Career changes. How do we come to the conclusion that we need to upend our entire life? To risk safety, routines, and having an idea of what the future will bring to take on the completely unknown? And what makes some people willing to do it, and others refuse? I’ve recently made a career change, and I’ve discovered that my feelings about it are not very cut-and-dried. I’m so happy I did it, and full of regret that I did it, and so unsure of how it’s going to turn out, and so cavalier about if it turns out well or not.
In the summer of 2015, I found myself in a cardiologist’s office listening to him say, “You need to find a way to reduce the stress in your life.” I was way too young to be having that conversation but all the same, it was true. For a decade I had made my career the first priority, and years of being in executive management of a company with constant growth and change had finally taken its toll. My Type A behavior didn’t help.
As I thought about what I could do to make my career less stressful (how in the world could I ask for a demotion now?), I spotted a bigger set of problems. I realized I wasn’t coming up with fresh ideas anymore. I had become accepting of problems because I no longer had the energy to tackle them. I was burnt out, and I felt stagnant. These things gnawed at me, but I couldn’t see a way out.
I had just received my BS in Accounting – four very long years of full-time credits, full-time employment, freelancing on the side, and raising two kids – and it wasn’t the most optimal time to be thinking, “Eh, I don’t really want to do this anymore.” So I persisted down the path I’d set for myself long ago: get my MBA, then sit for the CPA exams. I started looking at grad school and settled on two prospects. I had the transcripts sent, the recommendations written, and I filled out the applications. But when it came time to write the essays – that most simple of questions, why do you want an MBA? – I struggled mightily. Writing has never been difficult for me, and I can bullshit my way through plenty of things, but the only honest answer I could come up with was, “To make more money.” I realized I didn’t really want to be a CPA – it was just the next logical step and the way I could provide more for my family. When I weighed going $60-$80k in debt for something I felt only lukewarm about, I knew I couldn’t do it. And there was no more denying the truth – I had zero interest in being an accountant anymore.
Turns out that deciding to change careers wasn’t the hardest part for me – it was figuring out what else I’d like. It took months of exploration, and several bouts of frustration, yelling at myself, “WHAT KIND OF IDIOT DOESN’T KNOW THE THINGS THEY’D LIKE TO DO?!” I finally resorted to thinking about myself as a kid and the things I’d liked then. Two things bubbled to the surface: writing and programming. Writing was immediately slapped away as a too-frivolous dream, but programming…maybe there was something there. In middle school I’d had a BASIC class and adored it. In high school (think “You’ve got mail!” era), we had the chance to create our school’s first website, which I also loved. More recently, I’d taught myself Access, then designed and built a database for my employer – a hefty project I’d enjoyed immensely. Looking back on my career, I could see what I really liked doing was solving problems. And helping people. And that I needed to have an unending well of knowledge to keep drinking from.
I turned to Google. I found this amazing piece by Paul Ford and I read it through immediately, fascinated. I tried every little tutorial I could find to see if I was right, to see if this coding stuff would hold my interest. It did. But how to go about actually learning to program? I figured I could use self-guided online study, but I didn’t really want to – I’d earned my bachelor’s that way, and I wanted to be with people this time. Plus, my job as a financial controller was stressful and draining, leaving me with no brainpower at the end of the day to devote to learning. One day my husband told me his colleague’s brother had gone to something called a coding bootcamp; I googled it right then and there. After a couple of weeks of research, I decided on a school and a language, gave a three-month notice at my job, and traded one stack of books for another:
Sometimes, you’ve just got to make the leap, safety net or not.