Arrow sketch on blackboard and pretty young woman smiling to camera. Concept of decision making.

Forging a Unique Career Path: My Unconventional Story

My college experience and career path were not linear at all. Not everyone goes to college for four years, graduates, finds their dream job, and lives happily ever after.

For some of us, it is an arduous quest, with many starts and stops, including a few ‘come to Jesus’ moments. In those moments when you question everything, is where you can often find the resilience to live happily.

I like to describe my time in college and my personal career path as an eclectic journey of self-discovery and resilience.

A stack of books with a graduation cap on top of them and a holder filled with pens and pencils.

When I Was Young, I Knew the Career Path I Wanted

While still in high school, I graduated with an AA degree. Then, I enrolled as a Journalism/Mass Communications major at USF. My career goals at the time were simple. I wanted to write meaningful pieces and cover stories that were impactful. I imagined being a senior editor someday. Writing fiction novels on the side to keep my creativity and love of storytelling alive.

However, I never started classes. Instead, I moved to Montana, where my mom was living in the witness protection program. She encouraged me to stay with her and enroll at a private college (Rocky Mountain College, paid link) that offered an Equestrian program.

If there was one thing I loved as much as writing, it was horses. At the start of this program, I was so excited to ride every day that I didn’t think about what career path I would follow with this degree. No career pathing happened at this stage!

During class one day, the professor said how several graduates wrote for equine magazines, and I thought it was a match made in heaven. I would write about horses, then make associate editor at an equine magazine, and move up the career ladder.

A woman at a desk, writing while enjoying a cup of coffee.

Sometimes, Our Carefully Planned Career Paths go Awry

I was almost finished with my second semester of the program when my mother died in a car accident. I had to move out of her house but couldn’t afford an apartment. At school, the counselor suggested I look into a cheaper program and use the leftover funds to live on campus.

They didn’t offer a journalism degree, which would have been the obvious choice for the career path I saw myself on. I recall her asking if anything else interested me. At 18, grieving, and unable to process any of my traumatic childhood events, I scrambled to make this life choice.

“I thought about being a lawyer for a few years. I even volunteered at our school’s ‘Teen Court.’ I’m also good at public speaking and debate,” I remember answering. She thought for a moment and said, “What about Political Science?”

Two people (all you can see are their feet) and reading the ground where it says "Passion Led Us Here" symbolizing their career path.

The Hits Keep Coming

So, I started that program. A fight with my grandma on the phone and the news that my boyfriend was moving back to Hawaii was more than my sleep-deprived, traumatized, grieving mind could process.

I ended up spending three nights in the psych ward, where I cried for days about my mom and my father, who had been absent from my life since I was five. When I got out of the hospital, I looked him up on Google (a relatively new thing back in 2002). I called twice and left two messages days apart. I had given up hope, but then, later that week, he called me back.

Before I knew it, I was on a bus to NY. My dad was adamant that I continue with school, but that I choose something more lucrative than journalism. He was not a fan of that career path at all.

So one of the first things we did was go to St. John’s University and meet with the admissions department. I was a transfer student with a two-year degree at 18; my grades were excellent, and my test scores were higher than average. I had enjoyed the Poli-Sci program at Rocky, so I enrolled in the Pre-Law Advisement Program with a fall start date.

However, I would not step foot in the halls of St. John’s either.

I Always Knew What My Dream Job Was… But I Kept Doing Something Else

Before school started, my boyfriend and I resumed talking, and we realized we missed each other. It wasn’t long before I was back on a bus to Montana to stay with his mom while we saved money to fly me to Hawaii.

The rest of 2002 was a blur of traveling farther than I had ever gone, realizing we couldn’t live in Hawaii without staying with his father and returning to the mainland. We got married at the end of the year and got pregnant at the beginning of 2003.

My husband was still trying to finish his computer science degree, and we had a newborn, so my dreams of college hit a momentary snag. He graduated four years later, and during that time, I had enrolled in an online college because that was the only way I was going to get it done while working with a toddler and a husband in school.

A laptop on a table with computer code on the screen symbolizing a technology career path.

Dreams and Career Paths Can Change

One of the few programs they offered that remotely interested me was Business Administration. I had worked in various retail management positions, so it just seemed like the most logical career path to take. It was clear I wouldn’t be a journalist, or a writer, or a lawyer either.

It would take me years to earn that Bachelor’s degree, but I stuck with it and finally graduated in 2014. My husband’s career was going well, and I could stay home with the kids for the first time in our lives.

I figured, what better time than this to get my Master’s degree! I was riding the high of finally having a Bachelor’s, and I had over a decade of retail management experience, so Management and Leadership was the most linear career path.

Surely, I could write training programs and work on developing strategies. A position in human resources appealed to me. In my mind, I could still impact people’s lives in a meaningful way.

Then, we moved while I was in the middle of the program, and I had to go back to work as my husband took a pay cut. This led to another break from school.

Eventually, I started a new school with a different program, and it was a much better fit. I ended up taking another break, but I was so close that after a year, I went back to finish it.

A quote from Elmore Leonard, "Not dreams but night changes, not destiny but path changes. Always keep your hopes alive. Luck may or may not change, but time definitely changes."

The Career Path You Know Is Right Never Really Leaves You

About six months into the last year of my Master’s program, I felt the need to write again. I had written fiction, poetry, and non-fiction articles when I was in high school. Writing kept me alive, and it had been my first choice for a career, after all.

Instead, here I was in my 30s, having been an assistant general manager or store manager in nearly every type of industry. I realized the only thing I liked about school was writing the giant papers.

There had to be an easier way to satisfy my desire to write.

I went to a monthly writing group and started working on a memoir. I discovered Medium by accident and started writing about my childhood. Then, I found Upwork through a Medium article, and before I knew it, I had a client.

The words flowed, and I was having the time of my life, but I couldn’t write as much as I wanted because I had to go to my actual job as an operations manager. And I had four classes to finish.

I looked at my husband one day and said, “I would be incredibly stupid to quit this program with just three classes and a Capstone left, wouldn’t I?” Gotta love him. He said, “Well, you are not stupid, but you are so close! You should persevere and finish it because it’s not like they can take it away, even if you decide to write full time.”

He reminded me about transferable skills and how skill development didn’t have to follow a specific career path.

I listened and graduated, but I had lost interest in all things management. I just wanted to write, and I was struggling with how I wanted to live my life. My clients and workload were increasing on Upwork, and I consistently made some money on Medium.

Sometimes, Things That Derail Your Current Career Path Are a Blessing in Disguise

And then COVID-19 happened, and they furloughed me from my management job. The fear that held me back from quitting my job was suddenly gone, and it had happened through no fault of my own. I was thankful I had a safety net of unemployment, but I had been gifted 40 hours to dedicate to growing my income.

Could I do it and really alter my entire professional life? Was being a full-time writer a solid career path? Was it something I could even achieve? There was no time like the present to find out.

I made a schedule and wrote every day, spending each morning submitting two new proposals on Upwork. I became an editor for a publication on Medium. And when the call came for me to go back to work, I was earning what I had at my full-time job. I wanted to keep growing my brand as a writer.

However, I ended up going back for six weeks to help everyone adjust to the new business as usual because we had some stringent COVID-19 restrictions to work with. During that time, I questioned whether I was making the right choice.

Not only was I leaving my safe job, but I was switching career paths significantly. I had spent lots of money on degrees I no longer intended to use. However, life is about more than that. For me, it is about believing in who you are, knowing what you’re meant to do, and having faith in the impact your life will have on someone else’s.

This Winding Road of Professional Development is Part of the Journey

My skills did not go to waste. I can set goals, have killer time management skills, inspire others, and plan to have a different kind of business. I had clients for whom I wrote management, leadership, and productivity articles. And I understand data and analytics.

During my career path as a writer I became managing editor for a large website. When I was recently laid off, I started ResilientStories. I have the business development knowledge and the on-the-job experience to run a successful website.

If the current career path you are on is not fulfilling, you are not bound to it. Look at your skill set and figure out how you can develop specific skills to use on a more compatible career path.

Sure, the quickest way from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ might be a straight line, but do any of us live lives that are that linear? I have learned something from every road that has led me to this one right here, and I am sure you have, too.

A woman in a suit looking at a winding maze symbolizing uncertainty in her career path.

A Successful Career Path is One You Are Excited About

You don’t have to follow a certain career ladder or organizational career path to be successful. It is ok to try different career paths.

I know that advice like “follow your passions and go with your gut” might sound cliche. But now, I have written articles about self-improvement, business, management, entertainment, and even politics and current events. Today, I write to inspire resilience and help other people share their stories.

I do not have a degree in journalism. However, I am doing exactly what I knew I was meant to be doing all those years ago. You deserve to be doing what you set out to do, no matter how long the road is.

Career growth is something that happens over a lifetime.

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