The Career Stepladder

For all of you out there who detest, hate or abhor your career, never fear; you are not alone. Most of us have done the four- or five-year college thing, only to find ourselves in jobs we don’t enjoy or on a career path that seems more like a dirt trail that goes in circles. Did this kind of thing happen to our parents? Their parents? Or are we the only generation to experience this sort of post-college agony

After talking to my grandfather on numerous occasions about my quarter-life crisis, he gazed at me with confusion in his eyes and mumbled something like, “We just had to work when I was growing up. And we didn’t think much more about it.” Surely they thought twice about what they were doing, or they looked at their watch and wondered how much longer they would spend punching the clock of boring, unchallenging jobs.After spending a few years in a job that seemed to constantly burn me out, last year I decided to take a summer off to reevaluate my predicament. I was provided with a part-time job at a lakeside resort doing some bookkeeping work, while living at my long-gone grandfather’s house rent-free (what a deal!). This allowed me PLENTY of time to reflect and ponder—to be altogether Thoreau-like. The small town I was living in was no Walden Pond, but it did give me time to keep to myself and think about life. After a few months I still didn’t really know what I wanted, and I still seemed to be chasing dreams of the way life should be.

One autumn day I undertook the humiliating task of substitute teaching in a local school. Although I knew this particular job wouldn’t be something I would want to do all of my life, it filled in the gap while I was “soul-searching.” Over the next few months, I found myself immersed in the education world. Phrases like “Staff Development Training” and “No Child Left Behind” commonly and easily flowed from my lips, as if I knew what I was talking about. Before I could catch my breath, I realized that I enjoyed the job. I know, it’s shocking to think that I enjoyed having middle-school students ask me how to subtract, how cytoplasm grows or where North America is, but it was frighteningly refreshing. I was in a place where I was completely happy and regularly challenged (however, I must admit that at the end of the school year, I stomped on my ID badge and repeatedly shouted in a chant-like manner, “I’ll prostitute before I substitute!”).

The following summer was filled with worthless job offers and afternoons praying for guidance. Finally I decided to go back to school to get certified to teach. Who knows, in a few more years I might find myself writing the same story and thinking the same thoughts. But the only way for me to know if I’m in the right career is to try it. After all, my dad keeps telling me to explore my options–not to get buckled into a career that I don’t enjoy. For once, I think I’ll take his advice. After all, life is too short to work a job you don’t enjoy. So many people in life seem to settle for what’s thrown on their plate. And while I don’t mean that we should abuse our freedom for opportunity, we shouldn’t close the open doors.

My uncle often tells me that he doesn’t plan to retire. “What?! Not retire … how could you refuse your government pension (which translates to free golf)?” I reply. The fact is this: He is one of the few people in the world who actually enjoys his job. So I would like to encourage my career-hungry peers to seek and find a job you enjoy. Well, maybe more–a job that you love. A job that is your joy. And if you have to go back to school to get the job, do it. Yes, it’s humbling to step back on the campus of life and hop in the boat with the freshmen of the world, but in the end, it will be worth it. You’ll have satisfaction in your achievement. You’ll be in a career you love (hopefully). But most of all you’ll have the opportunity to share your life’s journey with someone else on the career stepladder.

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[Todd M. Beard is a writer, teacher and traveler who lives in a town that is not on most maps.]

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