Writing posts for this blog every week often makes me reflect on my own career and the unpredictable nature of the path I followed to get here. I was an English major when I was an undergraduate, and I thought I wanted to be a high school English teacher right up to the point where I did my student teaching in my final semester. Since then, I have had many jobs: At three different television stations in three different states, I’ve been a secretary, traffic manager (the person who schedules all the ads, promotional spots, and public service announcements at a radio or television station), assistant promotion manager, promotion manager, and account executive. I’ve been the owner of a small advertising agency. I’ve worked as a waitress, a sous chef, a motel manager, a proofreader, a tutor, an SAT/AP exam grader, and a technical writer. And for the last 21 years, I’ve been a college professor.
If you read that list of jobs, you can see some connections among a few of the positions, but for the most part, each step on the path was the result of serendipity (for example, the traffic manager left on short notice and station management needed someone to step into her place quickly), recognition for a job well done (I was invited to move to a new job soon after my boss changed jobs), or my own initiative (I spent several weeks “selling myself” to a sales manager to convince him I could become an account executive even though I had no sales experience).
Even when I started graduate school, I wasn’t on a direct path. I had intended to get a master’s degree in technical communication and become a technical writer. However, I enjoyed being in school so much that I decided to stay and earn a PhD. It was only after earning that final degree that the path became clear: I was hired as an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, and that type of position has a direct career path which I wanted and was able to follow.
The lesson from this story is that, while planning for a career is important, you need to be aware that your interests can (and likely will) change, that opportunities are likely to arise that are unexpected, and that those opportunities can lead you in new directions. For students (such as I was) who have no idea what they want to do after they graduate, I hope that my story is reassuring and that you will keep your eyes open for opportunities. For students who think they have a pretty good idea of what their career will look like, I hope that my story helps you recognize that opportunities may arise that can change that direction. And for all of you, I encourage you to choose wisely when those unanticipated opportunities present themselves.