When I tell people what I do for a living, I often get “How did you end up doing that?” It’s a valid question, considering I have a bachelor's degree in Social Work, which has little to do with working for a software company. My experience is not unique though, as only about 27% of college graduates work in a job related to their major.
I chose Social Work for a reason, though, and that reason is I want to help people and as cheesy as it sounds, make the world a better place. I want to be a voice for those who aren’t given one, and to empower people to help themselves. When I left school though, the right opportunities did not present themselves and I ended up in the tech industry. I am very happy where I am now - I love working with associations and there are a lot of really fun aspects of my job.
However, I recently made the difficult decision to return to school to pursue a graduate degree in Social Work and change careers. This was a tough, scary decision, and even though I’m excited about it, it’s still pretty nerve wracking!
Here are three fears I had to defeat while making this change:
1. It’s too late.
I am going back to school to become a therapist, so that means 2 years of graduate school, 3 years of clinical supervision, licensure, certification, starting a private practice, and then building up enough of a client base to make a salary. This means 5 years at the very least until I can really begin my new career at all, and more than that until it is enough to be my full-time gig. Part of the reason I hesitated to return to school and change careers is I was afraid I’d invested too much into this career and it was too late to switch to something else now.
I began to question this notion a few years ago, and eventually came to the conclusion that I either needed to lean in hard to this career or I needed to go ahead and start transitioning to something else. I tried to imagine myself never working as a social worker, and that just didn’t feel right to me, so I decided it was time to switch. Now, though, I realize that I had plenty of time. As long as I would be able to work in my new career long enough to pay for returning to school, it would be worth it. That is true now, but it would still be true in 5, 10, or probably even 20 years!
While I am sad to be leaving a career I’ve spent 6 years building (likely 11-13 by the time I actually leave), and that I’m just now really beginning to excel in, the investment that I’ve made into these 6 years is not all lost by my transition to something else. What I’ve learned during this time will help me so much in my new career, and I think this is true for almost anything. So much of what we learn is not vocation-specific. We continue to learn about how to work with people, how to be a better leader, how to work efficiently. All of these things make you a better professional in pretty much any job, and those skills will go with you to the next.
So it’s not too late - if there’s something you want to do, then do it!
2. I have too many responsibilities.
Making a career change while supporting a family is difficult. For a long time I wasn’t sure if it was even going to be possible for me to go back to school. I needed to keep my job in order to pay bills, but my school program was only offered full-time. It was really disheartening to have no way to make this work. Fortunately my program is being offered part-time for the very first time this year, so I am able to work full-time and go to school in the evenings.
I had a lot of fear about balancing work, school, and family. I still do, actually, but there are a few things that help with this:
-I know I have the support of those around me. I am lucky enough to have a spouse and an employer who are understanding and very supportive of what I’m doing. When I am bad at balancing it all, and I know there will be times that I am, I know they will be gracious.
-It’s all temporary. Knowing there’s an end in sight is incredibly helpful. 2 years? I can do basically anything for 2 years.
-People do it all the time. So many people have managed to work, go to school, and have a personal life. If they can do it, then I can too!
These things sound so simple, but it is really difficult to remember them sometimes!
3. I can’t make the perfect situation work.
If I’m being honest, the school program I am doing is not the ideal one for what I eventually want to do, but there are a lot of reasons it’s the right choice. Because I have a bachelor’s in Social Work, I am eligible for an abbreviated master’s program. This means less time and less money to get my degree. It’s also local - I am attending a school that is based where I live, even though most of my classes will be in a satellite campus about an hour away. There was no way I could travel a long distance to attend classes, so this program made sense.
Some of the best advice I’ve received about going back to school is that I need to lower my expectations. I am so excited to go back to school that I want to put all I can into my classes, make sure I’m taking the very best ones I can, and really excel at this program. My therapist (also a social worker!) rightly pointed out how unrealistic this is. I have a full-time job, and one that requires some travel. I also own a house, and am a wife and a mother. She told me to be prepared for a lot of my school work to be half-assed at best. She advised me to take classes that fit into my life the best. This could mean that they’re a good fit for my schedule, or that they’re going to be very easy, or that I know the professor is lenient. Though this advice is hard to take, I’m really trying to remember it!
About a year ago I really felt like I was at a crossroads in my career. I was unsure whether I wanted to go all-in where I am or whether I wanted to make the leap and do something different. I’m so grateful I had people around me who encouraged me and basically said, “You’ve been talking about this for years. When are you going to finally do it?” So if there’s a change you’ve been wanting to make, here I am to ask you. When are you going to finally do it?