on what you should be, now that you’re all grown up
February 14, 2010, 9:12 pm
Filed under: advice, career | Tags: , , , , , ,

Dear Spoonah,

I’m a 32 year old college graduate. I got my degree in electives (general studies) but I’ve never known what I “wanted to do when I grew up”. I really want a career path, or direction or something, because I just don’t feel like I’m doing the work that I was destined to do in life.

I’ve thought about seeing a career counselor, or maybe even a psychic? I seem to be terrified of going back to school ie: I keep signing up and then backing out.

Do you have any advice for someone who has been in the work force for 10 years but needs a drastic change?

Thinking Rearranging Aspirations Viciously In Situationo

dear thinking,

I think there are a lot of ways you can approach it, but all of them start with some serious self reflection. there are a lot of resources out there, as well, that can help make this a little easier. a great book (if a little cheesy) is What Color Is My Parachute by Dick Bolles (can we just talk for a second about how this man’s name is Dick Bolles?). this is a book you can get at any library and the really great part about it is the practical exercises it suggests. I’ve seen these exact same exercises as the basis for semester-long “focus your career” workshops offered at universities that are well known for their career prep skills. in fact, I just participated in one, and it helped a lot! but you don’t need a workshop to do the exercises. they’re easy, not embarrassing, straightforward, and really helpful. basically they ask you to think about things you’ve liked doing, and see what they have in common, with a little more discipline. I definitely recommend that as part of your game-plan. don’t overlook non-work things too (like volunteer things, hobbies, etc.)

as far as tools go, there are a lot of good ones out there. one that I’ve used and been really happy with (particularly as far as depth goes) is CareerLeader. now, on it’s own this costs $95 to get a report done and have access to it for 60 days (you can print it, as well). however, a lot of college/university career centers license access to it so that their students (and alumni!) can use it for free. I’d contact your alma mater and see if they have this (or something like it) available for you to try out. there are also thousands of free online career tests (but much much less in depth).

other things to try out are general diagnostic tools for figuring out your work style, personality, skills, etc. myers-briggs tests are strewn all over the internet and are generally pretty good at giving you an idea of the types of environments you like and the way you operate, which often can point you in a direction career-wise. skills-inventories are usually helpful, as well (google has a million). I personally have a whole inventory of these things that I’ve done, and found them pretty helpful, but I’m just that kind of gal. one great one (that is free and doesn’t require any googling) is to just make a list of 10, or 20, or 30 job titles you think you’d like, regardless of what you think you’re good at or are qualified for. when I did this, it made me realize I would never be happy as an accountant (goodbye, admission to a world-renowned accounting master’s program! goodbye, six figure salary! hello, nonprofits!).

yet another great way to figure this out is to do some talking to people that know you well, i.e. your friends and family, or co-workers. they are in a unique position to tell you how they see you operating, and what they remember you enjoying (maybe as a child, for instance, or a work setting), and what they think you’re particularly great at. often we are too close to our own experiences and selves to really see clearly what we are like and what we are skilled at. keep a list going of things they say, and things you think of. then maybe ask some people (possibly some of the same ones, plus some professional contacts you may have, or a career counselor) to look at what you’ve come up with and see if they come up with anything you hadn’t thought of.

you might also take some classes without enrolling somewhere, officially. you can do this by taking adult ed classes, auditing courses, or simply signing up for one or two classes at a local college. if matriculating (officially enrolling and stating your intentions to pursue a degree program) is what is scaring you, this can be a good way to get your feet wet and try out some “crazy ideas” for what you might want to do and see if you actually like it. take a guitar lesson, a basketweaving class, or a grant writing seminar.

one more! if you have friends (or friends of friends, or friends of friends of friends, use that network!) who have a job that you think you might like (or that has aspects of it), see if you can do a job-shadow for a day or two. most places are totally open to this unless the job is dangerous, very technical in nature, or interacts with confidential information. chances are, there is someone (or several someones) in your network that has a job that is like one you might love. can’t hurt to ask, right?

the basic rule is this: explore things you already know you like, figure out what they have in common, find something you love, and then get gung-ho on it. worst case scenario, you’ll keep doing what you’re already doing now.

happy learning!



on how to look professional but also really, really cool

my dear spoonah,

i come to you in a time of need. like many of my queer comrades, i have the constant issue of having my age drastically underestimated. it has not, to this point, been necessarily a problem so much as an inconvenience. however, i am approaching a point in my career where it is important that i am taken seriously. luckily, most of that depends on community perspective on and ideas about my work, and will not be as affected by my physical appearance as by my ability to propel myself forward into what i am doing.

here’s the problem: i love body modification. i am pretty covered in tattoos, have a facial piercing, and often sport some funky hairdos. my last position required me to remove all facial piercings, but my new job has no such rules. spoonah, i want my lip re-pierced. i want to dye my hair again. i want to wear short sleeves. i, in fact, would like to continue doing these things for presumably a long time. but when is the point in life when i need to stop being creative with my physical appearance and sigh as i don another pair of khakis and adjust my comb-over? are mainstream perspectives on body modification shifting enough that i could potentially enjoy all of these accoutrement and still be taken seriously in my professional life?

please, show me the way, oh spoonah.

yours til the kitchen sinks and niagara falls,
benjamin unbuttoned

dear benjamin unbuttoned,

this is an issue I struggle with myself. personally, my response has been largely to just dress pretty professional all the time (though less so now that I am in school and jeans are par for the course). I have my nose pierced but it’s tiny and most people don’t notice and no one has ever cared. my hair is a normal color again, gone are the studs and patches from my jacket, and the cleavage line has risen dramatically as I’ve gotten into higher echelons of work-life.

in making these kinds of decisions, one of the most important factors is the area you work in. that includes your industry as well as your actual chosen (or desired) profession. there is a rule of thumb that you should dress for the job you want, and not for the one you have. therefore, if you desire to wind up as a director of something, or in some traditionally Business with a capital B job, then I’d say you are probably better off forgoing the visible piercings and wacky hairdos. If your hopes, however, lean more towards something like “director of fun!” or as a camp leader of queermos, or perhaps something that you would be working largely from home at, then by all means. bodymod away.

the other really important factor here is how much you care about bodymod and odd hairstyles and whatnot. is it hard for you to maintain your identity without them (and if so, perhaps that’s an issue to bring up to your therapist)? typically bodymod is an effort to express one’s self to others in a way that is immediate and gratifying and often radical. you might do some thinking about why your expression of self has to come written on the body. are there perhaps other ways you can satisfy that inherent human need of identity expression while still fitting into conforming norms? in bodymod there is also, obviously, a major component of attempting to achieve what we see as the most beautiful/hott/smokin’ self we can be. fashion can often do this, and can be taken off during the week in a way that bodymod cannot. if it’s crucial to you, however, to present yourself as a radical who looks like a radical, then you should consider changing your career plans to fit that.

there are certainly some industries or positions which allow greater flexibility, and I’d say that society as a whole is becoming more accustomed to “alternative realities” of what a professional can look like. and no matter what you do or no matter what age we live in, there will always be someone who doesn’t like your look. that’s a given. the fashion industry, many non-profits, and careers that are more casual in nature (for instance, many home-service jobs) do not have the same level of conformity. currently, however, the higher you go up in any industry, company, or career path…the more likely you’re going to be required to put on a three piece suit.

do not, however, let that totally discourage you. I love wearing suits. I feel great in them, and nothing looks better than feeling great.

farewell & dress well,