Lessons learned along the career path

By  Lisa Petsche
  • June 29, 2009
The end of the academic year is particularly significant in our family this time around. Our eldest child just graduated from high school and our youngest completed elementary school.

My daughter is fortunate to have a career plan mapped out. It’s too early to guess my son’s future path.

It’s not unusual for teens to not know what they want to do after high school. The number of options can be overwhelming. So, too, can the pressure to excel that’s so prevalent in today’s society.

Some young people haven’t yet found their passion, or haven’t figured out how to parlay it into a career (or whether that’s even feasible). Some go on to higher education anyway, perhaps following their parents’ dreams for them. Others find a low-skilled job while they try to discern their next steps.

My own career path has by no means been smooth or predictable. In high school, I wasn’t sure which post-secondary education stream to pursue. My course marks were all pretty similar and my interests varied.

I entered university as an English major and left with a psychology degree. Some of my friends went on to graduate school, but I wanted to get out into “the real world.” For several years, I was alternately unemployed and underemployed, working as a cashier, office temp, switchboard operator and research assistant.

Once my career goals became clearer, I returned to university for a social work degree, securing a related job before graduation. Eventually I figured out how to incorporate writing, a long-time passion, as a part-time career.

I’ve certainly learned a lot along the way. These are some of the insights I share with my children.

It’s OK not to have it all figured out. Life is complicated. It can take time to discern your place in the work world. Be patient and trust that “the universe is unfolding as it should” (Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”). And pray for guidance.

While finding yourself, get out there and be productive. If your day job isn’t fulfilling, find volunteer work or a hobby that is, and fit it into your schedule.

You get more than one chance. Having numerous interests or skills can make it hard to focus on just one. Fortunately you can have multiple careers, serially or concurrently. I’ve known a steel worker who became a teacher, a teacher who became a dentist, a physiotherapist who became a doctor and a nurse who became a financial planner. As for concurrent careers, besides my own example, I have a friend who’s a computer programmer and a professional musician and enjoys both pursuits in different ways.

Education is never wasted. It expands your knowledge of the world, develops critical thinking and may also impart practical skills. I took a wide variety of electives in university, including Italian, biology, geology and philosophy, and have no regrets.

Career success takes hard work and persistence. Don’t adopt the popular culture’s attitude of entitlement to opportunities and rewards. Be patient (a recurring theme) and stay humble.

A career is only one aspect of life. Other important realms include spirituality, family life, social life and community involvement. Don’t prioritize your career at their expense.

Success has more than one definition. Secular culture equates it with assets and accomplishments. But for Christians, leading a successful life is about carrying out our roles with integrity, joy, compassion, mercy, generosity, humility, faith, hope and courage.

Opportunities are everywhere, but not always obvious. Consequently, never consider any type of work to be beneath you. You never know how it might shape you or where it might lead you, through the skills you develop and the people you meet along the way.

You can make a difference. You do so by discerning your unique set of gifts, developing them and using them in ways that glorify your Creator. There is no such thing as an unimportant life.

Finally, don’t put off what you can do today in terms of self-improvement and service to others. I’ve learned, through my current job in palliative care, that no one knows how much time they have on Earth. Consider each day a gift and make the most of it.

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