Your career: you don’t have to stay where you start

mm Bill Pace

Some people pick their careers at an early age. Some make mindful decisions about what career makes sense to them as they go through their years of work. Some even end up feeling fulfilled and rewarded in their ultimate career choices.

Those are the minority. Most don’t like their first career choice, many hit dead ends at one or more points along the way, and more than a few look back on their careers with regret. We don’t think it needs to be this way.

My life of work started (other than a stream of summer and part-time jobs) as a teacher straight out of college. I chose to be an elementary school teacher after doing tons of tutoring and classroom assisting in local elementary schools throughout high school and college. I just loved interacting with the kids. It was fulfilling to see the light bulbs go off when they finally figured out how to parse a sentence or convert fractions to decimals (I may have just dated myself).

My first year of teaching was overwhelming. I had 33 students and 55 parents to deal with. The truth is, for most of the year, I didn’t know which end was up. But I survived. So when the second year rolled around, I was pumped and ready to go.

Guess what, the second year was MEH. As before, I loved interacting with the kids and feeling like they were learning a ton, but didn’t like dealing with the (mostly) pushy parents. Even more so, I discovered that I HATED having a regimented, fixed schedule. I got up every day at the same time (as late as possible), got to school at 7:55am, did playground duty from 10:00 to 10:15am as assigned, ate lunch from 12:10 – 12:50pm, and went home at 3:40pm (due to teacher’s union rules).

In some respects, teaching was a great fit. The core elements of the work were fulfilling. But I couldn’t stand the routine and I didn’t know that about myself. My life up to that point had provided lots of flexibility and changes in patterns. Not so for elementary school teaching. It turns out that there’s a lot more flexibility as you move up in grade levels, so middle school teachers have less routine that elementary school teachers, high school less that middle school, and college less than high school.

While I thought I knew what teaching was all about when I hopped on board that train, I only knew a little bit about one segment of the field. As a consequence, I picked the level of teaching which was the worst overall fit for me, especially over the longer haul. By the middle of the second year, I knew I needed to make a change. Recognizing you need to change is the first step in successfully navigating to your next great career adventure.

Bill Pace is Managing Director of ClearlyNext, a guided online career program that helps people of all backgrounds and incomes figure out what to do next. Read more >