Your Truth: Embracing Career Changes
Do you remember how it felt when you figured out what you wanted to do with your life? Chances are it was in high school, when you gave in to your mother’s harping and finally picked a major. Maybe you chose to be an accountant, a nurse, a teacher, a therapist, or an engineer. Regardless of your decision, it felt good to know there was a path laid out for you to follow and (recession-be-damned!) a job waiting for you at the end of it.
I felt the same way when I decided I wanted to be a journalist. I had a dream in my heart, a twinkle in my eye, and an acceptance letter to one of the nation’s finest journalism schools in my hand. All I had to do was follow the path and I’d be set.
But, just four short years after starting my newsroom career, I realized that either a) that path wasn’t taking me where I expected it to, or b) I wasn’t enjoying the scenery quite as much as I thought I would. Or perhaps it was some combination of both.
In lieu of straining the above metaphor any further, I’ll just say this: I needed a career change. Journalism isn’t exactly a thriving industry right now (the line chart of newsrooms jobs looks like that terrifying new waterslide in Kansas City), my company had just announced another round of layoffs and buyouts, and my efforts to enact real and meaningful change in the newsroom were met with a tepid response.
Lucky for me, I’d been able to pick up some skills that translated well outside of the journalism world, so I decided to take a leap. Barely a year after getting married and only a few months after my wife and I purchased our first home together, I left what I thought was my “dream job” in the city for a small tech company in the suburbs.
The first few months on the job have been a roller coaster of emotions, but ultimately I believe I made the right decision. But that doesn’t mean the transition has been easy. Here are a few of the things I’ve struggled with after taking the leap.
Every day I encounter something I don’t know how to do, and as someone with an inherent need to know all the things, this is TERRIFYING.
“Hey Chris, can you query the database and echo out a property based on the user’s submitted string? Should be pretty straightforward.”
*Panics, perspires profusely, Googles furiously trying to figure out the answer before being discovered as a fraud*
If you find the above response perfectly reasonable, you’re not alone (and we’d probably be great friends). But, after a week or two of this anxiety dance, I decided to try a different tact: Instead of being embarrassed by everything I don’t know, I’m freely admitting the gaps in my knowledge and asking for help. As it turns out, I actually know more than I realize. I just need help connecting the dots sometimes, and that’s OK.
Being the odd man out
Shortly after leaving journalism, I realized I no longer have the same job as any of my friends. Before making the switch, I had countless people to commiserate with about the daily grind of newsroom life. And now? Other than my two colleagues, I literally don’t know anyone else who does what I do for a living. It’s not that I have an uncommon job (the BLS estimates there were more than 140,000 web developers in 2012), it’s just that, when you enter a career field that’s radically different than the one you studied for in school, it’s likely you’ll be an outlier.
At first, this really bothered me. I’m someone who thrives on a sense of belonging and camaraderie, and after the switch I was feeling pretty isolated. I would Gchat friends and say things like, “omfg, this week’s CSS Tricks post was mind-blowing, amirite?” and receive the Internet equivalent of blank stares.
After a while, though, I learned to enjoy being different. Suddenly, I was the most interesting guy at the party, simply because listening to me prattle on about my job was slightly less dull than hearing old newsroom tales for the umpteenth time.
Sometimes, it’s good to be different.
Learning the unwritten rules
When you’ve been in a job for a while, you get to know the jargon, the inside jokes, and the unwritten rules. Journalism has more of those little nuggets than most industries, I imagine, but after four years on the job, I felt I knew most of them.
But a change in careers comes with a whole new set of intricacies to learn, and from the start I felt very out of the loop.
I’d liken it to starting a new relationship shortly after a lengthy one has ended. All of the weird quirks, jokes, and even pet peeves of the former union don’t exactly translate to the new one.
“Babe, why did you just call me Honey Bunches of Oats?”
“Oh right, yeah, that’s not our thing, is it? Oops…”
My new colleagues have been coworkers for a while and personal friends for even longer, so it’s understandable that they communicate on another level. But I’m slowly learning the lingo, the inside jokes, and the pet peeves (which are very important to know in a tiny office, by the way), and I’m feeling more comfortable each day.
Adopting a new identity
Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only one having a hard time with the transition. My friends and family have known me as Chris The Journalist for a long time, and I think they’re struggling with my new identity, too.
Though my role at the paper was a bit amorphous, it was easy for my parents to tell people, “Oh, what does my son do? He’s a journalist, he works at the city paper.” Now, I write code all day and essentially speak a language (or three) they’ve never heard of. The easiest thing for them to say is, “Yeah, he builds websites or something.” But, it’s not as easy to brag on your kid with that job description, is it?
What I’m learning is to have patience, and to enjoy the opportunity to explain something new. I happen to find my new work fascinating (even though a misplaced semicolon can now nearly bring me to tears), and with time I’m sure those around me will, too.
Is the transition from one career to another terrifying? Absolutely. But will many of us be faced with that change at some point in our working lives? Most likely.
Unlike our parents, a great many of us won’t spend our entire career at one or two jobs. While this can be a daunting reality, it also gives us the opportunity for so much more exploration and growth. All we can do is be open to the change when it comes, do our best to learn as we go, and get really good at Googling the answers we don’t know.