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Help me develop my career "plan b"
December 8, 2005 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I’ve been chronically underemployed since I graduated from college. At the moment I am at home with my infant son, which will be my primary employment probably for the next 2-3 years. I want to start preparing now to improve my career potential down the line. Right now I’m pursuing creative ambitions, but they aren’t necessarily practical and it seems sensible to keep an eye on the pragmatic.

My situation in brief: I got a BA in Chemistry with Honors in 1994. I was never very interested in pursuing a science career though (long story). My work experience is all over the map (from most recent back, considering only longer term jobs): administrative assistant for the dean of an online university, clerical and database administration for public radio, tons of clerical temp work, germination laboratory technician for an orchid nursery, science literature research for a nonprofit think tank. I drifted more and more to the clerical, frankly because the money was better. But I found the work stultifying, and the ceiling for making progress low. I feel like I have the potential to do better than the mid-$30k salaries I had, and I feel like more challenging work would satisfy me more.

But without feeling particularly drawn to a specific career, I’m overwhelmed by options. I’m looking for advice from career changers, particularly those who didn’t know what they wanted to pursue at first. Favorite books or online resources? Do you think consulting with one of these professional career coaches is worthwhile? Do you think my attitude (I’ve given up on finding a “vocation,” I don’t have to love it, I just want tolerable work that I can do well, pays well, and has some growth potential) is a reasonable or poor place to start? I’d like to avoid excessively expensive additional education, but depending on the benefits this is negotiable. How do I start cutting down the pool of options and turning an open-ended period of a few years intentionally out of the job market into a realistic plan for personal development?`

I’m working through prior questions with career and related tags, but most deal with advice on getting into a specific career, and most questioners are currently employed, but feel free to point to particularly relevant previous discussions I may have missed.
posted by nanojath to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think you first need to discover what you are good at and what engages you. Have you ever read Flow by Csikszentmihalyi? (I have not; my husband has and found it very inspiring.) I'm sure others will point you to What Color Is Your Parachute?, which is both supremely helpful at getting you to think about your talents and very cheesy.
posted by Sully6 at 10:09 AM on December 8, 2005


This is a way out-there suggestion, but Minnesota (checked your profile) has a wide array of different jobs.
* Farm hand - a million different tasks, fresh air, hard work
* Casino work - There are numerous smaller casinos all across MN, which offer bennies and a multitude of positions in areas where housing is dirt-cheap.
* Docks/Boat in Duluth. There are more than a few openings for people willing to brave the elements and I cannot think of a more beautiful town than Duluth.

In short, move away from stultifying, soul-crushing urban life and focus on appreciation (XC skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, ice-fishing) of the multitude of natural offerings that your state has. Unfocus on the job.
posted by unixrat at 10:36 AM on December 8, 2005


What are the creative ambitions? Is there a way to do work in a field that's related to them, even if only tangentially?
posted by pazazygeek at 10:42 AM on December 8, 2005


After reading your post the first thing that I thought of was a high school science teacher. I'm in Canada and don't know how it works in Minnesota, but here once you have an undergraduate degree it's just an extra 8 months of teacher's college (not mentally difficult, just a lot of busy work).

If you went that route you could spend the next couple of years supply teaching (and making contacts) as much or as little as you wanted while looking after your son.
posted by curbstop at 10:50 AM on December 8, 2005


I got a BA in Chemistry with Honors in 1994. I was never very interested in pursuing a science career though (long story).

You don't have to tell us the long story, but you should consider the roots of your aversion to it, the age of this aversion, and whether or not any aspects of this aversion have changed. Science careers are not all the same. Many are perhaps absolutely distinct in all ways from the one(s) that put you off science. Science is very important and can be rewarding, remunerative and respected.
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:51 AM on December 8, 2005


It sounds like you have a really good opportunity to take this time to create a new career path for yourself (in addition to raising your son). Take the time to figure out where you'd like to go in the long run - that's a great gift to yourself, and will be to your infant son as he grows up (just think how great it'll be for him to have a dad who loves his work!)

How to do it? I'd say the first thing would be to set some goals and timelines for yourself in the search process. If not, the time will blow by, and you'll stay muddled.

Career counseling can be a great option, if you are really lost. Before you visit someone in person and pay all that money, I'd suggest you visit a bookstore, and browse through self-help books about careers. There are lots of good authors out there that can help guide you in your search, but you have to find the right one whose style fits for you. The giants in the field are Richard Bowles (the parachute guy) and Barbara Sher. Barbara Sher has created an industry that sometimes resembles a revival meeting, like on her TV specials. I find them excruciating to watch, but I know of several people who have found her books to be quite helpful and inspiring.

If you find an author whose style you like and you feel an in-person visit would be good, you can write the author to ask if they can suggest a colleague of theirs in your area. Or, when you're interviewing people in your area, ask them what they think about this or that person's style, and gauge your response on how they answer. Also, if you have any kind of affiliation with a local college, they often have career centers that offer testing, etc.
posted by jasper411 at 11:17 AM on December 8, 2005


Many careeer coaches will tell you to figure out what you love and start with that. However, I've always felt that was impractical. Many people have a *like* for a variety of things and they don't necessarily have to *love* what they're doing. Sometimes things like money, stability, and working hours are more important than loving what you do. "Loving" your work is an upper middle class concept anyway, often put forth by people whose parents will leave them with some sort of inheritance (even half a house) and whose spouse earns a good living. There's nothing wrong with trying to put together a career that complements the other things you love.

So, given all that, you need to figure out what things you might like that also fit with the other things in your life. I'd recommend contacting other chem majors to see where they've ended up. It sounds like your skills would suit you to research, analysis, science writing, tech writing, marketing, teaching, program coordination, etc. Can you still access career resources at your university? (Sometimes they'll still let alumni use the resources.) Try checking out books on careers for science majors.

I've had a 12-year career, but I am currently at home with my infant son. I don't want to jump back into full-time work. I recently lined up a job where I teach one or two evenings a week. Would teaching interest you? Maybe you could teach SAT prep once a week or something to test it out.
posted by acoutu at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2005


How about sales for companies that supply reagents and equipment to research labs? You'd get to meet a lot of people, help them solve their problems, and maybe (although this might not be desireable) do a little bit of regional travelling.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:31 AM on December 8, 2005


In response to pazazygeek, the creative ambitions are writing, and I'd certainly consider this a skill I bring to the table, but I want to keep writing as a career separate from this discussion.
posted by nanojath at 11:35 AM on December 8, 2005


No one knows what they want to do. They just fall into it. You could go to Law school. After 2 years you would be making serious money.
posted by xammerboy at 11:49 AM on December 8, 2005


That'd be three or four years, xammerboy.

Look into becoming a patent lawyer. Patent lawyers must have a degree in the "hard sciences," so there is not a tremendous overflow of wanna-be patent lawyers like there is every other kind of lawyer.
posted by MrZero at 11:57 AM on December 8, 2005


As someone who has been thru a similar situation recently here are the top 3 things I have learned:

* Keep a journal and write a little in it every day. Especially in the chaos of having a baby in the house, you will forget what you were thinking about 3 months ago, and having it written down crystallizes things remarkably.

* Experiment - for example if you are considering science writing as a career see what it feels like to write a couple query letters and attempt to freelance an article. If you have an idea that seems like it might be a keeper a volunteer position for a month or two in that area will help you determine if it is really for you.

* Be very very disciplined. You have got to write down specific goals and dates in your journal and respect them or it is veeerry easy to let the perpetual emergency that is parenthood overwhelm you.

Good luck and keep us posted on what you do!
posted by selfmedicating at 12:32 PM on December 8, 2005


Feel free to email me if you want any more thoughts or just generalized encouragement. I did a major change and long period of searching around the time my son was born so we are probably in pretty similar situations.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:34 PM on December 8, 2005


As I understand (I'm a chemical engineer) the people who sell the technical stuff often end up making more than the ones who designed it. The job then isn't technical, per se, but having the background is required on top of the people skills, which makes a higher barrier to entry for a lot of people. Besides, it can even be fun...
posted by whatzit at 4:32 PM on December 8, 2005


Thanks to everyone for many thoughtful replies. I will continue to check back until this is closed, though I think it has dropped off the radar now, I know people often, as I do, drop back in on older threads so anyone happening by feel free to add comments, and also fell free to drop me a line at the email in my profile.
posted by nanojath at 12:00 PM on December 10, 2005


Did any of the suggestions sound relevant to you?
posted by acoutu at 9:50 PM on December 12, 2005


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