For the Career Confused

Originally posted here on March 22, 2011

True story: I started college as an elementary education major. This was largely due to the fact that my parents wanted me to pick a major and I couldn’t think of anything else to choose. I liked kids and I’d worked with kids in a number of capacities – camps, daycares, after-school tutoring, and the like – all with positive results. And since the color of my parachute was clearly not the color of a doctor or a lawyer or an architect or a psychologist, I figured teacher was the most sensible option left.

Except for that it didn’t feel right. For 5 whole semesters I was a card carrying member of the Education club (literally and figuratively) and all along the way I tried to talk myself into being a teacher. I made every effort to force it to be my calling, reasoning that education is a noble end, inspiring children is a good life’s work, it’s a stable job with ample opportunities, and I didn’t hate it. But it never felt right.

So in the second semester of my junior year…I switched to English. Partly because I loved my literature classes and partly because it was too late to start anything else (I was already an English concentration so the change was an easy one). English, it turns out, fit like a glove. Not only did I look forward to my classes and enjoy the workload, I no longer had the weight of avoidance on my shoulders with a miserable career looming ever closer. The freedom was almost as much of a pleasure as the actual major.

But then graduation came. As it turns out there are no jobs named “English Major by Default” so I was mostly clueless as to what to do with next. When an opportunity to be hired as an admissions counselor presented itself I graciously/reluctantly accepted (that story ends well, you can read more about that here). And while I loved my time in admissions abundantly more than I ever expected, I still knew that it wasn’t quite right for me. So I jumped in a mini van and took a farm tour around the country.

As we all know, post road trip, fate landed me back at Roberts for the time being and I am absolutely loving serving in this capacity. But since it is a temporary position I now find myself job searching once again. Job searching, for those of you who have had clear, normal career goals since the age of 5, is a daunting prospect for people who do not have a similar clarity. I am constantly exasperated by the process, mostly because I feel like I am looking for a very small needle in a very large haystack. When you don’t know what your job title is and you are open to relocating anywhere on the eastern seaboard you open yourself up to an overwhelming number of possibilities, none more pertinent than the other.

Which is precisely what troubles me: I don’t know what I want to do. I’ve never known. I was never one of those kids who had an immediate answer to the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question. I was probably the lame one who answered, “Um, I don’t know,” and got an early initiation to the look of disappointment that ensues from the asker.

And I still don’t know. I don’t know what keywords to enter on the job search engine. “Good at banter, baking, floral arrangements, low-budget DIY projects, NFL trivia, and quoting sitcoms” doesn’t fit in the search box. For a person who is motivated by goals, this is vexing. Since I tend to veer on the overachieving side of overachieving, this frustrates me to no end. It is very challenging to not have a “dream job” to be working toward. Honestly, it makes me wonder what is wrong with me? Why don’t I have lofty career aspirations? Why don’t I know what to enter in the search box? And seriously…What is wrong with me?

(This is the turning point in most faith-based conversations where all of the loose ends are tied up by divine intervention. Christians tend to want to put a positive spin on the end of everything, which is admirable, but not always authentic. Please trust me when I say that I am not trying to do that here…my ends are still annoyingly loose, flapping about in the wind with no tying up in sight.)

Although I am prone to thinking that there is probably something wrong with me, that something went horribly awry when my internal career code was programmed, something else in me thinks that maybe it’s not a defect. Maybe I’m not ready for the end goal right now, and maybe God has a reason for withholding the grand plan even though I’m constantly pestering him for the answer (with the same diligence as the kid in the backseat of the Subaru asking “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? ARE WE THERE YET?”). Perhaps the puzzle pieces of passions and dreams and aspirations I have for a thousand different things are not aimless just because they don’t fit into the section of the puzzle I’m working on right now. I only have the edges done and a few chains strung along the inside of the left corner. It could be that it’s not the puzzle or the pieces that are wrong, but just that I’m not at the place where they fit yet.

It’s kind of like being a contestant on the Real Life version of Chopped. For those of you who do not devote 95% of your lives to the Food Network, Chopped is a culinary reality show where contesants are given four or five ingredients that do not usually go together (like sardines, licorice, an obscure Indonesian fruit, and alfalfa sprouts) and are charged with the responsibility of turning them into a meal (appetizer, main course, or dessert, depending on the round). Some chefs succeed, some fail miserably.

I feel like my career basket is straight from the producers of Chopped. It’s filled with things that don’t usually go together in a normal job description: word nerd, photo fanatic, appreciator of color, typography, and design, baked-goods enthusiast, food blog addict, sports lover, mentor, homebody with a knack for PR. But I’ve been charged with the responsibility of honoring the chaos in the basket and turning it into the best career I can possibly make. Failing miserably may be par for the course in the first few rounds, but I hope to have success by the time I reach the dessert round (if only because it’s the final and my favorite).

So…that’s what I’m planning on doing. I’m holding onto my mismatched basket and heading to the kitchen to see what I can whip up. Instead of trying to force pieces into the corner of the puzzle I’m currently working on, I’ll hold onto them, always making note of where they may fit in the future, while I focus on the pieces that do fit where I am right now. I won’t pick any career just to have one. I’ll go with the flow, albeit blindly, taking note of the literal interpretation of walking by faith and not by sight.

In the end, I really do believe that God designed me the way that I am with a specific purpose in mind. I am convinced that he has a unique niche in mind for me, that he equipped me with these seemingly non-cohesive likes and dislikes for a reason, and that trying to change them, rearrange them, or force them isn’t doing justice to what I’ve been given.

Even if what I’ve been given doesn’t fit in the search box.

(If I were to indulge the English major inside of me, I would include a bibliography here. It would list this versethis blog, and this blog. But I won’t do that. At least not in MLA format.)

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