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Challenge: Expert Advice

The Meandering Career Path

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In our home, career paths are a hot topic at the moment. Well, not just this moment but for several moments over the last, gosh, four years now? Five? Since our children were in grade school? Oh yes, that is the most accurate timeline as it was while they were in fourth grade that each of our children was first asked about career goals. It’s not that we weren’t participants in the traditional “What do you want to be when you grow up? conversations with our kids.

It’s that their answers were all very surface level and fun and included responses like “a dog dula” or “a fireman who also drives an ice cream truck” or “veternarian-nail-salon-person.”

We weren’t that shaken when either child came home with a worksheet ready to be filled out that asked for, like, actual career aspirations. What did shake us was the follow-up as it seemed that, even as grade schoolers, our children were immediately being steered toward any springboards that might match those tiny career aspirations scrawled with tiny handwriting on tiny, crinkled pieces of homework paper.

As a form of parental protest, we stopped filling out those tiny, crinkled pieces of paper almost immediately. Instead, we sent it back with a one-sentence response that read, “They are just going to keep being kids for a little while longer.

Okay, yes, we may have held that stance for a bit too long but let’s not split hairs.

Today, we have a junior in college and a senior in high school.

Today, we have finally reached a state of (mostly) calm in our home as we approach the exit ramp from years of knee-deep panic related to those dang career aspirations. Our college junior has finally found calm as they have, in fact, figured out which direction they will point at their 2025 graduation. Our high school senior has finally found calm as he found a college home that actually encourages incoming students to apply as very much undeclared and find that pesky puzzle piece once nestled in their dorms.

And, perhaps, we have finally found calm because the grownups in our home both had major career shifts in the last 12 months which, as it turns out was perfect, perfect, perfect timing as our kids could witness a meandering career path from a front row seat, popcorn in hand.

Perfect. Also stressful.

It makes sense, really. I suspect most children see their parents in a single career stop. Parents tend to skip any major career changes once their charges reach those upper grades as we know how much stability matters. There will be no geographical moves as we want our children to finish school with their friends. There will be no crazy career leaps as we want that feeling of financial stability as the college application cycle looms.

Their (the kids) memories often solidify well past the days when we (the adults) are bouncing from job to job. They have missed the chaos that occurred when we were clocking out of one job only to clock into another job or when we were scouring the classified ads for something just a little bit better.

In our home, as far as our children’s memories go … we (the parents) have only had one job.

I suppose, then, there is some logic in their (the kids) thinking that this will be their plight as well.

No wonder they are panicking as they approach the launch pad. The idea of choosing a single career that they will marry until death do they part sounds awful. Of course, we have told them about a bajillion times that they really only need to choose what’s next or what they will do first but … well, you know how receptive teenagers are to parental advice.

Look! The average person has twelve jobs in their lifetime. TWELVE! You don’t have to stay where you land forever!

Have I mentioned how valuable teenagers find parental advice?

Career paths are a hot topic in our home at the moment because both parents (yes, both) recently jumped from our previous ships. Well, one jumped, the other was pushed. In both cases, it was terrifying. It was also a fantastic reminder that it is our skill sets and relationships that we take from position to position - not our titles.

After fifteen years as a business analyst in the tech world, my brain was very much in a robotic find-business-anaylst-tech-job mode at a time when most tech companies were bundled up for hiring freezes. How was I supposed to move forward?

Eventually, it clicked.

I did not need to work in tech anymore.

I had spent years prior to working in tech not working in tech.

I could work anywhere, really, that would benefit from the skills gained in any of the fields that I’d passed through on my meandering career path (and, boy, did I meander).

My children never even knew me as a writer or a media personality or a gymnastics coach or, well, any of those past dabblings. The bulk of my resume included endless experience very much unrelated to my time as a business analyst. I could (and should) tap into all skills gained at each station in my career life. The ability to watch as I rebuilt my work-self in a field that I chose has been one of my best parental offerings, given to my children at a time when uncovering their own career paths has been at the top of their panicked-minds.

I’m now settling into what is my thirteenth job and the third version of a career.

And my children?

My children are witnessing firsthand that it is absolutely possible to take a meandering career path and find success.


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