Public Domain Pictures
Source: Public Domain Pictures

This is the latest in my series of short-short stories embedding life lessons.

In Jim's first semester at college, he took a variety of courses and her favorite was an economics class taught by a scintillating instructor, and she got an A. Plus, amid the nation’s economic uncertainties, he thought that would be an interesting major. So he became an econ major.

But after that intro course, subsequent ones felt dry, more theoretical than practical, so Jim switched to psychology. He had his own psychological issues and hoped that the psych major would help him understand himself. He did enjoy that major (except for the required statistics course.)

Jim considered various careers: therapist, organizational development specialist, teacher, manager. He even wondered whether he should change majors again and go into health care but didn’t want to spend the extra years in college. So he went to his college's career center to explore options. The counselor there gave him some assessments, which suggested he'd do well in a people-oriented career, which was no surprise to Jim. The counselor suggested he explore in the career library using “people careers” as a filter. That felt too vague but Jim perused its books, videos, and databases. Alas, hhe left feeling that nothing really clicked.

So, a procrastinator, Jim decided to defer choosing a career, hoping something would pop out as the clearly right choice.

Jim graduated in six years, which, these days, is about average. Indeed 40 percent don’t graduate even if given six years, and he and his parents were proud. After the graduation ceremony, Jim's family took him out for a celebratory meal but when he  was asked The Question, “So what are you going to do for a career?” Jim could only say, “I’m exploring.”

Jim decided that perhaps travel would be elucidating. So he spent a month in India but when he returned, he was no clearer. His parents were worried he'd be the stereotype: With lots of student debt but no job, he'd return back home to figure it out but not be too focused on it. Worried, Terry’s dad asked if hhe might like a job at the non-profit where he was human resources manager. Because Jim was afraid of falling behind his peers and wanted money so he could move out, he agreed even though the job was just part-time/low pay as a volunteer coordinator.

But even though Jim had an “in,” and did well on the job, he was never was offered a full-time benefited position. He also found it difficult to have to manage volunteers—Because they were unpaid, they weren’t the most capable or dedicated. So he wondered if he should go back to school for a masters in psychology or look for a job in the for-profit sector. He decided on the latter because he was still burned out on school.

The best job Jim could land was as a receptionist at a high-tech company. One of her friends said, “You spent all that time and money on college and you’re going to take a job as a receptionist?” Of course, that gave Jim pause, but another friend told him that being a receptionist for a good firm can be a launchpad for a better job, so he took it. And that turned out to be true. He got to know some company employees and one helped him get a marketing management trainee position. But after just a week, he thought, “I really don’t care about marketing computer chips” and although he was aware of the conventional advice to not leave a job until you have a better one, he quit.

Jim paced in his apartment wondering what he should do now. As time went by, like a mom who forgot the pain of childbirth and so chose to get pregnant again, Jim's bad experiences at college faded, leaving the good ones. She felt nostalgic for it and decided to look for job openings at his alma mater and got a job doing marketing for his college’s alumni association.

And Jim liked it, sort of. First, it was another part-time/temp gig. Not only was that financially worrisome, he was bothered by the hypocrisy: When he was a student there, the message was always “Treat labor fairly.” But in practice, his college treats workers poorly. He recalled his father telling him, “Judge not by what people say but by what they do." In addition, floating in his brain was a question he couldn’t push out of his mind: “Is that all there is?”

Jim's mother asked him to review his experiences in college and at work to derive lessons learned, unearth any career non-negotiables and career motivators, and to use those as guides during a return visit to the career library.

The takeaway

At any point along the way, would you have offered Jim any advice or asked him any questions? For example:

  • Do you want to more carefully examine the college’s majors before picking?
  • Did you wait too long in taking career-specific actions such as getting a well-connected advisor or useful internship?
  • Do you know why, despite your father giving you an “in,” you never were offered a full-time benefited job? Any lessons to be learned from that?
  • Knowing employers' tendency to hire part-time/temp and your finding that anathema, had you thought about looking for a government job, where that is less prevalent?
  • You’re wondering “If that’s all there is?” What more would you like? Anything you can do careerwise or personally to give you a shot at something more?

Dr. Nemko's nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net .

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