Monday, September 16, 2013

Career Paths are NOT Linear

In my job, I often get asked about how to get to a certain career—what is the path I should take? This is sometimes a tricky question because career paths are very often not linear. They look more like the path you take in the board game of Chutes and Ladders, with lots of detours, backtracking, and sometimes skipping steps.

The board game Chutes and Ladders,

Take my career path for example. In high school, I knew I wanted to major in psychology and I thought I wanted to be a psychologist. By the time I got to college, I had switched to counseling. I realized that I would need a Master’s degree to be a counselor, so after I finished my Bachelor’s, I went straight to graduate school. I pursued a Master’s in counseling psychology, which involved classes such as psychotherapy, group counseling, psychological testing, research methods, substance abuse counseling, etc.  These applied courses, along with a practicum and internship, helped me focus in on mental health counseling with children as a career goal.
After graduate school, I worked in many and varied positions: psychiatric technician in a residential treatment center for adolescents, individual and group therapist in a group home, foster care case worker, and family therapist in a juvenile probation department. Did I have any idea at the outset of my education that I would be doing some of those things? Definitely not. Did I enjoy all of them? Most definitely not.  But I learned a lot about myself and about the field of counseling. I also gained a lot of experience and skills to help build my resume.
After 8 years in the field, I decided to go back to school to pursue certification in school counseling and guidance. It was a one year commitment. I enjoyed the coursework and the internship, but I could not find a job when I was done. I had to re-examine my goals to determine the best path. In my case, it was pursuing a career in education, but not secondary as I had planned. I applied and got a job as an academic counselor at a community college and found that I really enjoyed the work. When I moved to this area, I applied for and got a position as a counselor, this time in career services, at SCC.
My path was far from linear or planned. Sometimes great adventures come from taking a side road or a back road, not the highway or expressway.  My advice to anyone who is unsure about their career path—be open to the possibilities. Don’t be so set on your plan that you miss great opportunities that are placed in your path. In the words of one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost “Two roads diverged in a wood and I—I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”

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