I made the wrong career choice so now what do I do?
February 25, 2012 4:49 PM   Subscribe

I enrolled in a veterinary technician program this past fall, and I've realized that I don't want a career in this particular field. The main reason I actually returned to school was not to pursue a career I want, but just to get away from my previous job, which I hated. If I choose to quit the program, how do I tell those supporting me, specifically financially, that I don't want to take this path anymore even though I appeared so sure of it before? Also, where do I go from here?

Apologies in advance for the length of this. I hope it makes sense.
I've posted here about my dilemma with my career/program choice before, but this time it's not so much about my conflicting feelings, but more on how I deal with the aftermath of a choice and the people who have been invested in me. Like I said above, I went back to school and I am currently in the first year of a two-year veterinary technician program. I'm enjoying the courses and I'm doing really well, but I know that after graduating I really don't want to be a vet tech. I chose this path because I really disliked my former job at an advertising firm (or at least the work itself, the work environment was great). I figured I like animals so I should switch careers and be a vet tech. This never really sat well with me, but I figured it was a better option than the current job, and the whole process of preparing for it made it seem exciting and the right thing to do.
Now the deeper I get into the program, the more I realize I really, truly don't want to be a vet tech. I like animals and I am interested in learning about them, but I really have no interest in working with them in a medical sense. The issue now is if I decide to quit the program, how do I tell those who have supported me? My parents have provided significant financial support, and now I've basically wasted it. I'm more than willing to pay it back, but there is still the disappointment and questions about why I changed my mind when I seemed so confident in my choice before. I could just suck it up and finish the program, but the situation would be worse and more money spent if at that point I tell them that I have no intention of using my education.
The other issue is if I quit, what do I do instead? Having been away from my former job for a while now, I kind of wish I had stuck with it. There’s a possibility that I could return, but there’s no guarantee, and I still might not enjoy it. Plus, my bosses gave me a substantial sum of money to help pay for school, and I’m not sure how to handle that issue if I were to return. Another option I’m considering is taking a one-year postgraduate (I already have an undergraduate degree) program in project management or something similar that would be beneficial in a variety of occupational fields, providing me with some options. What I’d really love to do is just take some time away from everything and be able to really think about my options and what I’d really like to do, but I don’t have the financial means to do that at this point.
Essentially, what I’d like know is whether anyone else has had similar experiences. Did you make a wrong career choice that not only affected yourself, but others close to you? How did you handle it and move forward? Thanks in advance for any answers.
posted by DanielleT to Education (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's entirely possible that you could get a job related to animal welfare once you had this degree, but not work as a vet tech. Personally, I'd see what else the degree can help you with or if there's a way for those course which you've already taken can be used for a different degree or certificate. I think quitting after 1 year isn't a sound idea--what's the worst than can happen if you finish the program?
posted by Ideefixe at 4:56 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm enjoying the courses and I'm doing really well,

disliked my former job at an advertising firm (or at least the work itself

Please keep these two things in mind before you make a decision.

It sounds like you're panicking and want to go back in time, but you can't. As you like the course and are doing well and other people have made significant financial contributions to your study it would be more sensible to continue with it. It is, after all, only a year and you have said that you don't hate it.

I'm not familiar with the area, but I'm sure you can get work in a related area without having to be a vet tech.
posted by mleigh at 5:06 PM on February 25, 2012

I think you need to read I Could Do Anything I Wanted If I Only Knew What It Was by Barb Sher and do all the exercises in it. And stick to the program.
posted by dawkins_7 at 5:20 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

LVTg here. If you really have "have no interest in working with them (animals) in a medical sense", you should drop the program. Especially if it's only a two-year program and you already have a bachelors degree. The medical aspect is everything, and if you don't enjoy that, there's no future for you in veterinary technology. You will not enjoy your job, and you probably won't be that great at it.

Before I was introduced to the field of veterinary technology, my parents had sunk $75,000 dollars on my education in a field I could care less about. It was expected after undergrad I would progress all the way up to a PhD, and have prestige and money. When I first told them that I was interested as working as a tech my dad googled "vet tech salary" and straight out asked if I wanted to be a pauper. They'd paid more for my college education that I will probably ever make in a year. They were pissed. I can't really blame them. I'd lived a really expensive lie for four years and given them lip service. I really wish the first semester I realized academia wasn't for me I wish I had spoken up. It would have saved everybody a lot of time, money, and grief.

You need to be really honest with the people who have been supporting you. It's gonna suck. They might be mad or disappointed. Explain to them why it isn't going to work for you, and that you are incredibly appreciative of their support, and realize you are very fortunate to have them. And when you do decide where you want your education to take you, thoroughly investigate that field. I worked as a kennel manager and then a vet assistant before I chose a BsVT program.

If you’re still interested in helping out animals in a non-medical way and want to earn a post-grad degree or certificate check out The Humane Society University.
posted by brown hound at 5:25 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you drop the program you need to be able to offer your parents and others a plausible alternative, and I respectfully suggest that studying yet another degree is not that alternative, especially one so vague and no doubt expensive as "project management" - unless you're doing it part-time whilst working full time and paying for it yourself. A course like that will offer very little incentive for people to hire you, I don't know how old you are, but if it's early to mid twenties, a working history will be far more valuable to you than another piece of paper that 30 000 people graduate with every year.

More broadly, and with absolutely no offense intended, I'm picking up a slightly immature vibe to your attitude about careers and working from this question. Whilst you have every right to do a job you enjoy, you seem to be operating on this "Mr Right"/soulmate kinda thinking with regard to jobs. There's "the one" out there for you, and you've got to keep searching to find it. I think this is and will continue to lead to much dissatisfaction for you, and it's also resulting in your hyperbolic enthusiasm when you think you've "found it", which you are now embarrased about.

Please be aware that most people do not love their jobs. That's why they get paid; because no one will do it for free. Further, even when people do hate - or love - their jobs, it's their jobs they hate/love, generally not their vocations, per se.

I say this all the time to my friends when they are having career crises: In my overwhelming experience it is not a job per se which is good or bad, but your working environment that makes a job. Thus, you can find moderately enjoyable jobs in fields and positions you may not be totally interested in.

More broadly, though, you have to work; you can't keep expecting your parents and others to pay for your personal development. This will undoubtedly mean you will do work you don't enjoy or find especially personally rewarding. That's okay, you're not doing it for personal development; you're doing it for money, to pay your bills and to spend and have fun with. Welcome to working life for most of the world. The development angle can come on the side.

In summary: finish the damned course so you get a recognised qualification that will get you a job you can work at, and then - either within the job or without - isolate the aspects of working you enjoy and work out a plan that will enable you to do more of them. This journey may take several years, even a decade or more depending on how exclusive what you enjoy is. If you think you would struggle to get a skilled job outside of vet tech with your experience, I would suggest that vet tech will give you many more options than waiting tables/working at a cash register etc, both financially and in terms of career development.
posted by smoke at 6:15 PM on February 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

Out of sheer roaring curiosity, I just looked at brown_hounds eponysterical link to the HSU.

It might be exactly what you're looking for. I'm sure you could swing your two years vet tech AND slant your work experience at the advertising firm to slot yourself into this program as an excellent fit.

Students enter HSU with 60 or more credit hours from an accredited institution of higher learning. Admission is limited to students who have received an associate degree or completed the equivalent of at least two years of a four-year college degree program with a grade point average of 2.5 (C+) or above. Please see course catalog for more detailed information on admissions requirements.

If this at all interests you, you might want to finish your vet tech degree. Do well, and apply. If you decide you don't like the particular job you end up with, you could always go non-profit.

I'd go for it (except I'd be a vet tech--should have done that instead of English major)
posted by BlueHorse at 6:20 PM on February 25, 2012

Describing the OP as "slightly immature" is being kind.

You're talking about thousands of dollars of *other people's money* and their equally generous goodwill.

You need to get a hold of your life before all these people replace their faith in you with utter disgust at how friviously you have treated their contributions.

If you want out of the Vet program, have a *written* plan to show your financial backers, detailing how you're going to pay their money back. This is your best shot at keeping your respect in their eyes.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:26 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

What I’d really love to do is just take some time away from everything and be able to really think about my options and what I’d really like to do, but I don’t have the financial means to do that at this point.

Get a job and then you'll have the financial means to spend your weekends and evenings thinking about what you'd really like to do. Sorry if that sounds harsh but it sounds like what you really need is to figure out your level of tolerance for loving your job. I need to like my job. I found this out by working a variety of shitty jobs to support myself. The shitty jobs not only gave me the motivation to pursue my goals it gave me the work history and savings to do what I really wanted to do. If I'd taken time off to think about it I'd still be thinking.
posted by fshgrl at 8:07 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nthing that you need to finish the program. Not because you need to work as a vet tech but because as a drop out from the program you are essentially someone who has wasted your own time and a marvelous opporunity that others gave you by giving their own resources (money and the time in their own lives it took to earn it). As someone who has a degree you'll have OPTIONS and that puts you in a whole different place. This is part of growing up. You need to approach this as an adult (who makes something of what they've got and is grateful for the gift), not as a child (who throws away a costly toy once they lose interest).
posted by zia at 11:53 PM on February 25, 2012

Best answer: 1. I assume you have paid all of your tuition for this year already. In that case, DO NOT mentally check out or drop out right now. Try hard, find a summer job in the vet tech field if possible (assuming that's possible/expected in this kind of program), and realize your date to decide this is whenever you have to pay next year's tuition.

2. This is the time of year when every academic program seems depressing. Realize there's some chance you'll feel less down on vet tech work in 6 months.

3. Brown hound appears to be the only person with industry experience here, so I'm going to give you some credit and say it might be the responsible thing to drop out. But you need to do a lot more work first to see if you can make it work. The NAVTA website suggests to me there are a lot of very different jobs within "vet tech"--have you really done the work to decide none of them are acceptable to you?

4. Do the work. If your career services office is good/exists, meet with them. Otherwise, find people with your degree doing different things, and ask for an informational interview/buy them coffee. Figure out what people like about their jobs, what different career paths look like, etc. Even if you can't find the best job ever right away, is there some area where you'd like the work in 3-5 years? Is there a related field you can break into with a vet tech degree and 3-5 years experience as a vet tech?

5. If after this you determine there is really no way a vet tech degree makes sense, drop out. Definitely don't spend another year's tuition just to put off this decision. But you are coming across as someone who doesn't understand that most careers take work and are not sunshine and lollipops 100% of the time (wishing you'd stuck with advertising makes it seem like you didn't do this work the first time around).

6. Keep your parents (and maybe former bosses) involved in this process. Tell them your first idea about a job seems less exciting than you'd hoped, so you're doing XYZ. They may have good advice too. That way, if you come to the end and decide to drop out, they won't be blindsided, and will understand you really tried to make it work.

7. That would be the point to take a job waiting tables while you decided what to do next (get back into advertising, find another school program, etc.). Not now. Deciding on a different post-grad program would be a pretty bad idea right now.
posted by _Silky_ at 5:21 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I work in academia with many non-clinically focused LVTs, and also many traditionally clinic-focused or even clinical specialist LVTs. There are many ways to parlay an LVT into other work. You may have to pay your dues in practice for a few years, or in more clinical work at first, but you will have to pay dues in every field, no matter how perfect it seems from the outside. If you enjoy managing and coordinating projects....hooooboy, can I think of ways you could work up to lab manager or research coordinator...or incorporate your design background for curriculum development and teaching basic sciences for veterinary technicians. Or get a job in outreach or extension. There are so many paths, but they don't leap out or necessarily scoop you up as a new grad. You have to put in the time and make them happen.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 6:58 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I disagree that these are immature questions to ask--your dilemma is legit.
posted by steinsaltz at 7:13 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Veterinary technology is high technical and specialized field. It's a combination of nursing and laboratory technology. We place catheters, intubate and extubate patients, induce and monitor anesthesia, run diagnostic lab tests (CBCs, urinalysis, blood gas...), perform humane euthanasia, attend conferences, earn CEUs, etc. We can work in general practice, specialty practice, zoos, aquariums, or research settings. I work in a large hospital in critical care. I got puked on, peed on, and bleed on almost every day. The training that you receive is highly specialized so that you can do all this and not kill your patients. As a vet tech you do have a lot of choice in where you take your career, but mostly likely it will always involve practicing excellent veterinary medicine.

The OP stated that she had no interest in working with animals in a medical sense. As a vet tech you really can’t avoid this unless you're working in academia, and even then you have to put in years of work in a clinical atmosphere. It’s part of your job. It’s a hard, emotionally and physically strenuous job and you are not compensated appropriately for your skill level. I do this because I LOVE IT. I would argue that you couldn’t be a part of this field unless you are driven by your love of animals, medicine, and technology

So what’s the point of continuing in the program if you’re going have no use for the technical skills that you’re learning? It’s a total waste. Besides, the OP already has already bachelor’s degree so it’s not like she’ll be out in the job market without any college experience.

Uniformitarianism Now! is absolutely right when they say "There are so many paths, but they don't leap out or necessarily scoop you up as a new grad. You have to put in the time and make them happen." But again, I emphasize that the OP said she has no interest in working with animals in a medical sense. Before she's able to take one of these others paths, I think she'll have to put in many hours of hard clinical work, which she said she has no interest in.
posted by brown hound at 7:14 AM on February 26, 2012

brown hound, I agree with you that, taking OP at her word, she should not complete the program. But right now is when a lot of people in pre-professional programs feel like they chose wrong. OP may not be liking specific things, but without enough experience she just thinks she hates all the medical stuff. It may be too soon to tell.

Also, OP's question was how to get buy-in from her backers to drop out. In my experience the only way to do this is to show that, even after she decided she was probably going to drop out, she finished the year and really looked logically at whether it was the right decision. Since tuition has presumably been paid already, I don't see tons of downside to sticking with the program for a few more months and reassessing then.
posted by _Silky_ at 9:35 AM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the input. I understand how some of you think I come across as immature; your comments actually opened up my eyes to that and made me realize I am being pretty thoughtless in some aspects. I still think they're legitimate questions though and thanks for the variety of answers. I do intend on at least completing this year of the program, and then I have 4 months to figure things out until the next school year. I'll definitely check out the book you suggested, dawkins_7; it seems like something that could help clarify things. I do realize there are a number of options I have with a vet tech diploma (in Canada) and already having a degree does probably provide even more opportunities. I may have been hasty in saying I have no desire to work with animals in a medical sense; my goal was to work in research with laboratory animals. Therein lies part of the problem since the program I'm in is so focused on clinical work in first year (which I know provides a vital base for everything else) that I kind of lose focus on why I'm there.
Anyways, thanks again for all the advice and taking the time to provide it. I definitely value all of it.
posted by DanielleT at 5:21 PM on February 26, 2012

OP, your questions are totally legit. The thing is that the way you approach career development is very different if you have finite and limited resources or if you have unlimited. I urge you to think of them as limited because you are in a unique, gifted situation.

To be a bit more positive than my previous comment:

Your sun is shining; make some hay!!
posted by zia at 5:39 AM on March 2, 2012

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