What is this photo? Just a little picture of my new home (well, near enough) as of next Saturday 17th January! TEENY bit excited. I've mentioned my big news a few times on this blog over the past couple of weeks but today I wanted to come and elaborate a little. Truth be told, I wrote this post a few weeks ago but have been putting off posting it, mostly because it's a little more serious than my usual posts. But, I think it's important that I share it. So, my big news is that I'll be leaving my North Sydney job in events/publishing next Friday. On Saturday I'll be moving in with my boyfriend in Wollongong. On Monday I'll be going back to uni, to do the Graduate Diploma of Primary Teaching. Think that sounds hectic? Not compared to the lead up to my decision. I'm from a group of people that I call the Career Confused. You want to do everything, but at the same time you don't know what to do. How do you pick a career path, when there are a million things you want to do? I'm no authority, but this is my path, and I hope if you're among the Career Confused that you can take something from it.
Around June 2013 I started thinking about my future career path, and what would really make me happy. I made a list of every single career "option" that had EVER popped into my head, silly and fanciful as they might be, and I do mean ever. Do you doubt me? If you got your mitts on that list (you will never) you'd see 'astronaut' smugly nestled amongst baker, masseuse, florist, actress, pilot, zoologist and forty other things. I was leaving no stone unturned; I was not going to cheat myself of any of these "options".
For every career on my list, I took a page and I wrote, to the best of my knowledge, the foreseeable job description (a day in the life of that job) and pros and cons. From there, each job was either shortlisted or culled. I wasn't joking about the astronaut by the way – that is an amusing page.
Due to my study/overseas travel/itchy feet over the years I have worked in a number of jobs in different areas. All of these experiences helped me to whittle my shortlist with some sensibility. I was able to consider each job and think not just about the actual (as apposed to fanciful) job description (Florist: Yay! Pretty Flowers! All day!) but also to consider several other crucial factors: what interests me; what style of work environment do I prefer; how does the job match my preferred lifestyle; what is feasible; what will provide security (food + roof). I judged every job against my ideal criteria. Consequently, seeing as I didn't fancy living in outer space for extended periods of time, or think I would develop sudden aptitude in the sciences, 'astronaut' sadly did not make the cut. The recent viewing of Gravity has taken care of
any most remaining inklings to consider this as a viable career option.
I whittled the master list down to about six options, but at the same time I started another list, entitled something clever like "Things That Can Become Extra Curricular Activities". I'd had a lightbulb moment. I realised that I don't have to turn every single interest into a full blown career. Shock! Horror! Captain Obvious! It was hugely satisfying to move some of my ideas over to this new list, rather than having to cold-heartedly strike them off, never to be entertained again. I acknowledged that I can still write and edit in my spare time; I can bake and blog; I can take floristry and massage short courses; I can join an amateur acting group; I can save a billion dollars for a joy flight in space, coming soon to an airline near you. I just have to remember to serve this list and not to forget it. This list, honestly, is probably the most valuable lesson I've uncovered from this whole ride. I know that if I serve it, it'll serve me well, and who knows what surprising avenues my extra-curricular activies will open up along the way, without the pressure of being fully-fledged careers.
For me, the question of work environment and lifestyle, when considering a career change, were hugely important. I needed to think about the job and the lifestyle and not the job title. I have worked in corporate jobs for the past few years and have known for sometime that this is not ideal for me. I'm not talented at corporate attire (I'm quite good at instigating Casual Friday on Tuesdays), I don't like long train commutes, or riding an escalator to my cubicle. The environment doesn't feel like a match for me. At the risk of sounded unhinged I'm a bit of a casually free spirit. I do think, if you are privileged enough to have the option, it makes sense to consider how your chosen career will fit in with the type of lifestyle (location, commute, work-life balance etc.) you'd prefer. You have to be aware of the points on which you don't want to compromise.
Back to my decision process. One of the items on my shortlist was teaching. The other options (about six) included publishing/editing/media (building on my current career path) and conservation. The next step in my process was to look more closely at each option. I already knew that because I have a Bachelor's degree that I needed only to go back to uni for one year to get the Diploma of Education and therefore be qualified to teach. Then I found out that 2014 is the final year that the Dip Ed is offered in a one-year package. After that it will become a two-year course. That basically pushed me to apply straight away, just to see if I'd get in, even if I wasn't yet sure if it was the right path for me. I would figure it out while I waited for the response.
And so began weeks of waiting to hear back, and of me trying to find clarity and closure on that elusive concept of "what is the right career path for me?" Some people are, I feel, blessed with just knowing what they want to do for work, or at least, with being able to pick a path and stick to it. Others, like me, suffer indecision, always thinking the grass is greener, always wanting to do a million different things. Over the last few months I think I've started to make peace with this part of my personality. It's not going to change. It's who I am. I am always going to be curious and wanting to explore. What I need to do is learn to work with this aspect of my personality but also to accommodate it. To pick a path and dedicate myself to it (for the sake of stability and becoming Really Ridiculously Good At Something) but also to pay attention to the part of me that needs to explore, and to nurture that as well.
Over the course of these meanderings I came across some invaluable material online. It had been a rollercoaster few months of trying to decide if I would be doing the right thing to get into teaching, or whether to try something else, or to decide if I should stay on my current path (publishing). I was pulled in so many different, very different, directions. I would be focused one day, and completely confused the next. I was hitting up Mr. Google like a crazy with questions like "HOW DO I KNOW IF I AM CHOOSING THE RIGHT CAREER??" (in caps so as to convey my desperation). And that's when I came across Cal Newport.
Cal Newport is a young Georgetown- based computer science professor who has written books on the topic of career choices. I emphatically recommend his New York Times article and this YouTube video for those with career paranoia. In short, he rejects the notion that we are each born with an innate destiny, that there is ONE perfect career option for every person, and that we have to "follow our passion" to reach this magical pinnacle of happiness. The notion to "follow your dreams" has become increasingly popular recently, and catchphrases to that effect are alive and breeding on social media. Yeah, you could be having a perfectly good day until you flick through Insta and someone reminds you to "Never Settle Til You Find Your Dream". Dudes. Talk about pressure. Cal Newport's argument is that we don't all intrinsically have one set passion to follow, and the path to happiness is not to identify and follow that one passion. His argument is that it is possible to find career satisfaction if you simply pick something and stick with it. His advice is for those who are in the rut of trying to "find" that passion, or who are torn between several ideas. He argues that there are multiple satisfactory career options for everyone. In picking something and sticking with it, you will eventually gain skills and worth that will make your career path, whatever you choose, valuable. In sticking with something, your skills become a valuable commodity, and from that, you derive career satisfaction. Voila.
So, what made me decide to change over to teaching, and not to stick to my current career path and continue building on the career capital I've already gained in publishing? Surely, by Cal's argument I should just stick to what I'd originally picked? Well for me, it had to come down to looking at the bigger picture. It helps to return to my "bigger picture" to keep my floaty head grounded. Fact: I didn't want to work in a city highrise or commute. Most jobs in the type of publishing path I'd have continued on are city-based. Zoology required a 3-year degree and the jobs are both sparsely available and sparsely located. The appeal of teaching was the flexibility, the ability to express my creativity, leadership and organisational skills - all things that, when I can express them, satisfy me. Teaching offers challenges and the ability to grow and refine your craft, the position to make a difference, and an appealing work-life balance. It was also a viable option: I had the ability to become qualified within one year; there are jobs available in teaching. And, you know, I'm 30, not 18. It's not always possible to throw caution and money to the wind.
As you can see, my decision making process considered many things.
Returning to Cal Newport's views: on the whole, I found his approach refreshing. There is a skeptical part of me that thinks that if you simply pick a career path out of a hat of interests, you might be missing out on other things that could potentially satisfy you more. I have wrestled with the question that I might be settling for something that is an easier path, and, I have to be honest, Primary Teaching didn't seem unique or exciting enough for my lofty list. But that's why I think you need to create a lofty list, and keep it. To remind you of the practical reasons behind the pathway to your decision. And if you're going to follow a lofty dream, excellent, but you're going to want to be prepared to back that up with an action plan.
There's one more thing I wanted to mention. Throughout the last few months some advice has come to me, which is: "don't concern yourself too much about choosing the 'right' career path; rather than worrying about what will serve you, pick something that will serve the world, and in turn it will serve you well." (I read this off an Angel card. Did I mention I was a free spirit?) In addition to this, our trip to Vietnam in September/October made me realise what an amazingly privileged position I am in, to be educated and to have an endless range of options to choose from. I talked to a local who worked every single day at the tourist markets, from 7am to 11pm. We met a tailor who worked 8am to 8pm every day of the year including weekends, with only 5 days off a year. We learned of farmers' wives who had to move away from their families for weeks and months at a time and sell street food to earn extra money. Their husbands earned only $60 a year as farmers. The women had no choice but to come into the city and live in sharehouses that cost them 37 cents a night; you can only imagine the conditions.
And here's Princess worrying about which career to pick. Talk about first world problems. You don't need much more perspective than that. I think that, if you're in a position to choose, it's of course worthwhile to do something that nourishes your interests, uses your skills, keeps you challenged and gives you opportunities to grow. We all have our individual set of criteria.
Well, I'm taking a leap of carefully considered and senisble faith, and I hope that it works out.
In the meantime I'll be moonlighting as a flower picking, bikkie baking, blog writing, choir singing (oh yes, forgot to mention that one) star gazing dreamer face. And I might even pick up a few new ones along the way.
Thank you for making it to the end, even if you skipped a few paragraphs. I hope you read something that resonates.