What do you want to do when you grow up? As a child I definitely had an answer to that question, a librarian or a detective. I guess I wanted to keep my options open, and the detective work could have easily been done on the side, at night time. Why not spend my time doing what I love, reading and being nosey.
Somehow, as I got older, figuring out what my ideal job was became more and more difficult. As part of career advice classes in secondary school, I had to fill out a questionnaire which would establish what career would be the most suitable for me. The result was gas station attendant or life guard assistant (Not even a proper life guard!). Dream big, they say… I must have ticked the box about wanting to work outdoors, there’s no other way I could explain this slightly odd outcome.
Despite the career advisor’s best efforts, I didn’t end up working at a gas station or turn into a Baywatch babe. Coming to the end of secondary school, I wasn’t quite sure how I could harness my various interests (hanging out with my friends, sleeping, watching movies, reading books) into a money paying job. The option of college seemed equally daunting, what if I choose the wrong subject and end up not liking it? So I decided the best course of action would be to drop out of school half way through my leaving cert and do nothing instead.
Doing nothing – bliss. Why do I need a job? I can hang out with my friends whenever I want, sleep until all hours, watch TV and read books. That’s my dream job. Life sorted. Unfortunately my mother didn’t think so and urged me to get a job or some sort of qualification. Well, she didn’t so much as urge me on, she gave me the silent treatment for months. I got the message eventually.
I signed up for a vocational diploma, qualifying me to do office work and teaching me business English. Of course I didn’t go into this thinking, oh wow, being a secretary is my dream job. It just seemed the most practical option at the time and catered to some of my skill set. I was always pretty good at languages and I thought, learning how to type with 10 fingers could come in handy as well. Plus, I needed to get my mother off my back and be in her good books again.
I didn’t have a burning desire to change the world or become an artist, or was ambitious enough to study law or medicine. I didn’t have my life mapped out in front of me and was completely clueless as to which path I was meant to take. Although my parents made it very clear that I can’t just do nothing, they didn’t pressure me into a particular career either.
I stumbled into working life aged 20. Working in offices doing admin for big multi-nationals was certainly never a dream job of mine. But I did enjoy earning my own money and the independence and opportunities that came with it. I learned a lot about dealing with people and picked up some practical skills on the way. It enabled me to take the first steps into adult life and therefore, I didn’t really question whether this was my ‘calling’ or not.
That said, after a while the boredom set in and I was wondering if this was all life had to offer. I don’t think that’s a terribly unusual situation to be in if you started the 9 to 5 grind in your early twenties and skipped college altogether. Attending college had always been on the back of my mind, and I finally took the plunge at the age of 26.
Although I did have hopes to improve my career opportunities with a college degree in the bag, I wasn’t very strategic about the subjects I chose. I mainly wanted to study something that I’d enjoy. History and Spanish it was then. Come to think of it, that choice was perfectly in line with some of my childhood aspirations of being a librarian and detective. A historian spends most of her time reading books and old documents in dusty archives or libraries, trying to uncover secrets from the past.
I enjoyed college so much that I stayed for 9 years. And when I came out of it, I was back to square one. Well, not quite. The career I had initially hoped for when pursuing a postgraduate degree, seemed unattainable by the time I had finished college. For some depressing reading on the current situation of precarious employment in the academic sector check here and here.
The concept of a dream job always seemed a strange idea to me. How can you want the same thing when you’re 23 to when you’re 35? Priorities will have, more than likely, changed a lot in the intervening years and so will ideas about what constitutes the ideal job. I’ve always tried to approach my job search by assessing my skills and figuring out how I can best apply these skills to a specific career.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing to stay open to possibilities and go along with new opportunities. Focussing on one specific career path might obscure the view to other options out there. I wouldn’t interpret this flexible and more pragmatic career approach as lacking vision and ambition. I’ve just never defined myself through my job and instead focus my efforts on projects that allow for personal growth. Of course I still haven’t given up on finding a job that allows me to stay in bed all day watching movies. To be continued!