After two years of doing this project, I believe even more strongly in the hypothesis I started out with: that it’s totally okay not to have a set career path before you graduate from high school. And in the last year, I’ve had the chance to explore some educational and professional alternatives for young adults who don’t feel like a four-year college is the next step for them. Like taking a gap year between high school and college, which I got to learn about from students who were about to move abroad for a year with Global Citizen Year. Or going to a community college, which I learned about in my interview with Kathy Rentsch, assistant vice president of Quinsigamond Community College. Or participating in a vocational program, like a coding bootcamp, which a few of my interviewees have done.
I have also become more aware of the reality that a 45-year career is long, and there’s room for multiple pivots in that timespan. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, on average, people hold 11.7 jobs between the ages of 18 and 48. And each of those jobs represents an opportunity to gain new skills, take on different responsibilities, and maybe even change careers. Like my interviewee, Cecilia Mason whose somewhat random job with Georgia’s Family and Children Services inspired her love for the law, which led her to start her own business as a fiduciary. Sometimes those jobs even overlap, like my interviewee, Lynda Deschambault, who served as her town mayor while working at the EPA. And sometimes, like for many of my interviewees, each job guides you closer and closer to the work you care about the most.
While I didn’t start this project with a long-term plan in mind, now that it’s been two years, I can’t imagine stopping. Every time I meet someone new, I can’t keep myself from asking them what they do for work and how they found their way to that profession and what they thought they wanted to do when they were young. And the answer is totally different every time, and right away, I get sucked into their story, asking them again and again, “What happened next?” And even though I still don’t know exactly what this series will look like a year from now, I can’t wait to see what happens next.