Back in 2000, I didn’t have much of a career plan but I did know that I wanted to do something like write, or teach, or work in a museum. I had no desire to work in accounting, but I needed to pay off my school loans, so I accepted an Accounting Specialist position at a tech company. I put my head down, did the work and by 2005, I had gotten my MBA and was leading a team within the credit department. But I felt like I’d gone as far as a wanted to go at that company.
So I quit, thinking I’d write, or teach, or work in a museum. But being unemployed was scary and after a month or so, I took a job as a Project Manager at a manufacturing company. I learned the ins and outs of manufacturing and along the way, led the implementation of the company’s new accounting software. Which then made me the go-to person for accounting questions and, before I knew it, I was being groomed for a controller/CFO position. Yep, there I was, back to accounting again.
But I still wanted to write, or teach, or work in a museum. So with an MBA, more accounting knowledge than I ever wanted and a lot of experience managing teams, I decided to jump again. But this time, I actually had a semblance of a plan. With a Master’s degree and a good chunk of experience, I could teach at the college level. I found a small non-profit that offered a nice benefit package and worked as their Business Manager three days a week and I taught as a part-time adjunct at a vocational college the other two. It meant a pay cut and a shitty commute, but, after eight years, I was finally doing one of the things I set out to do.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I hope you’ll be touched by the inspiring tale of my climb down the career ladder? No. It’s because I know what it’s like to be in a job that doesn’t match what you imagined for yourself. And I want you to know that, as hard as that is, it doesn’t have to be permanent.
But – and here’s the bad news – you also have to realize that there isn’t going to be a silver bullet solution. Sure, in your daily browsing of Craigslist you may stumble upon something that interests you. But will you be qualified for it? Will the hiring manager be able to see why you’d be a stellar fit, even with no related experience? Maybe. But more likely, finding your dream job will take a series of incremental moves, each one building up your skill set.
Using this job to set yourself up for the next one means finding ways to stretch yourself – taking the trainings, getting industry knowledge and accumulating those resume bullet points. It also means getting your finances in order and building a savings cushion. And most importantly, it means finding ways to be seen as a leader and taking on a management role, even if you know you haven’t drank the organizational Kool-Aid. It doesn’t matter if you hate the field you’re in, people management is the most transferable skill you can acquire.
So, as you’re working your way to you a job you love, focus on what you’re gaining now that will serve you in the future. And remember that sometimes the only way out is through.