If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my brief stint in the professional world, it’s how to make a career change. This is something I’ve already experienced three times at the ripe old age of 25. By career change, I don’t mean new employer with similar responsibilities. I mean new employer, completely different title, and absolutely no similar job responsibilities.
This isn’t because I changed my major multiple times or because I took the first job I could get out of college and left it for my dream job. Actually my first job out of college was great. It was exactly what any accounting major would dream of. I was an associate at Big Four accounting firm, which to most people doesn’t mean much, but to accountants this is THE place to start your career. From that point, there are endless possibilities to grow professionally and personally. The people who work there are the cream of the crop: truly intellectual and inspiring people to be surrounded by. This is where all accounting majors should aspire to be. The place you work your entire college career to get to. From the outside, it looked like I had landed my dream job.
But that dream received a rude awakening two years into my career, when I realized the most awful thing. I absolutely hated it. My dream job was a nightmare. I thought, "This job isn’t me. This career isn’t where I want to be in five months, so how can I even think about it as a part of my five-year plan?" I felt utterly lost, unhappy, and confused.
So now what? I had completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Accounting, and I was gaining experience in what was supposed to be my forever job, my lifelong career. And I hated it only two years in. But why? I just spent the last five years of my life preparing for this. I was loving what I was learning in my college classes and excited about my future. How can I feel this way? It is nothing less than devastating to realize what I had worked so hard to achieve and who I had worked so hard to become was not what I wanted anymore.
I cried. I wallowed. I wracked my brain trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. But I thought I knew what I wanted to be! I had a five-year plan. I had a 10-year plan. Why is it falling apart? Why is this not working? Is something wrong with me? Maybe I’m just having a bad day, a bad month, a bad year. Is that possible? Maybe it’s just the responsibilities, and those will change eventually, right?
Then it occurred to me--maybe it’s the career. Maybe the path I chose for myself was the wrong one. And maybe wrong isn’t a fair word, because it was the right choice seven years ago when I started college. It was the right choice three years ago when I started graduate school. This was the right choice. This was the right plan. This is just not right plan for me anymore. This is not the best path for myself, right here, in this moment. This was my future and now it’s my past.
This is by far the hardest thing to admit to yourself. Recognizing not that you’d failed, not that you’ve made the wrong choice, but that you’ve changed. You have grown and so have your thoughts and dreams and desires. You have to come to terms that you are not that 18-year-old college freshman who sat in the business school lecture room excited about your future in the real world. You have to acknowledge that you are not the same person you were when you got your first apartment and first big girl job. It’s hard. And it’s scary.
But the relief comes when you realize that it’s OK and things will be OK. They will be more than OK. They will be great, and as cliché as it is, everything happens for a reason. You need to realize people change. Mindsets change. Goals change. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It means you’re human. It means you’re growing. It means you are becoming better. You are brave enough to say the career you chose then is not the path you’re meant to be on now, and you’re strong enough to walk toward something new. And you’re not running from something, but to something. Running to that great opportunity for you to grow, to learn, and to become your best self. Running to that fresh outlook on life, that outlook would make your 18-year-old self proud.
Giving yourself permission to let go of the past and old dreams and goals is hard, but it’s the first step. Walking away does not make you weak. It does not make you a quitter. It means you are smart enough to know your strengths, and learn from your weaknesses. That you are brave enough to take that leap of faith. That you will try something new, though you may not have a degree focused in it, though you may not have experience in it, and you can still succeed. And you'll succeed because you are determined and you know what you can bring to the table.
Since I hit that turning point, I have briefly dabbled in my curiosity for recruiting, which I had no previous experience in. To my surprise, only five months into that new job, I was approached on LinkedIn about a great position in Resource Management at (surprise!) an accounting firm. This was exactly the opportunity I had been looking for. I had knowledge of the industry, but was now given the chance to learn the other side of the business. Though I was hesitant about leaving a job so shortly after starting (but also excited about the new opportunity), I interviewed and was offered the job. Somehow less than a year after all of the mess and confusion that was my professional future, everything seemed to fall into place. It’s hard to see in that moment when you feel hopeless and the future seems clouded, but trust that every decision you make will lead you to where you’re supposed to be.
My time in the professional world has taught me to trust your gut and take the chance when faced with challenge and adversity. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Taking chances is great; they’re exciting, and are essential for your growth as a person. And if you won’t take a chance on yourself, who will?