If you are a high school student, you may want to think about the option of delaying college unless you’re clear about your career path. A lot of young adults haven’t yet figured out the combination of interests, skills, values, and goals that will determine their role and satisfaction in the world of work.
As an option to college right away, you might want to get some real-world experience: move to a new place, work with people you wouldn’t normally associate with, learn about other socio-economic classes, about other cultures. Get a waitressing job in a Greek restaurant. Learn about landscaping in the suburbs. Be a bartender on the waterfront if the law allows. After all of those tests, essays, MCAS and SAT’s, let your brain absorb information through your pores instead of a textbook. Be part of a crew on a fishing boat, work with the disabled and less fortunate. Stretch, lean, jump, dance; become a martial artist of life. Don’t expend your energy on too much alcohol—live healthily. Cook and eat nourishing foods. Share rent with friends. Find an apartment and repaint it. With every new thing you choose to do, you are learning and becoming more self-sufficient. Those experiences shape you as you learn a lot about what you don’t want or like, and finally what you do.
If you can afford it, travel, or get a job, save some money and plan a trip. There is no better classroom, especially if you learn a language along with it. For example, there is an organization called WWOOF, Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms where you work for room and board. Or, be an entrepreneur — Start your own business and you won’t have to go to college, but you will have to learn everything there is about running a successful business. You can volunteer or intern to learn new skills for business or any other field. Choosing a gap year or two may save you time and money in the long run when it comes to your education. Not everyone is ready or suited for college right after high school, or college at all, but everyone will need some form of training and preparation to do skilled work.
I’ve worked with many clients who don’t fit into the 9-5 world for different reasons: health issues, childcare, being an artist and wanting to create, or being a portfolio career individual like myself who likes to do a variety of things to earn a living. It’s an added career challenge to create what works for your unique situation and can take more time, but it’s worth it. One of my clients had been having vertigo for years.
Medication helped but didn’t completely solve the issue. This situation made her depressed so she went on anti-depressant medication. Although previously working full time as a teacher hadn’t been an issue, it was now. This was true for another client who had been a full-time social worker but had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We worked on revising their resumes by creating a powerful profile section and using strong active verbs. We also made any lapses in employment less predominant.
As we practiced for interviews by anticipating questions and preparing answers, I helped clients reframe their employment stories by always using positive language and projecting a can-do attitude. There was no need for either client to reveal medical issues as each was capable of fulfilling the roles of a part-time position.
Another client had been working in marketing full time at a corporation but after having two children two years apart, asked for some flexible time working from home. She was able to work from home three out of five days. After a year of trying to make that fit and realizing she was being pulled in too many directions, she asked for a part-time position but was declined. She continued working full-time while she worked on a home-based business plan to prepare healthy meals for working parents. Cooking had always been an avocation, so she would capitalize on those skills, and go for further training by learning how to cook vegetarian and specialized diet-based meals.
Each of us has a unique path to create. The current employment scene calls for individuals to be creative and entrepreneurial and understand how to use technology to their benefit. More and more companies are hiring consultants or part-time workers often in positions with no benefits. Finding affordable health care becomes a challenge. Before stepping off the 9-5 plan, whenever possible, have a plan. But, if you don’t fit into the 9-5 world or suddenly lose your job or need to deal with a health issue, you’ll need to hang onto your surfboard and ride that wave as best you can. Find support with friends, other job-seekers, a career coach, or visit a Career One-Stop. Remember that you’re not alone and re-evaluate the important things in life. Focus on your strengths, be creative, and brainstorm with people you trust.
Success Story: The following story is a composite of those from several coaching clients.
Depending on circumstances and timing, being laid off can be a shocking and extremely challenging event, or it can come almost as a relief, a reason for moving on. One of my clients, Mark, had known for several months that his job would end. This had given him time to think about how he would reposition himself for another job, accomplish personal goals, and create more of a work-life balance. This was why Mark first came to see me for career coaching.
Notification acted as just the breath of fresh air I needed to begin many new initiatives. I joined a gym in town, hired a personal trainer, and have a goal of losing 30 pounds by May. As you know, I’ve been thinking about volunteering with the elderly. Yesterday I walked into an Assisted Living center near my house for volunteer information, and I attended a social event to meet some folks and get a feel for the place.
I also attended my first Al-Anon meeting on Wednesday and will likely become a regular at either or both of two meetings weekly. This is a whole other, very important issue that I’ve needed to address for years; it is coming to a head as I witness my daughter now in the depths of her own problems with substance abuse.
I’ve got to dash off to attend the website design course I finally enrolled in. I owe you another e-mail on timelines and how you and I might continue our work together, but wanted to get this off to you now.
It is amazing that Mark had any time to email me with all of these new initiatives in his life. He also helps care for his elderly aunt. Since his lay off, he has had time to address issues that have been weighing on him for some time: health, his daughter’s mental health, and getting the professional training he wants and needs to move on. Mark has given himself a few months before beginning the job quest, and he will be better positioned for it with more training under his belt and a sense of accomplishment. As he and I discussed, he will then be faced with continuing with the initiatives he has begun and integrating them into his life once he finds a job. He will strive to maintain more balance between the personal and professional.
I wanted to share Mark’s success story as an inspiration for those going through a job lay-off or transition. Ask yourself, “Is the bear eating me or am I eating the bear?” If you can get on the more powerful side of that equation, you can use your energy to engage and grow like Mark is doing. Choosing a positive approach over fear is the first step in eating that bear energy and making it work for you.
I had the pleasure of working with Christine, a bright, artistic woman in her early-50’s, who is a back-to-school mom. She received an associate’s degree in the 80‘s and now that her children are grown, is currently working towards her bachelor’s in consumer economics/ fashion design. She quickly needed to come up with a resume to apply for a paid internship position at TJX Companies, Inc. Working at an internship is a required part of her degree program, and Christine realized she hadn’t written a resume in ten years…..
That’s when she called me. Together we reviewed her old resumes, discussed her work experience since that time, and organized the information on paper. It was important to highlight her strengths and interests as they related to this particular position in the world of fashion. As in all resumes, presenting a readable layout is key, as is including the appropriate sections with description that is concisely informative.
As a career coach, I have the opportunity to learn about the various gifts and talents that each client has. Christine is the creator of soft furnishings like pillows, slipcovers, etc. as well as a muralist, faux finisher, and decorative art painter. As one who is timid about drawing stick figures, I was impressed as I am in different ways with each client.
Christine sent off her application and then practiced for the interviewing process. A few weeks later she was called, had a successful interview, and is currently enjoying her internship. Christine has had an on-going small business in her field, but this paid internship holds the potential opportunity of working for a large company where there is plenty of room to grow for creative and hard-working individuals. If not hired internally, Christine can take this experience, include it on her resume and have more to offer the next prospective employee. In a few years, we may find Christine’s logo on our clothing, and you may even remember where you first heard about her.
A client, Tim, was in his second semester of freshman year at Salem State College when his parents wanted me to meet with him. First semester passed by in a haze of parties, unfinished assignments, credit card abuse, and worst of all, a feeling of failure and being left behind. Academics had never come easily to Tim due to having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) which was diagnosed in middle school. Medication was helpful in helping Tim to focus but he still struggled with executive functioning skills like organizing, prioritizing, and time management.
The main question was should Tim quit college now or try one more semester. We discussed the pros and cons, the academic support services at school, and some major lifestyle changes that would need to be in place. Tim decided to try spring semester and to his credit he kept up with his work by making studying a priority rather than socializing. Tim had chosen business as a major but with no real passion or end-goal in mind. It was a fallback major. After two months, the discipline of attending class and doing all of that work felt increasingly meaningless.
After some coaching, Tim decided it was time to be completely honest with himself and his parents. He had wanted to try college like many of his friends, but his heart wasn’t into it. What he had always wanted was to be on the police force or perform a civic job. Tim is highly personable, social, and wants to contribute to the community. Because it is currently so difficult to get on local police forces, Tim decided to turn his sights on being an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). He moved back home, enrolled in a program, and finally had a reason to get out of bed in the morning that felt true to who he was. The classes and hands-on training were challenging and exciting. He studied and did well because he was highly motivated. To make some money and start paying his parents back for the college bills, he got a job helping out in a residential facility for cognitively challenged people that is near his home. It turns out that he loves working with “his guys” as he calls them. Tim has taken the state EMT practical exam and is waiting for the results. He will then take the written portion. Because of his winning personality and newfound skills, he has a job waiting for him as soon as he passes the exams, which he is confident he will.
Before enrolling in any training program or college, be clear about your skills, interests, and values. Let them be the north star that guides you.
Chris Miller, A Natural for Teaching
In the spring of 2010,Chris Miller was teaching English in a suburban high school close to Boston, but he wasn’t going to be re-hired for the following September. There had been an incident where Chris joked with one of the teachers, but it was misinterpreted and set off a chain of negative reactions among a small group of colleagues. Although his previous teaching records were excellent, it didn’t change the outcome. I saw Chris the following fall when he felt discouraged and was questioning his role as a teacher. During our sessions, it became clear that Chris was a dedicated to teacher. He came alive when discussing creating engaging lessons, and he spoke in terms of nurturing students’ success. He also loved his subject matter. It was clear to me that it was the environment and not the work itself that was the problem. We talked about urban public schools, and charter and independent schools. I encouraged Chris to try substitute teaching in a variety of settings and get to know the teachers. He had a friend at Boston Latin (BL), got in touch with her and sat in on her class. He met the English department head who liked him and wanted him to sub. She knew there was a long-term sub position opening up soon which Chris accepted. He then spent this past year teaching under a one-year contract. Chris felt that the diversity of BL students and academic rigor were a good match for him. He now has many colleagues and connections in the Boston Public School system. They are not currently hiring a permanent English teacher at BL, but Chris’s teaching experience is richer, his resume more impressive, and his conviction in his teaching abilities is strong. I’m sure his Boston Latin students are happy he continued in his chosen field of teaching—-he has a gift, a much needed one. The next school system will be lucky to have him.