Thursday, May 3, 2012

What's in a career, anyway?

So last week I wrote about how I think my new job is not the right fit for me. The question is though: what would be a right fit for me?

When I originally started looking for work, things were pretty dire. I needed a job. It wasn't quite desperate, but I need to get some income rolling in (which I think is pretty normal really). I thought I had some time to look for something that was going to be ok, rather than rushing out and getting any kind of job just to make ends meet. I had a deadline in mind and I was anxiously wondering whether something would come through or if I should start visiting all the bars and cafes in my 'hood with my CV in hand.

Eventually something did come through and I was thrilled to think that I had finally done it. I had finally managed to get out of academia and still have a job at least loosely related to my professional experience rather than having to work for minimum wage. I thought I had navigated the career transition successfully.

As it turns out, changing careers is more tricky than it looks. Some people argue that with any career transition there is an inevitable drop in status, and that you have to start at the bottom all over again. Other people argue that this is not so, and that the secret to a successful career change is marketing your transferrable skills properly. Another factor too, is making sure you do your research and know what you're getting in to (something academically trained people shouldn't have too much problem with). Lots of people who have successfully changed careers say that planning is the key, and not jumping ship too soon (however, they all had jobs to begin with, just ones that they didn't like). And let's not forget all the literature that says changing careers is now becoming the norm, with very few people staying in the one occupation for life anymore. Apparently the average is something like 6 careers in a lifetime, although where this figure comes from is anyone's guess.

In leaving academia, with defined career paths, long-term goals, institutional rhythms, clear objectives and a very famililar structured environment, I now find I am struggling with how to find the same, shall we say, 'clarity of purpose' that I had as an academic. In short, I always knew exactly what I had to do to build my career. I knew what my professional goals were (not KPIs, they're different) and I knew exactly how to go about acheiving them. This is what I am missing in my current role.

While I am grateful that I have a job (let's face it, there are millions of people world-wide who don't), I know now that this is not a career. I also know that having a career is important to me. I have done my time punching a clock to make ends meet, working in retail, hospitality and other similar occupations where you're simply a body that can't be replaced by machines. I have always been good at work-life balance and have plenty of extra-curricular activities to keep me entertained, so I don't have any major personal goals that would benefit from focusing on non-work time. I also know that I don't need to panic about being able to find any work, since unemployment rates are not dire here and I was able to find work in a relatively short period of time. I don't want to do any more study as I am still paying off my years working towards my academic career, so retraining is out (for now, at any rate - I do still keep fantasazing about law school, but that's another story).

I guess this all means I am stuck with making the most of the position I am in, at least for a little while at any rate. Which is fine really. I will survive. But perhaps the take home message for anyone else making the transition from academic to post-academic is this: what is it that you need out of a job? I have observed that there are different styles of career changers - those that need to make ends meet and fast, those that want more free-time, those that don't want to relocate every year or so just for a job, and those that hate all things academic. I am in the category of someone who loves academic work but can't survive on an academic wage. This means that I need a challenging and fulfulling career to replace the academic one that is unsustainable. This is going to be my struggle as a post-academic, at least in the short-term. What is yours?

7 comments:

  1. Just found your blog. I'm in a similar situation. I'm possibly getting a job that I *should* be thrilled about, but am not sure if it's a Career or a Lifesaving Money Source. We're blogging on similar themes.

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    1. hi! love your blog :) I look forward to future posts.

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  2. I really understand where you're coming from and I imagine that many in the post-academic crowd also relate to these feelings. The frustrations you point to, seem to me, to point to our shared experiences which have led us to blogging about them in our efforts to figure out how to best proceed. My solution at the moment has been to think of possible job prospects that may not offer the 'ideal' challenge, but could help lead to me to something further down the line. I am speaking also from the perspective of someone who has taken a shot at applying for things that appear to offer those challenges I want, but I have been unsuccessful as an applicant. So, I am at the point now, where I am looking at some positions differently. I am looking at roles that I wouldn't have considered a year ago. Yes, this whole thing takes a hell of a lot of time, indeed. I hope your present job, when presented on your cv/resume, might help you a lot for a future position. Good luck. How nice for you to have a pay cheque at the moment!

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    1. I can't tell you how many different jobs I applied for - it's kind of a strange position to be in, because you haven't decided what you want to do, and you don't have any confirmation of what you can do. But the role I ended up with was something that wouldn't have crossed my mind had I not been applying broadly. Good luck! (and yes, havin a pay cheque is undeniably nice - just not having that stress anymore is such a relief)

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  3. Very informative blog! I'm a PhD student too, but not exactly disappointed with academia at present. Was just googling for phd drop outs and found this. What's your field?

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    1. I am a social scientist. That's good that you're enjoying your work - I always did too. It's just not sustainable any more, so I have had to move on from academia. I hope you have a different experience. Although - googling "phd drop outs" and reading former academic blogs seems to indicate that you're a bit worried about your future. You have every reason to be - the system creates more PhDs than there are academic jobs, so ultimately you can either keep trying to get one and be miserable and poor and stressed, or enjoy your PhD time and think about alternative careers. (there is another option - you MIGHT get lucky and get an academic job, but it won't be easy).

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