Living Through A Career Change
© by Mary DuParri, MA, LPC
When people ask me how I decided to change from being a Microbiologist in a hospital laboratory to being a counselor helping people with life-changing issues, I usually tell them that I was so impressed by the help I received from a counselor, that I decided to change careers. That is true. However, when I really think back, I realize that I have been moving toward a career shift all my life. I just didnít know it. If I start counting careers from the first time someone paid me for a genuine job, my resume goes like this: babysitter (middle child of six), paper route (inherited from my brother), clerk at a religious articles store (at my motherís urging), office assistant to a dentist (mom, again), nurseís aide (in the summers during college years), cafeteria dish-washer (in the winters when I ran out of money during college years), Medical Technologist (when I finally attained my degree) and presently, Counselor in Private Practice. Eight careers, so far. Eight unique, unconnected changes beginning with work I could do when I needed work and ending with work I truly enjoy. Of course, most of those changes occurred in the early years, because once I began working in the Microbiology lab, I stayed for two decades. But, when I think of why I was not overwhelmed by my decision to begin a new career in mid-life, it may have to do with some of those early experiences. Experiences where I faced brand new situations and survived by listening, learning, faking it or quietly asking for assistance.
Changing careers is not so hard when you have a backlog of experiences where you have been uncertain and frightened but managed in spite of it all. From experiences like that we gain the ability to adapt to new situations and handle our own emotions. Anyone who can do that is well armed to face the transitions and challenges of a new career. Although I am in no way simplifying or minimizing the incredible time and energy that goes into the process of changing careers, I do want to minimize the fear. Because, even if you canít wow them with your previous experience as a cafeteria dishwasher, you bring to your career-change the skills and expertise that come from your work history. These are the skills no one can teach you in a class. They are the coping and managing skills that are called ďexperience.Ē
As an adult, when you change careers, you bring a lifetime of experience. You also bring your own ingenuity in the face of change. When I got spooked by my new career, I could always say to myself: ďAt least this is not as crazy as the time I went to work for that dentist and not only could not identify the instruments he wanted handed to him, I couldnít even type his bills!Ē Think hard about your own experiences. Count the changes you have made. If not in jobs, look at school changes, moves, children and relationships. Look at successes and failures. Record the times that you have adapted and coped. See if you can learn something from your list. See if you can find something from your previous experiences that makes you valuable in your new career and resilient in the face of change. Bolster yourself with the confidence that you not only made it through these past experiences, you were empowered by them. Though you may feel like a rookie in your new career, you bring the experience of a pro because all the years of life and work count. Career changes, after all, are kind of like learning your brotherís paper route. You can learn the houses and how to fold the papers and when to collect the money, but you figure out for yourself to ride your bike with the wind at your back.