I’ve been going through another one of my famous career crisis lately. I have so many fantastic women in my life who are amazing at their jobs. And these aren’t just any jobs-I’ve got friends who manage communications for an entire state, run PR for major companies, run non profits, and have some pretty fantastic distinctions after their names. And the times that I fall into the comparison trap, I’m aware I come up way short.
I realize that there’s different types of success. I’ve got a good group of friends and family, a happy marriage, I’m in shape, and I’ve got a couple of furry dogs who love me. I may be missing that ideal career, but at my part time job at the YMCA, I get to influence people’s healthy choices. It’s great to be that boost of inspiration for someone to do one more rep, come to class when they’re not wanting to, or add some height to their box jumps. So on these times when I fall into the comparison trap, I try to remember these things and realize my success is measured differently than others-because it’s mine.
But it also makes me think about something else: why do we hold college immediately after high school as the standard education path? I can tell you that if I was an undergrad right now, I’d have taken a completely different path than I did. I’d have stuck to my guns, buckled down, and gotten that dietetics or food science degree. I would have had the life experience to know that quitting something because it’s “too hard” doesn’t get you what you want out of life. My little brother is putting off college until he’s sure of what he wants to do. In the meantime, he’s trying a few jobs, taking a few trips, and learning what he likes and doesn’t like. My husband is back in school, following his dream of astrophysics. Not what he was doing 10 years ago when he went to college fresh out of high school. Maybe the “gap year” thing common in Europe is a good idea.
I mean really, most of us look back at our 18 year old selves and wonder how we managed to tie our shoes. I think about that girl exactly half a lifetime ago (seriously-I’m 36) and she had so much to learn. She had no idea who she was, who she wanted to be. She got to college and just wanted to hide. I was terrified to speak up in class, wore big baggy clothes to blend in, and worked as many hours as possible to make the fact that I had no friends a non issue-I wouldn’t have had time for them anyway! I abandoned the degree I’d thought I wanted for years because I didn’t really look into it at all beforehand. I had no idea how much chemistry went into dietetics. Ask me now, and I’d say “of course-and that sounds wicked interesting!” But then, the only college chemistry experience I had involved the biggest lecture hall I’d ever been in and a professor out to prove what we DIDN’T know instead of showing us what we could know. I caved. I ran. I didn’t realize that the classes would get smaller, that not all professors were like that.
I’m not saying we all need to wait until our 30’s to go to college-in the scheme of life, that’s unrealistic. By 30, we think we’re going to have it all together-married, kids, career well on its path…yeah. And then we get there and realize A) we have no idea what we’re doing and B) as much as we don’t know now, we REALLY didn’t know anything as bratty 18 year olds. I think a gap year would have really benefited me. Take a trip, see the world, hell-pay rent. Find your interests, your hobbies, the subjects you enjoy. Maybe the entire education model needs revisited, hell, I don’t know. But I think that pushing people to go to college straight out of high school is going to end up with a very disillusioned work force when those people spend 10 or so years in a career and realize it’s not at all what they want to be doing.
The other interesting thing about having a career in this day and age is that maybe, just maybe, one of your hobbies can become your income. Blog enough, say the right things to the right people at the right time, and it can become all that you do. Enjoy knitting, and open an Etsy shop full of cute hand crafted items. Like cooking? Start making craft beer and artisan cheese. There’s room for all of those things, and the market is growing. So never stop learning. Never stop exploring. Pursue your interests, go back to school, try new things. Teach an old dog new tricks-it could change the direction of your life.