What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
There is an age old question adults love to ask children: What do you want to be when you grow up? Amazingly, most kids seem to have their answer ready with such astonishing certainty as if they had a magic ball that could see into the future. They will tell you they want to be policemen, or ballerinas, Olympic champions, or the wife of Justin Bieber (though last I heard, that position is currently taken.) Nevertheless, their creativity seems to be endless. With their unwavering conviction in themselves, most kids appear to have it all figured out.
Career Path vs. Career Maze
How can it be, then, that the career our young hearts were set on lost its allure, leaving an angst-filled void in its wake? What happens between ages 8–18 to make us lose our initial aspirations?
Well, as in the case of other foundational elements on which we build our lives, career paths just don’t seem to evolve in a straightforward and orderly manner. And the crux of the matter is: they shouldn’t!
Figuring out difficult problems and finding a solution to them is an important part of the human experience. The more convoluted the maze is, the higher the chance that it will carry some fundamental lessons.
I got accepted to the University of Bedfordshire. To save up some money, I took a summer gig to finance my studies. This saw me skipping my first year, which I didn’t mind in the least because I was getting a much needed experience in the world of work. When I got around to my first year, I actually had a harder time dealing with being an expat than with my studies.
Also, it soon became obvious that journalism wasn’t for me. So I changed courses and started studying advertising and marketing. Finally, I was doing something I enjoyed! Sadly, even though I had excellent grades, someone somewhere messed up my student loan application, which promptly ended my academic career.
I quit two of my part-time hospitality jobs and stuck with the third one. By my third year, I became the Deputy Manager. When I relocated to my home country, my managerial career was also cut short. Not being bothered by the setback, I used my hard-earned finance and reporting experience to become an administrative assistant.
Soon, after another move, I was working as an HR administrator at a multinational company. With my advanced reporting skills, I was able to rapidly progress into a role as a business analyst.
I feel like I have achieved what I always wanted: I have a job that I love, with a company I can proudly represent, along with a work-life balance that suits me. I wouldn’t have been able to foresee this role for myself, yet it is the best thing that happened to me career-wise.
A Rapidly Evolving Job Market
Chances are, you will end up working in a job that didn’t even exist when you were a kid. For example, the concept of cloud computing is believed to be invented in the 60s, yet it only became a mainstream technology when Amazon Web Services introduced their cloud storage service in 2006. During that close to four decades, you can bet that very few kids or aspiring fresh graduates were dreaming of becoming, say, a data center operator one day. What, then, were they dreaming of?
There was a restaurant that once belonged to my family. I wanted to show them that when I grew up, I’d be able to buy it back and make it come to life again. So I decided to study hospitality and management.
My internship in a pastry shop was a rude awakening to how unsuited I was for such a life. With the help of a family friend, I was able to find a stable job in a sport shop selling and renting out skis. After a couple of years, I realized that I’d have little to no chance of advancement there.
While I was deliberating my next step, an old friend of mine asked me to join his local IT team at a multinational company, as I was very skilled at building computers. For 8 years, I had the time of my life. I was part of a great team, I made friends, and everyone was satisfied with my work. But once again I started worrying about my career progress.
At that time, my company was expanding its command center and I was able to join the growing team as an analyst. From that role, I managed to further advance first as a lead analyst, then later on as a shift leader.
Eventually, I even had the confidence to leave the company, and try myself as an IT project consultant for one of the biggest IT software companies. I’m very happy that I’ve made the leap and didn’t stick to working in hospitality. Quite frankly, I’d have been horrible at it!
Perseverance is Key
It can also easily happen that you knew what you wanted to do, got into a good school, studied your field, applied to your dream job, and it just never happened for you… Many face the same issue and with the pressing concern to make ends meet they end up taking whatever job that can pay them.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with that — a lot of people might end up loving the new direction the career curveball provided them. However, a lot of people struggle to accept their lack of success and keep going back to fight for their dream. Sometimes, after all, it’s just the matter of perseverance.
“Even as a child, I was a lover of nature and I wanted to work in close connection with it. During my university years, I had an internship at the Research Institute for Medical Plants and Herbs. Afterwards, I knew for certain that I found my calling and I wanted to continue to do research. Even though I successfully completed my studies in environmental engineering, I just couldn’t find a job in my field for the longest time. I sent out dozens and dozens of applications — to no avail.
Life forced my hand and with money being tight, I needed to take one odd job after another. I worked in retail, had several administrative jobs, tried out the public sector and even had a yearlong stint at one of the “Big Four” companies. Each and every one of them made me all the more determined to get back into agriculture.
After many unsuccessful attempts, I came across a job advertisement at a research institute that just screamed at me “this is your chance!” After hours and hours spent on polishing my CV, I finally sent in my application. They called me. They interviewed me. They hired me. Part of me still cannot believe I’m now living the dream. I’m so happy I didn’t give up.”
One Size Does Not Fit All
It would be great to have a career manual with easy-to-follow steps that lead straight to our dream career. Unfortunately (or not?), it’s often just a hit and miss we have to go through to learn where our best skills are.
For my part, I didn’t end up moving to Africa to save the cheetahs or opening up a dog shelter in an abandoned plot of land we found with my best friend. Nor did I become the youngest best-selling author of my generation. Or “at least” a journalist (like my parents), even though that’s what I studied at university. After the odd student jobs, what I did become was a trainer where I learned that I enjoyed communicating with people.
Then I became a coordinator, where I realized that I was horrible at administrative tasks. I didn’t learn my lesson well enough, though, because I went on to work for another company as a recruitment coordinator. That ended up being a lucky decision in the end. One day a colleague of mine (thank you, Fatima) asked me what the heck I was even doing as a coordinator. She outright told me to apply to one of the recruiter roles that were open. And I did just that. I became a recruiter.
Over the course of a few years, my desire for creativity took me where I am now. I’m still using my people skills and my communication skills, but I’m also creating content — something I’m very passionate about.
Ain’t Nobody Got Time for Regretting Time Wasted
Life is too short to spend it regretting lost time… especially when it is not! Learning where we can best apply ourselves can be a long process — which means that the time it takes is never wasted. It is true that you might have a hard time simply switching from being a call center operator to becoming a heart surgeon (scratch the might, thankfully nobody is able to do that for obvious reasons.)
However, it’s never too late to take a hard look at your skills and see where you could best utilize them on the job market. Even if you realize that your dream job requires some of those hard earned skills only a degree could give you, don’t get discouraged. Remember the old proverb “never say never!” The career journey to your dream position might take longer, but with some determination, you will get there.