ask.spoonah


on going to grad school
September 11, 2010, 9:46 pm
Filed under: advice, career, education, life | Tags: , , , , ,

dear spoonah,

I finished my BA a few years ago and have a decent job, but am feeling unsatisfied with my life. I don’t make very much money and there’s no real room for growth in this job. I love working with young people, especially high school age people, so I have been thinking about becoming a teacher. I applied for an accelerated M.Ed graduate program and was accepted, and am supposed to start in a few months. Recently I’ve been feeling like maybe this isn’t the right choice, and that I am not sure that I want to be a teacher or even stay living in this area any longer. Am I signing up for a life of debt and disappointment?

-worried at work

dear worried at work,

it sounds to me like you are stuck in a situation that may not be all that bad, but is not where you want to be right now, regardless. my advice when you are stuck is to move in any direction, even if that direction is backwards (or feels that way). it’s like if you’re in quicksand, you can’t be picky about branch that pulls you out. the key is to get out of the situation so that you can see things more clearly, and make a decision without feeling bound to it. perhaps that graduate program really is what you want and will be happy with, but it sounds right now like you aren’t in a position to make that decision. if you go into it thinking you might be making a mistake, it will color your whole experience, and an accelerated graduate program is no place to be if you aren’t committed to the outcome.

my advice is this: do something that is nothing like what you are doing now, for a little while. maybe you want to move, try out a different kind of job, or travel. spend a few months to a year doing something you think you might want to do more, and find out. if your worst case scenario ends with you moving back and going to that program in a year or so, I think you’ll be fine. there’s no point in doing anything that intense (emotionally, mentally, and financially) while spending the whole time wishing you were working as a waitress in Mexico. I mean, you’d probably hate that, but at least you’d know.

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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!

spoonah