Finding -- and Fine-Tuning -- Your Path to Career Success

BlogHer Original Post

When I began my freshman year in college in New York, I had one goal in mind; to live in the city and to make it as a journalist. I was on the right track as I secured internships with Paper Magazine my junior year and then both an art and editorial internship back to back with Time Inc. working at Teen People magazine. And then just a week into my senior year, 9/11 happened, and months later my grandfather died of cancer. I began questioning this path I was on. What mattered most to me? Did I really want this dream of NYC? Was I really ready for it? So I packed up, headed home to Florida, and then a month later headed out to Seattle, still very confused.

When I look back, as I’m in the midst of my 6th year of teaching, I often think about how I could have used a bit of perspective as a confused 22-year-old, fresh out of college. Here is what I wish I knew back then:

1. Don’t laugh off career advice. I took a colloquium in college, where I pretty much made up my own major and had to back it up with 20 books of research, write a proposal, and sit around talking to professors of my choice about it all. At the end, they asked me what my plans were after college. I told them I didn’t know. One of my mass media professors, with whom I’d taken several classes, said he could see me being a teacher. I laughed and said it wasn’t for me. So of course three years later, as I applied to grad school to become a teacher, he laughed a bit as I asked him to write me a letter of recommendation. He was right. If only I had listened to him a little sooner. Perspective.

Tracy at College Graduation

2. Sometimes you’ve got to slum it for a while. When I first moved out to Seattle, I applied all over for jobs in marketing and PR so I could use my journalism skills. I got interviews, and kept being told they liked me, but this other person had more experience. Well, I ran out of money and had to take a job to pay the rent. I spent nearly a year at Best Buy, and then about two years as a barista. And really, that latter job near the University of Washington is what opened me up to going back to school. Was I using what my expensive undergraduate degree gave me? Nope. But taking these jobs gave me time to figure it all out. Perspective.

3. It’s okay if you studied one thing as an undergraduate, but ended up in a new career. I beat myself up for awhile over not going into a career related to journalism. Based on the financial investment in my degree alone, I felt guilt. But once I started teaching, I let that go, because I was using a lot of what I learned with writing and humanities as an English teacher. I find myself working now very part time as a freelance writer, and feel blessed to have the best of both worlds. Perspective.

4. Be open to change. When I went into teaching, I did so because of my love of writing. In fact, I saw myself as the high school newspaper teacher one day. Of course as a newbie teacher you generally don’t get to choose. At the end of my fourth year of teaching, I put in for a transfer out of Alternative Ed and found myself distraught because I was being placed in middle school, teaching reading intervention. A year and a half into this new gig as a reading intervention teacher, I can’t see myself anywhere else, and have even begun looking into becoming a reading specialist. Perspective.

5. Life events don’t hinder your career forever. My first year of teaching, my husband and I got married, and bought a house. My second year, we got pregnant. My third year, we had a baby. My fourth year, my aunt suddenly passed away. My fifth year, I began teaching at a new school with brand new curriculum. Now in my sixth year of teaching, I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m starting to take on more in my profession. I’m starting to gain confidence, and beginning to feel more comfortable in this profession. During those first 5 years of teaching, I don’t know if I would have ever said that this was possible. But with time and determination, all the stars are starting to align. Perspective.

What about you? Did you start off with one career in mind, but end up somewhere else? What have you learned about yourself the longer you’ve been in the professional world?

This post is part of BlogHer's Success Tips For My Younger Self editorial series, made possible by Kaplan.

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