Back when I was in college, I’d had thoughts of becoming a lawyer. But I didn’t. I heard that lawyers had to get up in court and argue. I don’t think fast on my feet and I couldn’t imagine doing this.
What I didn’t know was that some lawyers never go to court. Some don’t think fast at all. Some lawyers have the luxury of reflecting and thinking. I knew nothing about the fields of trusts and estates and certainly nothing of appellate law.
Would I have been happy as a lawyer? I think I’d have enjoyed being a law professor. But I do know my decision process was seriously flawed.
Career mistakes happen at all ages and stages.
Recently I heard a talk from a life coach. Her topic was prosperity. She said, “I used to be a college professor. I was trying to live on $40,000 in New York City. I spent thousands of dollars getting my degree…”
So it’s easy to conclude:
College professors don’t make a lot of money.
You have a huge investment in a doctoral program.
In fact, college professors aren’t poor these days. Some, especially those in business and law schools, earn very comfortable salaries. They usually enjoy great benefits and perks. They have more freedom to use their time than their industry counterparts.
Some don’t own suits. This speaker came from an overcrowded arts field. It’s not clear whether she was a tenured or tenure-track professor or whether she was part-time.
Many doctoral programs award stipends to full-time students, especially in the professional field. I paid zero tuition for my doctorate; in fact, I taught outside the university, saved money, and bought a brand-new car.
Many people give up potentially rewarding careers because they default on their decisions.
You’ll hear similar stereotypes. Accountants aren’t good with people. Sales people are outgoing, boisterous extroverts. Librarians are introverted, quiet people. Flight attendants are young party-goers.
In fact, any profession carries a wide variety of opportunities.
Some accountants are active in client development, so they spend time giving talks and attending meetings. Some are true extroverts!
I’ve known several sales professionals who were shy. They were, however, very good at connecting with people and building rapport. They came across as trustworthy and they were persistent.
Some librarians are actively engaged in fund-raising. One of my college classmates became a children’s librarian, specializing in storytelling performances. She expanded her outreach to broader entertainment venues.
And as for flight attendants, many are long past the party stage. At JetBlue Airlines, ten percent of flight attendants are former firefighters.
Don’t limit your research.
Too many people make career decisions based on talking to one or two people – or even just a rumor that “everyone knows.”
Unfortunately, many people are stuck in the old version of “informational interviews.” Some of the older career books advise, “People are bored. They’d love to talk to you about their jobs.”
Today, more people know about informational interviews. You’re no longer a novelty when you ask for advice. So you can’t just cold-call someone for help.
At the same time, it’s more important than ever to do your research. Careers have changed. If you’ve been out of college more than 10 years, you’ll have opportunities that didn’t exist when you graduated. And, of course, fields that were “hot” might be cold as ice now.
What can you do to help your career?
Set a goal of interviewing at least six people in any field you’re seriously considering. Just one or two calls will give you a biased impression.
Keep going until you get a diverse set of answers; if everyone tells you the same thing, you’re not getting the true picture.
Check out your college alumni association. In my experience, these groups represent the single best way to meet other professionals without pressure. If your city doesn’t have an alumni chapter, your college placement office or alumni office may be willing to make a connection.
Attend professional meetings of a field you’re considering. You’ll pick up a lot through casual conversation.
Don’t judge a career field by the degree program or training required to join. Training can be very different from the actual work. It’s not unusual to hear things like, “I hated library school but I love my library job,” or, “Law school was a nightmare but I love being a lawyer.”
Conversely, loving your education program can be a sign that you’re a better fit to teach than to “do.”
I loved my business theory courses in my MBA program. And sure enough, I liked teaching in MBA programs better than working in corporate life.