catalog makes me feel connected to pop culture and style, even if my tightfisted ways won't let me indulge myself with a $50 lemonade pitcher or a $100 throw.

But six days a year, I can reliably predict that my mailbox will send me into the depths of depression, forcing me to question not only my career path, but who I am at my very core, the very fiber that makes me me.

Dying to know what it is?

It's my alma mater's alumni magazine.

The Road To College
My road to college began in 1992. That's when an impressionable nine-year-old Elizabeth watched with bated breath as Christian Laettner hit the now-infamous buzzer beater shot against Kentucky, propelling Duke into the Final Four. I was hooked. For the next nine and a half years, I would tell anybody who would listen that I was going to go to Duke.

“Do you know how tough of a school that is to get into?” many would say. Even my high school guidance counselor tried to steer me to the safer shores of in-state schools, but my mind was made up: for me, it was Duke or bust. On December 13th, 1999 (what? You don't remember the exact date when you learned you'd been accepted to college?), I got a hefty packet in the mail from the Duke admissions office — my early application had been accepted. I'd be a member of the Class of 2004.

Dude, Where's My Pre-Med Degree?
I arrived on Duke's Durham, North Carolina campus on my parents' 35th wedding anniversary. I remember this date as well, because I was so nasty to my mother during the move-in process (why was she embarrassing me by fidgeting with my hair in front of all these hot upperclassmen?) that my father later called me up to inform me that she'd cried all the way through their anniversary dinner at the local Waffle House.

The next day, I received my first semester schedule. I had enrolled in a freshman intensive program — which Duke calls a “FOCUS Group” — aimed at aspiring young medical professionals; in fact, I wanted to be a neurologist. As I mentally went through my classes, I noticed I hadn't gotten the Wednesday afternoon chemistry lab I'd signed up for; instead, I'd been reassigned to a Friday evening lab. 4-8pm in a chem lab? Um, no thank you. How was I going to make it home on weekends to visit my high school sweetheart? Without giving it much thought, I dropped the course, promising myself I'd take it in the spring, when I could secure a better time slot.

Well, you know how college goes. I got involved in Greek life, joined a few on-campus performance groups and — voila! — promptly forgot all about my pre-med aspirations. I pushed all my professional goals to the periphery of my consciousness, and instead spent the next four years having fun. I took exactly one life science class the entire time I was at Duke — a phenomenal course called “The Bio-Basics of Psychology” — but earned the rest of my required math and science credits by learning HTML, C++, and Java in the compsci department.

By the time I graduated in May 2004, my original career choice (neurology) was long forgotten. Instead, my liberal arts degree in history (now you know why I'm so good at remembering dates!) pushed me down a near-opposite career path: journalism.

Feeling Like A Failure
I was proud of my choice of career for about the first six years after graduation. After all, from the outside looking in, journalism — specifically broadcast journalism, the field in which I worked — is glamorous. There are the lights, the cameras, the celebrity interviews; there are the juicy scoops, the feeling like you're “in the know,” the behind-the-scenes access. Of course, there are also 60-hour work weeks making $20,000 a year (a typical salary for an entry-level reporter), overnight shifts, and a guarantee that you'll always work either Thanksgiving or Christmas — or, if you're exceptionally unlucky, both.

Searching for something — anything — different, I moved away from journalism and into two new career paths: freelancing and media research. Both used the skills I'd honed in school (both my undergraduate degree from Duke and my graduate degree from Syracuse), but in different ways than my original field. The freelancing gave me a chance to write about what I wanted, when I wanted, while the research allowed me to challenge the analytical portions of my brain.

And yet…

And yet…

Somehow, it still wasn't enough. It was around that time when I started avidly reading through the “Alumni news” section of my Duke Alumni magazine. It was there that I saw one of my sorority sisters had launched her own business cleaning infant carseats and baby strollers with environmentally-friendly materials, allowing her to hob-nob with Hollywood celebs like Jessica Alba, Nicole Richie, and Sarah Michelle Gellar. It was in the magazine's pages that I saw that one of my former dormmates had snagged a gig working alongside President Obama, having been dubbed his “Body Man” (whatever that is). It was there that I saw that one of my classmates had not only defeated advanced colon cancer before the age of 30, but had also started a non-profit organization to help others do the same.

My claim to fame in the alumni magazine? Having babies.

Did I Let My Alma Mater Down?
I don't want to discount the birth of my children, or downplay my role in their lives. I'm a history major; I'm well versed in the Cult of Domesticity and the concept of Republican Motherhood (FYI, it has nothing to do with political allegiance), so I know just how crucial the role of mother truly is.

But there are times, especially late at night when I'm trying (unsuccessfully) to fall asleep, when I wonder if I squandered the opportunities my education gave me. I wonder if I set my professional goals too low, or — even more worrisome — whether I really took the time to set any professional goals at all. When I get right down to it, I'm convinced that, rather than chart a course for myself and actively pursue it, I let my career path be pulled by the ebbs and flows of day to day life. I took the path of least resistance. Instead of creating my life, I let it be created for me.

Moving Forward
I just celebrated by 30th birthday, so maybe that's why I've been doing some big thinking lately. Monumental thinking, really.

I've been contemplating things I should have thought about years ago: what do I want to do with my life? where do I see myself in 10 years? how am I going to make that vision a reality? I'm still working on my answers. I learned the first time around that jumping to conclusions too quickly can leave you with a half-drawn picture, poorly thought out plans that lack the passion required to reach fulfillment. So now, I'm taking my time. I'm not making rash decisions, claiming that something is a goal just because it sounds good or looks great on paper.

I'm going to find the real me. As Tim Harford, one of my favorite authors, says, “Success always starts with failure.” I guess that means I've got one step down, many more to go.

Do you have any regrets about your career path? How would your professional goals be different if you could turn back the clock?

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Melanie
Melanie
8 years ago

I thought I’d comment from the other side of the fence. I got the degree I wanted then went for the masters. Completed that and now 12 years later between my professional partner and i we pull in over $250k per year. Happy? Somewhat. Planning my early retirement from the corporate 9-5? You betcha. One of my closest friends who completed the same masters degree works part time in an admin role and enjoys her children. Sometimes I look over the fence and, well, the grass just looks greener. Although careers can be gratifying I have learnt that it’s just… Read more »

DanM53
DanM53
8 years ago
Reply to  Melanie

I have to reply with a quick story:

One Easter Sunday several years ago, my single brother called me from his home in San Diego. As I looked into a depressing late-March snow storm in New England, he told me how lucky he thought I was. “You have it all, great wife, great kids”. I looked at the mess of candy wrappers on the floor and asked him what his plans for the day were.

“I’ll probably go to a nice place for dinner after I go to the beach in the morning.”

The grass is always greener…..

Misty
Misty
8 years ago

I dont mean this to be snarky, but I wonder about the cost of college education while kids (and yes I mean kids for the most part while at college) try to discover who they are. In your case, Mom&Dad footed the bill or you are rolling in the student loans. That can be a high annual cost to pay for someone who isn’t sure what they want to do with the rest of their life.

Elizabeth Falwell
Elizabeth Falwell
8 years ago
Reply to  Misty

Misty, I totally agree with you – my advice to my own children will be to take a “gap” year… or two! My friends who came into college with more life experience were far more confident in their degree/career choices.

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
8 years ago
Reply to  Misty

Sometimes you don’t really know what you want to do until you try to do what you think you want to do. I entered college planning to major in physics. By the end of my sophomore year I realized I didn’t have the chops for it, so I switched my major to sociology. I liked sociology, and I had enough credits already in the subject to still graduate on time. So, now I have my liberal arts degree in a subject that doesn’t specific job skills (but it did teach me to think and analyze different types of problems). However,… Read more »

Ramona
Ramona
8 years ago

Free advice. Stop worrying about how things look to others. Do what makes you happy.

BD
BD
8 years ago
Reply to  Ramona

Ugh. How I HATE this advice. I was going to comment about my career path as a stand-alone comment, but I think I’ll do it here, so people can see the result of “Do what makes you happy”. I started at college for a Graphic Design degree in 1989. Everyone told me I was a talented artist, and I felt I was too. I loved to draw and design…art was my passion. So, I pursued that graphic design degree because I felt that I could “do what makes me feel happy” as well as earn money in a field that… Read more »

BD
BD
8 years ago
Reply to  BD

Oh, and I forgot to mention: Every single one of my graphic designer and artist friends are out of work now too, and trying to switch to other careers or doing freelance over the internet (while living at home with parents or being supported by someone.)

Vanessa
Vanessa
8 years ago
Reply to  BD

I have to laugh because this describes the exact position I’m in now. In fact, I related to everything about your previous comment as well. It should be required reading for anyone who’s thinking about going into graphic design. It’s very expensive to be a designer : the professional associations, the books and magazines, the software and computers, and the conferences cost a lot and all are required if you want to stay current in the field. Unfortunately, average wages are so low that if you try to stay current you won’t have much left over to live on. I… Read more »

Jim
Jim
8 years ago
Reply to  BD

I have to disagree with you on this. I have no degree with graphical art, but yet I bring in a decent salary freelancing. Enough to make me satisfied… I think you have to search for the jobs and network with other people. I have found that the jobs that I get are on forums that not as many people visit, or if they do that they are niches in the markets they serve.

BD
BD
8 years ago
Reply to  BD

You’re welcome, Vanessa! I’m glad my story was able to help you come to a decision. I think a change in careers would be a better idea than freelancing. As you noted, freelancing is expensive, and the money you pull in after expenses isn’t much. Plus, there are so many other people freelancing that there aren’t many jobs there either. Add to that “no benefits whatsoever”, and there really isn’t much appeal in trying to freelance full-time. It’s best to find another career, and just do graphic design freelance on the side, whenever you want to. I wish you the… Read more »

MK
MK
8 years ago
Reply to  BD

I appreciate both of you sharing your stories as graphic designers. I would like to share my experience as a designer so that others can hear another perspective. I too grew up in Southern California and got my start as a designer working in the skateboarding industry. Art, painting, design have always been lifelong passions for me. During this time I went on to Business school to have something to fall back on should things dry up in the design industry. Throughout business school I maintained my own clothing business, doing the designing and screen printing out of my 1… Read more »

JB
JB
7 years ago
Reply to  BD

Thanks to everyone for sharing their stories. I love art and design and have spent almost 20 years pursuing it with all I have. I am dissatisfied with my income, but after reading your stories, I have to say I feel blessed to have escaped what I know hundreds of my talented peers have gone through: months or years of unemployment in a saturated market that relies on the willingness, energy and passion of the young to accept sub-standard wages for sweat-shop hours. In my house, we joke that I keep lawyers’ hours with less than half the pay. I… Read more »

chaz
chaz
8 years ago

“Instead of creating my life, I let it be created for me.”

But creating a life based on ‘comparing and competing’ can often lead to a sense of profound emptiness later on in life; due in no small part to the fact that to live such a life one is ‘living for oneself’ rather than for others and some greater good.

Alison Wiley
Alison Wiley
8 years ago
Reply to  chaz

I like your point, Chaz. A solid body of research says that the happiest people are the ones who tend to be kind, and who contribute in some way (rather than just consume). I agree with you (and our guest columnist’s realization) that we need to create our lives intentionally, rather than by passive default. The default mode, in the U.S. at least, is heavy consumption and heavy spending.. . . which isn’t the happiest path. There are better ways to do it.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

If you spend your life comparing yourself to other people, and only people who are doing better than you are, you will never be happy. There will always be someone who is better than you are on some level. Always. Even if you went to MIT or Caltech (something that comes as a shock to many frosh their first semester). Even if you win a Nobel Prize. I’m a small fish in a big pond in my career life. If I compared myself to bigger fish I would be depressed every single day of my life. Instead, I love finding… Read more »

Miser Mom
Miser Mom
8 years ago

I think you have to be careful not to confuse a major with a career. A liberal arts degree in another subject — anthropology — might seem just as useless, but that was the major of the current Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro. I’ve seen history majors at my college go off to medical school. I’ve seen chemistry majors become poorly paid (but happy) opera singers. At the very best, college gives students many things, only some of which are career training. Habits of thought are another. What caught my eye in this article wasn’t the major, but… Read more »

Cybrgeezer
Cybrgeezer
8 years ago
Reply to  Miser Mom

As a broadcast journalism major myself, I saw this in my own classmates. Several were headed to law school while one later went to medical school and became a doctor.

And me? I never worked full-time in broadcast journalism over the next 40+ years of my career, spending most of that time in newspapers as a reporter and, later, an editor.

A cousin got her bachelor’s degree in English and ended up as the head of the nursing department in a major hospital.

As an old friend used to say, “Ya just don’t never know.”

Elizabeth Falwell
Elizabeth Falwell
8 years ago
Reply to  Miser Mom

@Miser Mom, I wish I could even attempt to defend my lack of hard work as a college student… but I can’t. I knew I was being lazy… I just didn’t do anything about it.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago

Um, you and 90% of college students around the country.

College students are not career-minded professionals. You describe your college self as “just having fun,” but I’m sure you were also doing the required work for your classes, and maybe even getting good grades.

You can’t beat your past self up for not knowing what the future would hold!

Elizabeth Falwell
Elizabeth Falwell
8 years ago
Reply to  imelda

Imelda, you’re right! Having fun didn’t mean I got bad grades; I actually graduated with magna cum laude honors! I just didn’t challenge myself with a lot of math or science courses.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago

Don’t forget that the Alumni magazine is mostly filled with what its members feel are their notable successes. I don’t recall seeing any “I just got a delivery job at Pizza Hut and live with my parents” updates…

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  Tom

I wish I could like this 1000x!!

Don’t ever forget April’s/Margaret George’s words – we compare our shadows to others’ sunlit sides.

Think of how enviously other people would look at you if they heard about some of your achievements or exciting jobs.

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
8 years ago
Reply to  Tom

Now I want to write a fake update to my almuni magazine saying that after 10 years in prison I am enjoying life on the outside, especially my janitorial job, NA meetings, and weekly chats with my probation officer.

Beth
Beth
8 years ago
Reply to  Tom

I think people forget these alumni magazines are a form of marketing for the college. Of course they are only going to include the best of the best — they want donor dollars and future top tier students.

I’ve noticed a big difference between the mags from the two schools I attended. One seems to be celebrity and status driven, while the other focusses more on innovations and inventions. Not surprisingly, one school is riding on its reputation and the other is seeking funding from big companies (esp. tech companies.)

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago

When I went off to college, I was going to be a chemist who worked for the CDC. I graduated from college with a philosophy degree. (Yes, my parents supported my choice, no, they didn’t pay for it.) I earned my M. Ed. and went into teaching. After a hellish first year, I decided to try for five years. After I had given teaching an honest try for five years, I could quit. Nine years later, I’ve taught abroad, I’ve moved into a niche area of education I love, and I am so glad I ended up here. I wouldn’t… Read more »

A-L
A-L
8 years ago

I could connect with this post on many levels. Besides attending Duke at the same time (I was in their grad program, though), I sometimes wonder how my life would be different if I had made different choices. When I was in college, I threw out the idea of being in the foreign service because I didn’t want to live abroad and move every few years while doing it. I forewent most business classes, because the jobs that would have used my foreign language skills required a lot of travel which I didn’t want to do if I had a… Read more »

KSR
KSR
8 years ago

Albert Einstein — “There is Neither Evolution nor Destiny; Only Being.”

Nothing wrong w/you Elizabeth. You’ll probably go through this again when you see 40 riding shotgun.

Tracey+H
Tracey+H
8 years ago

I struggle with this, too. I got 2 degrees, one of them in engineering when there were few women in the field. I decided to stay home and raise my kids and then complications meant I continued to stay home. Now in my mid-50s, I sometimes wonder what I could have accomplished in my career. But then I realize how happy and content I’ve been with the life I chose. I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s so I figure that’s a really good sign.

Amy
Amy
8 years ago
Reply to  Tracey+H

Yes, yes, yes to big picture articles! There’s a whole world to explore on how your choices to spend or not, or go to school or not, or save or not, affect not only you but others on this planet as well. I would love to hear more about ‘big pictures’.

Saad
Saad
8 years ago

This is the best article of the audition pieces so far.
There’s more than enough written on how to track spending and where to spend consciously and how to cut spending.
Instead, I’d love to read about big-picture thinking and questions. This piece was especially strong with connecting past decisions to present reality while recognizing we can all actively work to change our future paths.

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago

I work in academe, as well has having changed career paths twice by the time I was 28. Nearly 20 years later, I have seen every year’s freshman class – and a vast majority of them don’t end up sticking with what they first thought they would do with their careers. I honestly think that at 18, usually with very limited exposure to the vast array of options out there, it’s near-impossible to know exactly what you want to do with the next 50 years of your life. I know precisely 2 people who knew what they wanted and actually… Read more »

Amateur
Amateur
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

This is a good response. Most people do not end up where they thought they would because the interest is not there once they start taking the courses or the focus is not there. Focus and sacrifice are the keys to success for most people, but having fun is really important to shape personality and life long relationships with people. The Author had a lot of fun during college, got serious with someone, and started her family with someone, those are all good and normal things. She would just be as miserable today, had she got through the pre-med program,… Read more »

JoDi
JoDi
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

BINGO! I have always felt like kids are expected to figure out “what they want to do with the rest fo their lives” WAY too early. Unless they’ve had an unsual breadth of experiences by the time they leave high school, they have NO idea about all the possibilities there are out there.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

I totally agree. I was 17 when I graduated high school. How in the hell was I supposed to know what to do with my *life* at that age?

Kathy A.
Kathy A.
8 years ago

I got a degree in math and used it professionally for 6 years. Then I left that field to help my husband follow his dream for 20 years. In my 40’s I was faced with “what do I want to be when I grow up?” — my answer was to go back to school to get the degree I should have gotten in the first place, computer programming.

We’ll see very soon if the second degree will be worth it. I think it will. (And for those who will ask, my parents did not pay for my first degree.)

Peggy
Peggy
8 years ago

What I see in your article is that you have a lot of interests, and haven’t entirely figured out how to integrate them into a viable career. Possibly neurology would have been a too narrowly focused field for you. You might find Barbara Sher’s books, particularly Refuse to Choose, helpful.

Elizabeth Falwell
Elizabeth Falwell
8 years ago
Reply to  Peggy

Peggy, you hit the nail on the head! I have so many passions and skills, but I’m not sure where to focus all that energy – or if there’s a nice, neat career path that would allow me to use them all at once!

Lance@MoneyLife&More
8 years ago

Don’t worry about the past and focus on the future. If you aren’t happy come up with a strategy and start along the path to be happy doing what you want to do. Dwelling in the past will just waste time and postpone your new goals and happy life further.

Angela
Angela
8 years ago

I went to Wellesley. Try dealing with the ‘Hillary Effect’ for 25 years.

Jamie
Jamie
8 years ago

Unfortunately, there is no roadway to life. Maybe at the time, the hawt thing that could’ve happened to you was being led down the path you were. Had you taken a different path, you may not have your children. In my opinion, it’s naive to think that one career is suitable for most people for their entire lives anyway. When I turned 30 I too took a self-evaluation. I’m pretty sure most do. You’ll be just fine. You have more options than a lot of people. Plus, the older you get, the more you’ll realize how young 30 is. And… Read more »

Elizabeth Falwell
Elizabeth Falwell
8 years ago
Reply to  Jamie

Jamie, yours was the first comment that made me laugh out loud – that’s my dad for you. I don’t think I could paint a more accurate picture of my CPA father.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

I have a lot of regrets about my career path – not having a path to begin with. Having only received an technical associates degree, I’ve only worked for other people in the most literal way: support staff – administrative/executive assistant, project coordinator, etc. Having worked in the “real world” (corporate) since I was 19, I’ve received a ton of experience, but it was never enough. It seemed once I was caught in it, it was hard to get out – especially since I had myself and a lazy ex-husband to support in the early ’00s, the need for health… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago

Cancel the magazine subscription – then you can set your own goals based on your own priorities, instead of letting yourself be influenced by a place that you chose on the outcome of a basketball game.

amanda
amanda
8 years ago

ditto

Jenzer
Jenzer
8 years ago

What Tyler said. Most college alumni databases have a field in each individual’s record to check off “no mail contact,” “no phone contact,” or “no contact,” period. Write them a note or send an email and they can take you off their mailing list.

Brent
Brent
8 years ago

An old joke/saying comes to mind that rings particularly true as this nearly 51 year old read this post, which I liked very much, thanks.

“When I was 20 years old, I really cared what other people thought about me. When I was 40 years old, I didn’t give a damn what anyone thought about me. When I turned 60, I realized no one had been thinking about me all along”.

Do what interests and fulfills you…

Lincoln
Lincoln
8 years ago

The real moral of the story is don’t go to a college, especially not a fancy university, because invariably many of your classmates will be way more successful than you will be.

Just kidding. Agree with Tyler K. that you should just unsubscribe from the alumni mag. or just throw it in the recycling. I get the alumni magazine and it always goes straight into the recycling bin. I already know what my good friends from school are up to and I do not need to read about the strangers.

ali
ali
8 years ago

I don’t even have a college degree! I just turned 39 and I’m okay with it. for the most part. My goal for my 40s is to get a degree in …something. Maybe it will just be an AA but I’m doing it for me. I spent most of my life struggling with the question “what’s wrong with me? Why am I such a screw up?” Turns out the answer – I’m not a screw up, I had undiagnosed bipolar disoder that effected my whole life. I got diagnosed the year before my 10 year reunion and I didn’t go… Read more »

MikeTheRed
MikeTheRed
8 years ago

I really wish in the US we had a system that required people to spend 2-5 years working in the field they think they want to pursue in some form of apprenticeship program before pursuing a degree. There are a few reasons for this: 1. Earn some money. With only a handful of exceptions, no one I went to school with (myself included) had any concept of the value of money (or time spent earning money). Knowing the value of a dollar would dramatically change how a lot of people view college. Might result in less partying, more studying. 2.… Read more »

A-L
A-L
8 years ago
Reply to  MikeTheRed

I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t agree 100%. First off, college is not strictly about career preparation. It’s about learning how to live away from home, being responsible, making friends, and experiencing things one would never have been exposed to otherwise. That being said, there are some flaws with your logic. 1) Even if someone works for 2-5 years after high school (but before college) they are still unexposed to so many fields that could be really interesting to them. Especially when you consider the types of fields that have any positions open to someone with just a… Read more »

Paula
Paula
8 years ago

Relax Elizabeth; I’ve had a good life, so far, but I haven’t been able to pursue a lifelong dream until my 55th year. My financial/career life has been sucessful in building and operating businesses with my ex and current husband. Now I am working on a solo enterprise and I couldn’t be happier. Still, it took me 40 years to figure out what it is that I want and need to do with the remainder of my life. Sometimes it just takes life experience to get a clue as to what your direction really is. My life, to this point,… Read more »

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago

“The first step in changing reality is to recognize it as it is now. There is no need to wish it were otherwise. It simply is. Pleasant or not, it is. Then comes behavior that acts on the present reality. Behavior can change what is. We may have visions of what will be. We cannot (and need not) prevent these dreams. But the visions won’t change the future. Action–in the present–changes the future. A trip of ten thousand miles starts out with one step, not with a fantasy about travel.” ~ David Reynolds – “Constructive Living” My regrets are that… Read more »

Cindy
Cindy
8 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

Funny, Jacq – the words “navel gazing” kept coming to mind while I was reading the original post. But I was thinking, “Nah, no one else will conclude that she was spending too much time focusing on ‘me, me, me.'” Your last sentence sums it up very well. P.S. What’s so bad about having multiple careers? Husband and I have gone through at least three each. My original degrees were English and Speech; his in Mechanical and Civil Engineering. Even when we weren’t working directly in those fields, having the degrees often got our foot in the door. They’ve also… Read more »

krantcents
krantcents
8 years ago

I never had regrets about my career because I learned some great skills fro, every job I took. It prepared me for my entrepreneurial choices as well. Now I am a teacher, perhaps the most challenging of career choices.

Dawn
Dawn
8 years ago

I can relate to a lot of this and I am also happy how my life is turning out. It’s not the way I expected it to be but I’m grateful to have a challenging career that pays well.

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago

Such interesting comments on this post! When I graduated high school, I was sure I wanted to be a high school teacher in English and history. Then I hit university, loved it, and majored in Women’s Studies with the intention of becoming a professor. When I finished my undergrad, I felt it was important to take some time to work with diverse populations in order to have a better grounding in the sorts of issues that I wanted to research and write about. I spent 4 years working, first as a caregiver for people with intellectual disabilities, then on a… Read more »

A-L
A-L
8 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

Would your agency (or one that you’ve networked with) pay for your MSW if you agreed to work with them afterwards (and/or start working with them now)? For instance, there’s a public high school (in a financially-strapped district) that’s willing to pay for a teacher’s classes to get certified in gifted because there are no qualified candidates. Perhaps there’s someone who’d be willing to pay for your MSW, so you can feel more fulfilled professionally without taking out more loans.

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago
Reply to  A-L

That’s a great suggestion, and I hadn’t really considered something like that, even though I’ve heard of other people doing similar things. I know it’s not a possibility where I am now, and I think that with the licensing requirements for social work, it would be really hard to find a place that would do that. If I had my Bachelor of Social Work and was working as a social worker, then it might be a different story. However, the social work department offers a bunch of continuing education classes, and I’ve been looking at the counselling certification ones, but… Read more »

Kr
Kr
8 years ago

Oh the regrets of children. You’re only 30 for god’s sake. Complain about this when you’re 50.

Leolin
Leolin
8 years ago

If you replaced neurology with veterinarian medicine and history with psychology this would be my story. Taking the time to figure out where I want my life to go now.

chenoameg
chenoameg
8 years ago

I love this author and hope she gets a job as staff writer.

Chasa
Chasa
8 years ago

Absolutely LOVE where this piece is going. This is the reason I don’t go on Facebook – you see smiling pictures of people with their gorgeous children/spouses/cars/houses/latest vacation and you think: ‘what am I doing with myself?!’. Which is not a bad question to ask, but to be prompted by Facebook-esque stimuli to ask the question can lead to negative responses (I’m sure not doing THAT!) Life is so long – 30! The author has another 40 good years (hopefully) to make an impact, change course, do anything! It’s good to ask the question, to always have it in the… Read more »

Jeannine
Jeannine
8 years ago
Reply to  Chasa

While I understand how you feel, you can’t compare your life and achievements to what people are posting on facebook or in an alumni newsletter. Of course people post great things on facebook. Who wants to post that they’ve been divorced twice, are about to file for bankruptcy, and have 3 kids who hate them because they are never home because they are too busy working with President Obama? Figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life and then determine the most feasible way of doing it. It’s not something that can be done in… Read more »

marie
marie
8 years ago

You have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s; you have kids; and you are only 30 years old. You are so freaking lucky!

At some point, you need to stop counting the things you didn’t do and start counting the ones you did.

I would be so grateful to be in your shoes!

Elizabeth Falwell
Elizabeth Falwell
8 years ago
Reply to  marie

Marie, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful – I’m awfully sorry if I came across that way. I just know I have so much more to give – to myself, to my children, to society – than I have so far, and it’s frustrating not to be able to find something that best suits my skill set. But grateful – oh yes, I am very grateful. I guess I’m just American; I want MORE!

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago

Elizabeth, I get where you’re coming from – I really do. But that whole “not living up to my potential” stuff is going to paralyze you because you’ll think that everything you do has to lead to something BIG and that’s going to scare you out of trying or put undue pressure on you. It’s a form of the unhealthy kind of perfectionism. Maybe you aren’t that special of a snowflake. Maybe your life will be just average just like the other 99% with small peak moments and small valleys and no big Mount Everest’s to climb. You’ll look back… Read more »

Elizabeth Falwell
Elizabeth Falwell
8 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

Thanks for the advice, Jacq! I agree with what you wrote, and am going to check out the links. I think the problem with me – and maybe my generation – is that many of us were brought up under the whole “we can/should/will change the world” mentality. It’s tough to accept that for me, “changing the world” may only pertain to my small corner of it. I’ll get there.

Holly
Holly
8 years ago

Not my favorite audition. Too much navel-gazing for my taste. But well-written.

The author & some commenters who are considering career changes should consider reading Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra. Excellent book on career change. The first half has a lot of theory, but the latter offers concrete suggestions and case studies. Her premise is that it is best to test new careers first via volunteering, consulting and stretching within your current position.

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago
Reply to  Holly

Working Identity is a great book.

Jo-An
Jo-An
8 years ago

I can relate with the article. We’re almost of the same age having just passed the 30s mark recently. Sometimes, I also do wonder if I’ve made the right decision having gone entrepreneurial or freelance right after college. But I do love the challenge. I love making a start-up company work. It may not pay as much as a steady job but it has its perks and advantages. Time being one of them. Now that I have a new bundle of joy, I love that I have the time to spend with him if I want to. I don’t have… Read more »

leaf
leaf
8 years ago

Ha, tell me about it, hurtling towards your 30s can do that to you. There’s something about this point in life where you feel you need to do something, make a change, because you’re starting to feel the pressure of age, but know that you’re still young enough to push yourself into something different. I wrote a similar post http://theindolentcook.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/lime-fig-compote-existential-crisis.html here. I’ve decided since then to be content with what I have but also to strive to work towards leveraging and enhancing what I have. Give myself some challenges and goals. See how it pans out. And yeah, try not… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago
Reply to  leaf

Thanks for sharing – what a great site!

Charlotte@EverythingFinance
8 years ago

Everyone has to make their own decision on how they will make a living. Many times that maybe a career that will last for years and sometimes that means they will have to change. If you have a chance to stay at home and raise your kids,I don’t think you can go wrong, at least not for your kids.

alex
alex
8 years ago

Right now I have the big shiny career that I wanted since I was a little kid. Except now I don’t want it anymore. So I’m saving up to go back to school in a different country down an entirely different career path.

It’s never too late to try something different, if you’re willing to accept a little risk and a lot of hard work.

bcandy
bcandy
8 years ago

This is a post that I love and I relate to. I hope that you are able to blog about your journey and let us share your search for a path with you. Can’t wait to see more of your writing soon!

Kate
Kate
8 years ago

I can relate to this entry since I am also a Duke graduate (MA in liberal studies) was in journalism for 20 years and now work at an alumni magazine. (it is true we never get updates from people working at Pizza Hut and living with the parents – we would run them if we did). I now have a son in college who is rethinking his major (business) because “the classes are so hard” and “seem irrelevant.” I will share this with him because this entry and all the insightful comments will show him he’s far from alone. Elizabeth,… Read more »

Elizabeth Falwell
Elizabeth Falwell
8 years ago
Reply to  Kate

Thanks so much, Kate! It’s always fabulous to meet another Duke grad, especially one who went into journalism.

AMW
AMW
8 years ago

Two very interesting things popped into my head when I read this… 1) You need to define your own personal success. I know people with very prestigious careers, well paying positions, and all the right credentials and are miserable. Remember that all those alumni mags only let you know the good news that people choose to tell you. 2)There is only one person in my life that is actually working in the major that they went to school for in the first place. And who said you only get to do one thing for the rest of your life? I… Read more »

Elizabeth Falwell
Elizabeth Falwell
8 years ago
Reply to  AMW

AMW, you – and a few other commenters – have said something that I find interesting, about how often they’ve changed jobs. My father has worked in the same field since graduating with an accounting degree in 1973. Times have changed though, and a “career” no longer means staying with one company or in one industry the entire time. That’s something I’ll have to accept as well.

Ely
Ely
8 years ago

This is true. Many of our parents worked for one employer, at one job, their entire careers. Few of us will do the same.

I’m working on my 3rd degree, my 2nd career, and I strongly feel this won’t be my last. I’m 38…

superbien
superbien
8 years ago

I connected with this audition piece in a way I haven’t on some of the others. I like the big-picture moving-forward feel of it, and I like that Elizabeth has achieved so much already that it makes it likely that once she finds a goal path, she will do well at achieving it. Which I would enjoy being along on the ride! Hope you win this audition!

jim
jim
8 years ago

I’m not really clear on what the point of this article is. The title is about career path changes but the story does seem like just navel gazing. I don’t see where the “sense of complete and utter failure” would come from or why anyone would be worrying “Did I Let My Alma Mater Down?” Where is the failure? Not getting into your alumni magazine isn’t failure. Not being a giant success before hitting 30 is not a failure. Is the author unemployed? Is she working a part time retail job? I don’t see the failure. In fact I see… Read more »

Clara
Clara
8 years ago

Excellent article. This really resonates with me. I feel that I have drifted through my working life and despite studying for a second degree in my 30s I still didn’t change or further my career. In this life success mainly equates to wealth. Can’t help feeling that my lack of ambition results from being unconcerned with accruing more money/status symbols. I might just be lazy ! Have you read Alain De Botton’s book ‘Status Anxiety’ ?

Alan | Life's Too Good
Alan | Life's Too Good
8 years ago

Whilst the article is something most people can probably relate to, the truth of the matter is that worrying about what other people think is really mis-placed energy. I don’t mean in a spiritual sense necessarily (I’m not spiritual at all – at least I think I’m not) – just like it’s a waste of time. Why? Because you’re probably wrong about what they think anyway. The only person you need to satisfy when it comes to career choices is yourself. Once you justify what you’re doing to yourself you can answer anybody and you should be doing so with… Read more »

Gizzo
Gizzo
8 years ago

The chatty tone (“And yet…”; “I can remember dates!”; “whatever that is”; “FYI”) makes it fairly tedious to read 3/4 of the article just to get to the point (“I’m only known for having babies in my alumni mag”). Her previous audition piece was far less self-serving.

This is a fine anecdote to share with a friend or on a personal blog, but I fail to see how this is a feature story in the journalistic sense of the word.

fruplicity
fruplicity
8 years ago

I vote for this author but probably only because I relate so much to the subject and I appreciate the big picture commentary on life/career goals, as well as the “chatty tone” (what I see as down-to-earth and personable). I’d rather see GRS stay more personal than journalistic. I can’t help relating the post to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent “Women Still Can’t Have it All” article – I wonder if Elizabeth felt at some point that “gee, my current career goals aren’t really panning out and I don’t know what else to do, guess I’ll concentrate more on family right now”.… Read more »

edt.
edt.
8 years ago

My experience is so very similar – down to my goals to become a physician and my high school guidance counselor steering me away from the University of Virginia because that might just be too much of a stretch for me. I loved my college experience but lacked intuitive guidance and ended up majoring in Architecture. Four years out and after depression from complete dissatisfaction, I’m just starting to go back to school to get the pre-requisites I need to become a nurse.

TER
TER
8 years ago

I know I’m over a month late commenting, but what can I say I just had some extra time to catch up on my GRS reading! I am in a very similar position as the writer. I’m 29 and also feel I have “let my career path be pulled by the ebbs and flows of day to day life. I took the path of least resistance. Instead of creating my life, I let it be created for me.” And I too am just now trying to find the “real me” and make really well thought out career choices. However, I… Read more »

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