I got my B.A. in Humanities, which actually means that I could not decide whether to major in History, Religion or English. I crafted my own major with a focus in Humanities. College was an academically invigorating, intellect-broadening experience, but good training to acquire a vocation it was not. Upon graduation I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I was even able to do professionally. I had always seen myself as a teacher, but I also liked—from years in music and drama—performing. College had sparked a love of writing, so maybe I could write for a living. These were all viable dreams whose consideration brought equal amounts of excitement and panic as I hit a pretty tight and unforgiving job market in 1990.
Vocational aspiration gave way to more of a “catch as catch can” approach, and my performer, author and executive success dreams slipped away in a grinding few months full of resumes, telephone calls, interviews and one polite rejection after another. I ended up taking, in desperation, a job in sales (admissions) for a vocational school. While the process was bruising and my new reality failed in most ways to live up to the dreams that were so easily fed within the safety of college walls, I soon found that my new employer had a host of goals and problems (all businesses do), and the more readily I found these goals and problems and took them on as my own, the tighter my new company clung to me and invested in my success.
Within a couple of years at this school, I had worked myself into a community outreach position in which I spoke to local schools and community groups about my company and the work that we did. I moved into career development to help graduating students take charge of their own careers (a topic I felt very connected to at that point), and I started writing both curricula on career development and image and outreach pieces for the company.
I had wanted to be an author, a performer, a teacher, but I took a job in a proprietary school because I could not find a job I wanted, and I had a family to support and rent to pay. The real world beckoned. I never stopped thinking of myself as a performer, a teacher and an author, though, and a funny thing happened. In less than five short years, I had become a public speaker, a writer and a teacher—not exactly with the trappings I had imagined, but I actually ended up with what I wanted.
To anyone newly dumped into this tight and unwelcoming job market, I offer this: imagine yourself happy, intellectually engaged and energized by the work you do. Keep that image in your mind and visit it with great frequency. While doing this, take the best job you can find and commit yourself to learning how to do it well, solve the group’s problems and make their goals your own. This is the best chance you have to craft a career. The future you want is created, not found.