Is This It?

Is This It?

by Kerry Scott on 18 November 2009


How did you come to be in your current line of work?  Do you plan to stay in it until you’re done working full-time?

Is there another line of work you fantasize about going into?  What keeps you from making the leap?

Anyone made a complete change to a wildly different line of work?  How did you do it?  Any regrets?

This topic has been on my mind a lot lately, so I’m curious.

Photo by BinaryApe

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Sabrina November 18, 2009 at 8:48 am

How did you come to be in your current line of work? Do you plan to stay in it until you’re done working full-time? I was somewhat qualified for it and it was better than customer service. Heck no.

Is there another line of work you fantasize about going into? What keeps you from making the leap? I’m working on finishing my degree, that’s what keeps me from making the leap.
.-= Sabrina´s last blog ..Hamburger Review: Applebee’s =-.

Erica November 18, 2009 at 8:49 am

Oh, how I wish I knew. I started out with a degree in Anthropology and an entrance into grad school for archaeology. Then I got kind of into HR and recruiting. Then customer service. Then marketing. Now I am a Social Media coordinator pursuing a degree in I/O Psych.

I love to do so many different kinds of things. Is it possible to be a (well=paid) Master of being a Jack of all Trades?
.-= Erica´s last blog ..She made us a pack =-.

Dan November 18, 2009 at 10:01 am

I had a subject-matter background in my current line of work (I work on mundane problems like trying to reduce airline flight delays, improve flight path routings, and other related aviation endeavors.) I ended up here after trying to pursue things that require an aviation medical (like pilot and air traffic control) but not finding out until way late in the ball game that I can’t obtain said medical.

After “losing” said medical, I thought about it for awhile, and actively tried to end up where I am now (not necessarily at this company but I did know that I wanted to work on these types of problems) and went back to grad school to do it.

I work for an awesome company, and plan to be here for as long as it remains an awesome company.

laurie ruettimann November 18, 2009 at 12:19 pm

My husband and I worked for the same company (Pfizer). When he outsourced his division and was given a severance package, I asked for one. We moved to North Carolina. Rather than look for another job in HR, I focused on writing.

Now for full disclosure: writing doesn’t pay as much as my former job, but I spend less $$. We’ve refocused our priorities as a family. So it’s okay, I’m living a dream, and my life is awesome.
.-= laurie ruettimann´s last blog ..Thanksgiving and Black Friday Horror Stories from Workers =-.

HRPufnstuf November 18, 2009 at 12:42 pm

I started as a teacher. The money stunk. I got into sales, the money was great, one thing led to another and I got into recruiting (which is a very sales related function).
.-= HRPufnstuf´s last blog ..Keystone Metric =-.

HR Johnny November 18, 2009 at 12:51 pm

I’m in HR, and technically it is my “second” career. I worked in operations, specifically managing call center teams at all hours of the day/night. When my first child was born, I literally saw her one day per week, and that wasn’t cutting it. I had a buddy who was an HR Director in a unionized automotive manufacturing plant in the boondocks who needed a generalist and was sympathetic. I figured what the hell, M-F, 8 to 5, while I figure out what I’m doin’. how bad could it be?

Been doin’ it ever since, and 7 years later have been blessed to have some great opportunities in the field and found my true career..

Carla November 18, 2009 at 1:18 pm

How did you come to be in your current line of work? Do you plan to stay in it until you’re done working full-time?
Before I went on disability this past March, I was “support staff” for about 10 years. My past positions included receptionist, legal secretary, executive assistant and construction administration (or administrator). I worked in a variety of industries from national laboratories to NASDAQ/finance to IT.

Is there another line of work you fantasize about going into? What keeps you from making the leap?
Other than working for myself, I have always had a hard time knowing what I want to do. For this reason, I’ve never excelled out of the support role, I never completed college and I have had more jobs than I can count on two hands.

Anyone made a complete change to a wildly different line of work? How did you do it? Any regrets?
Disability has sort of forced me to put more time into my web based business (retail store). It wasn’t something I planned on doing full-time (I was going to work as long as I could while running the business), but life and my body had other plans for me.
.-= Carla´s last blog ..Naturity Organic Bath and Body at Green and Chic =-.

Charlie Judy November 18, 2009 at 1:35 pm

I think one needs to ask themselves “what’s the worst that can happen?” when considering a drastic change. When I ask myself that question, the is often “financial destitute.” I guess what I really need to assess is whether financial destitute is really all that bad…
.-= Charlie Judy´s last blog ..Think Small =-.

Em-Dash November 18, 2009 at 2:12 pm

I ended up doing exactly my university major, but never expected it (International Affairs). I originally was going to use it to go into journalism, but then changed my mind to economics after working at a labor/economics NGO and then I took a job in finance. I started my Ph.D in economics, but left with my MS, thank you. Went scuba diving for a bit, and because I didn’t know what I wanted to do (other than something “else” and with people), I joined Peace Corps. I figured it was better to volunteer while I figured it out. Peace Corps put me in NGO development, and now…

Well, I haven’t returned yet. I’m in Russia working in the public service sphere and helping others with cross-cultural education, among other things.

I’ll return eventually, and that might be a career change (you can’t really be an American ex-pat in the US).

All I know is that I’m happy and not bad at what I’m doing, so I’ll keep at it for a bit longer.
.-= Em-Dash´s last blog ..Weekend stats =-.

Melissa November 18, 2009 at 3:05 pm

I got my BS in Elementary Education and had every intention of being a teacher, but then I interviewed for a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) position and got the job. I totally fell into nonprofit management.

I continued in that field and got an MBA (because there weren’t many Master’s programs in nonprofit management at the time), eventually working my way to a position with a state agency as a consultant. I worked with local member nonprofits on all aspects of organizational management.

Now, I am a stay-at-home mom by choice. I volunteer here and there for organizations that want help with strategic planning, grant writing, and other issues. I also do what I can to help job seekers since my husband was laid off for part of this year and I know how hard it is to try to make sane choices when you are in the midst of insanity. Ultimately, I just want to help. If someone benefits from my actions, that’s great.

As for the changes, I just did them after mulling them over and discussing them with my husband. There are a few things that I tried out that didn’t work, but that’s how it goes sometimes. You pick yourself up and keep going. I haven’t really had regrets because everything I have done has taught me something — about an area of interest, about myself, etc.
.-= Melissa´s last blog ..Basic Rules Mom Taught You =-.

Alice November 18, 2009 at 4:23 pm

I’m a career journalist (public radio, magazines), and I now work in the “tech” world. I quit my reporter job in part because I felt like I was living on borrowed time. My feelings about it literally go back and forth every day — between “you’re so lucky you got out when you did” and “why the hell are you doing anything other than your true passion?” Lots of people in media/journalism feel the same way right now, I’m sure.

Kerry Sandberg Scott November 18, 2009 at 8:50 pm

These are great. Keep ‘em coming.

I’m amazed at the reaction of people when you tell them you don’t want to return to corporate life. If you’ve had a reasonably successful career so far, the reaction seems to be, “Why would you give that up?” I’m surprised at this…do other people find corporate life THAT satisfying? Is it the money or the title or what? I can’t imagine doing the same thing for the whole 40 years. I just can’t.

pg November 18, 2009 at 10:10 pm

I got into my original line of work (chemistry) because it was the path of least resistance. A college gave me a graduate assistantship to get my master’s in chemistry. Anything else would have cost me money that I didn’t have.

Have I mentioned yet that I hated chemistry?

Besides, all of the decisions we make that last the rest of our lives (education, careers, spouses, families, etc.) are made when we are 18-22 years old. Remember that era of life? We’re invincible and all-knowing, so we can make those kinds of decisions with ease.

A decade – or two or three – we wake up, finally half-way intelligent, and wonder “How in the world did I get HERE??” Well, that 18-22 y/o idiot we entrusted with the rest of our lives made those choices.

Many years later, I changed careers and became a computer programmer. I did it because I liked writing programs that made my job easier. Now I do it for a living, so it’s not nearly as fun. Once again, though, it was a path-of-least resistance thing, NOT a well-thought-out plan. Because …

… because I’m really supposed to be a college math professor. I’d love to be a college math professor. I really would. But that requires a Ph.D. in math (something that 18-22 y/o decided I didn’t need) and going back to school with that intensity is no longer an option. Not, at least, right now.

pg November 18, 2009 at 10:13 pm

P.S. Congratulations on giving up corporate life, Kerry! I hope to do the same someday.

In case anyone is wondering that question you’ve been asked (“Why would you give that up?”) the answer is simple: the same reason a prisoner accepts parole rather than remaining in prison.

jmkenrick November 18, 2009 at 11:32 pm

I’m only just getting started, but in high school, my harp teacher always used to calm me down when I was daunted about choosing colleges by telling me her career story:

She went to UCLA undergrad and Stanford for grad school studying computer science. She was hired by Hewlett Packard as a programmer and eventually ran her department. 12 years into that career, she quit and joined with one of her friends to form their own small business. They teach harp and play weddings (weddings = much better money than high schoolers.)

She told me that her job was great, but it wasn’t really making her happy…after she figured out what she would rather do, she kept her job for awhile, saved up money and went for it.

class factotum November 19, 2009 at 7:57 am

I am unemployed, but not by choice. I was an English major, took the only job that was offered to me (in insurance), then quit to get an MBA because I wanted to work in international business. Joined the Peace Corps not because I Care (I Don’t) but because I wanted some adventure and some international experience. I had a great time at my job there, where I essentially ran a small business with nobody telling me what to do.

I had a really hard time finding a job when I got home. I think recruiters thought I was all Kum bay yah and that I would come to work swinging on a vine, which could not be further from the high heeled, suited truth.

I finally got a job with a trucking and logistics company in M&A and Corp finance and was miserable. A year later, I got a job with the Latin America group of a paper company, which was perfect because I had been in Chile in the Peace Corps, so it was all coming together.

That was fun, but the most fun part of my job was the last part, when I was in charge of getting the data from 70 factories, three operating systems, 5,000 customers and 100,000 item numbers ready for conversion to SAP. Nobody had ever done it in our industry. Nobody knew how to do it. It was up to me to figure it out. AND I LOVED IT. Much of what I did encompassed process improvement for current operations, so even thought the business ended up scrapping SAP a few years after I left, my work was not wasted.

I was laid off two years after I started that project along with 1,000 other salaried employees.

I would not go back to an SAP project (I did not care so much for the technical aspects of how SAP would be configured, not to mention the drama and politics that goes with implementing SAP), but I would go back to process improvement in a second. That is where I excel.
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Marriage 201, Lecture 499: A friend will help you move* =-.

class factotum November 19, 2009 at 7:59 am

PS I should add that I am now unemployed by choice because I met my husband after I got laid off and got married and am now living the life of Riley. Whoever Riley is.
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Marriage 201, Lecture 499: A friend will help you move* =-.

class factotum November 19, 2009 at 8:08 am

I mean I was not originally unemployed by choice but now I am.

Oh I’ll shut up now.
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Marriage 201, Lecture 499: A friend will help you move* =-.

Steph McDonald November 19, 2009 at 10:31 am

I fell into recruiting for more operations roles and I loved it. Hmmm..where did the “ed” in loved come from?!
I feel like the last few years in recruiting haven’t been fun or satisfying. I think I need some re-energizing.

I’m passionate about social media, marketing, organizing, helping, and having a great time doing all of that. Now I just have to find a job title for it and someone willing to pay me for it!

George Pollock November 19, 2009 at 11:49 am

I might discuss my own case later, but I was laid off in April from a newspaper. (I’m still unemployed.) This week at a Starbucks, I ran into a reporter I worked with, who was at the paper when I left. He made a reference to his having “returned to the paper,” which confused me.

I learned that he left the paper in August to teach English at an area high school. He then shocked me by saying he left that job after only two months. Apparently, he realized that it wasn’t something he wanted to do, after all.

He didn’t explain at the time why he wanted to change careers, let alone why teaching didn’t fulfill him. He had to go cover a local city council meeting. (There are several municipalities in the paper’s coverage area.) When he reapplied to the paper, he got that job, which had been covered by another reporter. Since my layoff, the other reporter had moved to a larger paper in our chain.

So an observation: Even when you think a career switch is what you want, the risk exists that it won’t be what you hoped.

Ben Eubanks November 19, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Kerry, my favorite coach often talks about how he is a “five year man.” If he sticks to something for five years, he’s burned out and itching to move on. Therefore, he builds in a yearly change and stops doing 20% of his normal duties in order to make room for a new 20%. Every five years, he’s doing something completely different from what he started with.

I’m much the same. I don’t think I could survive doing the same job for a long time. In fact confession I look down on people who do the same job for the same company for a looong time. It’s just my feeling on the subject.

I’m a relatively new HR pro. I am still finding what I really like to do in this profession, but I have my eyes set on getting out on my own eventually. Tomorrow? Not a chance. A few years? Very likely. I’m working on a daily basis to institute small changes that push me toward my goal of freedom.

I hope you never go back if you don’t want to. You are smart and funny enough to do your own thing (even if you land in a position doing stand-up comedy). :-) Let me know if you ever want to chat about this. It’s one of my favorite topics (hence the ginormous comment).

Tim G November 19, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Great stories here. Thanks Kerry, for asking the question!
I spent 5 years getting my engineering degree, including several terms as a co-op at NASA doing energy research. I thoroughly enjoy technology, but not research. So with degree in hand, I went to work in a factory and realized how machinery was designed around the product, with less attention given to the people who had to run it or repair it. Less than 2 years later, I was doing technical training. Soon after it was operations management, then HR. Most of my jobs were first-of-a-kind where I worked, so it’s really been fun.
Making the leap out of engineering wasn’t hard, but changing companies into a field that I was not formally trained in was another story – that was a leap of faith!
Reading Ben’s comments made me realize that 3-4 years is my limit. I plan to be working another 5-6 years, and I sure don’t plan to retire from the same work I am doing today. I love what I do today, but it just makes me better prepared for whatever I’ll be doing next.
Every day is training day!
.-= Tim G´s last blog ..7 Things That Require Special Attention at the End Of the Year =-.

Marsha Keeffer November 19, 2009 at 10:34 pm

I spent more than a decade in retail after getting a BA in English. Put myself through B-school at night, wrote resumes for several years at the top shop in SF, shifted into high tech operations, then into high tech PR, back into operations, then unemployed and doing resume writing and volunteer work (bill-paying and money management for elderly, disabled and homeless folks).

Dan November 20, 2009 at 9:37 am


At my job, I have the ability to work on things where ten years down the road I could walk into an airline operations center or air traffic control facility, point to some high-tech-gadgetry that revolutionizes the way the industry does business and say “I was the brains behind that” or “I was an integral part of the team that developed that.” Until that happens, I won’t say I had a successful career ;)

And how would you define “doing the same thing?” In the grand scheme of things, my position is quite versatile — I use applied mathematics techniques to solve real world business problems. There are many industries in which that skill is in demand; and within any industry, there are many applications. As an example, one day I could be working on a problem that coordinates flight schedules such that the average time spent in the taxi queue waiting for takeoff is minimized, and then on another day, I could be working on a problem where we look at long term passenger demand and revenue forecasts for many markets and match the right equipment (types of airplanes) to the right market. That gets really fun when you consider that passengers flying from Boston through Milwaukee to San Francisco share the same plane for part of the journey as passengers flying from Boston through Milwaukee to Minneapolis. And yet another day it could be yield management strategies, where we look at the probably of selling a given seat at a specific fare, and allocate inventory appropriately.

So, to me, there’s a unique enough variety of things to keep me interested in a single domain for quite some time, and yet still, I can use the same skills in many industries. So what does “doing the same thing for 40 years” really mean?

To parallel the question, if you were an HR generalist at 5 companies in your career, would you say you’re doing the same thing? If you were a benefits specialist at one place, and then a recruiter at another, would you consider that the same thing too? On the outside, we would call that “HR”.

Kerry Sandberg Scott November 20, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Dan—I think “doing the same thing” is in the eye of the beholder. For me, moving between disciplines in HR is still “doing the same thing,” but that might not be true for everyone. I bounced back and forth between generalist/management and recruiting/recruitment strategy work throughout my HR career. I liked them both. I still like them both. But I’m ready to do something else. I think I have an abnormally large need for variety in my work, though. I also think my focus has shifted significantly since I had my second child, and the things that used to be important to me have changed a lot. I don’t know if that happens to everyone or not, but it’s certainly been true for me. My identity has shifted (not just into “I’m a mom” but in other ways as well), and my old goals don’t seem to fit my new identity. They all look very late 80s to me (which makes sense, since that’s when I formed them). If they were people, they’d have a perm and a scrunchy. I need goals with better hairstyles.

I have a large number of in-laws who have worked for the same company for generations. My late father-in-law, my brother-in-law, countless aunts and uncles-in-law and their parents and their parents…they all started a couple of weeks after they finished high school. They all have (or will) retire from there. I can’t imagine that.

I think your work is different than most people’s in that you’re basically a professional problem solver. So you use that problem solving skill, but the problems you solve are going to change significantly over the 40 years you’ll do it, because aviation and transportation are above average in terms of degree of change involved. That’s cool. Most people don’t have that.

Ugh. This introspection crap is exhausting. I’m going to see if we have any ice cream.

George Pollock November 20, 2009 at 9:16 pm

George Pollock here again. In my case, I “accidentally” found newspaper copy editing in college (27 years ago) and was delighted to find that it fit my OCD detail-oriented personality. :) But again, it was something that I stumbled into, not planned on doing. I NEVER had a clear idea of what to do with my life before then. (“At last! Something I do that will pay me money!” :) )

Now, at 51, I’m laid off from a newspaper, and my journalism career has been 27 years. I’ve been told that this is a chance to explore a new direction in life.

Um … anyone know what that would be …? :)

As I said, I lucked out in college by stumbling into copy editing. Now I find that maybe the lack of diection has caught up to me. I really don’t know what to do next — IF it won’t be going back to newspaper copy editing. (I’ve applied to some papers, among many places. Some people have said I’d be a fool at this point to go back to newspapers, given their economic condition now. When I mentioned to a roommate that I’d sent stuff to one paper, he looked askance at me and asked suspiciously, “You’re not thinking of going back into newspapers, are you …?” His tone was like “You’re not thinking of playing with the plugged-in toaster in the bathtub again, are you …?” :) )

One suggestion that I’ve be given to find some direction: “What do you like to do in your free time, George?” Well, watch Japanese anime and other animation. BIG fan. (Middle-aged, single fanboy. Anyone surprised? :) ) But it really doesn’t lend itself to a new career direction. Not really. Not for me.

I feel almost blind. (WARNING!! RELIGION AHEAD!! :) ) I’ve asked God to just take me where he wants me, but I don’t feel even a “pattern.” I don’t feel even a sort of “magnetic pull” toward anything in the darkness of “blindness.” I feel almost pathetic in not having an identifiable direction in life other than wating a job.

Thanks for your patience.

Kerry Sandberg Scott November 21, 2009 at 6:53 am

George—I don’t know the answer, but I think a whole lot of people can empathize with the frustration of not knowing what you’re supposed to do next.

In the meantime, you should start a blog about Japanese anime. It’s fun to write about something you love, and I’ve really found that the structure of having to write for and keep up a blog has helped me tremendously this past year. It’s easier to think clearly about other things when your day has some shape to it (my day has shape to it otherwise, but it’s in the shape of a poopy diaper, another round of Candyland, or maybe the excitement of that new episode of Sesame Street with Michelle Obama…so this was helpful).

You also meet interesting people when you blog. I’ve met other bloggers and readers through Clue Wagon, and that’s been one of the best parts.

Jane November 21, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Boy, this is an interesting question, and the responses are thought-provoking. I’m looking with particular interest at George’s. I absolutely love what I do, but it’s a small print journal, and we’re anticipating a continuing 10% annual downturn in revenue; if so, that leaves me running out of salary in my early 50s. I’m mulling about whether I want to squeeze juice out of this as long as I can, investigate other possibilities within the overarching organization, or consider leaving a job I love now while I’m a younger and more viable candidate. Feh.

Kerry Sandberg Scott November 22, 2009 at 12:27 pm

You know, when I posted this, I was thinking more in terms of voluntary career change…but there are lots of people who are forced into this situation when their career path begins to evaporate. I think a lot of journalists are finding themselves in that situation lately, and that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Bevatjlodge November 23, 2009 at 10:11 am

I receive my Degree in Business Management in 1996. Before that and during, I worked for over 25 years in call center management. In 2008, I was forced to leave a job I loved. I went through a serious illness followed by chemotherapy. Chemo left me with several physical conditions. I had worked my entire life since the age of 15, even while completed my degree. My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic which I carried throughout my career. Despite by my best efforts to stay at my job, I realized that management was out, it was just too stressful and taxing on my physical strength. Thus, I went out on disability. Having worked for so many years, I would get up in the morning and have nothing to motivate me to be a productive member of society. I also became very worried about how I would support myself financially. I finally got up enough courage to go to my state vocational rehab agency. I hooked up with a great counselor who explained the Ticket to Work Program ( and how working part time would not affect by Social Security Disability benefits. From there I found out about JLodge, an employer, who only hires disabled individuals who want to work part time from home. I recently started working for JLodge.
JLodge was founded in 1999. Since that time, JLodge has become an industry leader for employing college educated, physically disabled individuals who are productive, motivated, and loyal.
I wanted to share all of this with those of you who might be facing the same situation. If you are want to find more information about available positions, please go to their website:

bebemochi November 29, 2009 at 4:53 pm

How did you come to be in your current line of work? Do you plan to stay in it until you’re done working full-time?

I got into my current line of work, events planning, completely by accident. I had lost my dream job because the boss who hired me got fired, and when they brought the new boss in, she wanted to hire her own people. I was pretty desperate, looking for a job. I got a job (through a good friend) at a brand new museum which had an IMAX theatre — I was the supervisor to the floor staff of the theatre. The events planner at the museum got the go-ahead to hire an assistant, I applied, and there you go.

I’m not sure if events planning is the way I want to go for the rest of my life, but there are a lot of aspects of this line of work that are personally satisfying and I like working for non-profits. So I don’t have any especial reason to want to leave. I wish my position was salaried and full-time, but mostly because it’s frustrating to me to have to keep my hours under a certain limit — I’d rather have the freedom to work extra if I needed to. I would especially like to stay until 6 pm at night to catch up on paperwork and emails.

Is there another line of work you fantasize about going into? What keeps you from making the leap?

I fantasize about two things: going back to being a costume designer (the dream job I spoke of earlier was as a costume assistant.) and becoming a print-fabric textiles designer. The thing that keeps me from going back to the former is that there are no openings in my town currently. The latter is simply a lack of know-how. However, I have a friend who may be able to help me with that, I just need to get back in touch with him and brainstorm my ideas.

Anyone made a complete change to a wildly different line of work? How did you do it? Any regrets?

I guess you could say that I’ve made a leap — it wasn’t planned, though, which is what I think you’re going for with your line of questioning. I think events planning is something I could conceivably do as a career, however.

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