How I Ended up in a Career I Never Expected

If you had asked me at age 21, college diploma in hand, what I’d be doing in my 30s, I’d have told you confidently of my plans to be a German professor. I started studying German at age 11, driven by an interest in family history and never looked back. Contrary to most people’s stereotypes of the German language as guttural and harsh, I found its sounds beautiful, its grammar fascinating, its idioms hilarious. After four years of serving as president of my campus German club, working as an assistant to my German professor, and studying abroad outside Bonn for a summer, I wanted nothing more than to share my love of the language with others. When a master’s degree and faculty assistantship followed soon after, I knew I was well on the path toward my dreams of tenure.

But then life threw a wrench in these well-laid plans. The trifecta of economic downturn, personal health problems, and the birth of my first child left me on an extended leave from my teaching career. And then I had two more children in the next four years. I felt compelled to stay home with my kids while they were so little, and by the time the light shone at the end of the diapers-and-bottles tunnel, my priorities had shifted. I no longer saw myself as an academic, and I didn’t have the desire to chase down a hard-to-get position in my obscure field of foreign language. (In Phoenix, where I live, many German programs have been cut in favor of Spanish or even Chinese.)

If I wanted to jump back into a career, I had a decision to make. What could I be, if not a German professor? A period of self-examination followed, as I asked myself some probing questions about what else I actually liked, what I could conceivably do long-term without boredom, and—most important to me at the time—what would offer a variety of jobs not too difficult to get.

I realized I had always been intrigued by healthy eating—an interest amplified by becoming a mom and striving to feed my kids well. Nutrition seemed like a field with endless applications. Not everyone wants to learn the language spoken by Einstein and Bach, I reasoned, but everyone’s gotta eat. Plus, having been through a number of health issues myself, I had seen firsthand the power of what we eat on how we feel. So, at the end of my 20s, I entered an associate’s level program to become a nutritionist. Four slow-and-steady years later, I emerged with a degree and licensure with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. I now work as a freelance health and wellness writer, corporate wellness presenter, and teacher of a healthy cooking class for toddlers.

Switching careers this far into adulthood has been nothing but positive for me. For one thing, it’s allowed me to choose a path from a more practical perspective. When I first went to college, no one sat me down and asked me the hard questions about what I envisioned for my future. If becoming a professor didn’t pan out, were there other options available in my field? (And were they options I would actually like?) How likely was it that I could find something part-time if I wanted to raise a family? With more life experience, I was able to see that the answers to these questions mattered—and choose accordingly.

A few years away from both career and school also provided me a head-clearing breather from the hamster wheel of achievement for achievement’s sake. Unlike my first go-round with college, I didn’t go to school at the end of my 20s because it was expected of me. Rather, this decision came from a purposeful desire to learn a new subject and find work in a specific field. The time I took “off” to raise my kids gave me fresh eyes for the gift of education, and a mind more eager to learn.

Finally, I’m thankful to have changed jobs as a young adult because I know I still have plenty of years to build a meaningful career. Knowing I’m rubbing shoulders with slightly younger people makes me even more motivated to stay on top of my game through continuing education and skills development.

These days, I’m happy to keep up my German for fun through books and movies. (Not long ago I read the entire “Harry Potter” series in German.) I’m thankful for all that my brief academic career taught me—but even more thankful to have switched careers  with the wisdom of a little more life experience. Plus, if I could make the leap to new professional path this far in life, I’m excited to see what other adventures I might have the confidence to try down the road.

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