Retail Worker → English Teacher → Administrative → Editor → Marketing professional in publishing.
Career change is possible but it takes time. Embracing failure and imperfection (instead of fearing it) took me places and opened up possibilities. I found my dream job in my late 30s. I will share my journey, adventures, and choices.
Part I: The Beginnings. How much does our childhood and upbringing influence our attitudes towards career choices?
I’ve been told, “This is America. People change their careers all the time!”
To put things into context, there are countries where you are expected to pick your major at the age of 18 (or 16 depending on when you graduate from secondary school/high school). You pick the major and expected to stick to it for life. Career changing is impossible. If you are an older person applying for an entry level position, you are judged. A career changer is looked as frivolous, undisciplined, or foolish. A career reflects the idea of a marriage in that cultural context. If you hate your career or marriage — too bad—you somehow make it work. Lay low. Don’t make waves. Do your best to make it work. You made the choice, now live it. Otherwise, it’s viewed as immature or lacking humility or character.
Phew! Am I not glad that times have changed? And that I moved out of the country!
That concept may be foreign or weird to those unfamiliar with the culture I described. I grew up in India and Dubai in the 80s and 90s. What I mentioned is the cultural attitude of my upbringing. I grew up among affluent/upper middle class Indians who lived as expats. Eventually, my family immigrated to the United States. I’m a first-generation Indian American woman in her late 30s. Living in the US since 1995 with the opportunity to travel and live abroad, I now call Boston home.
Transitions are not the easiest times. If you are choosing to change your career, I’m sure you have a reason. It’s not as uncommon as people believe.
Growing up in my day, most Indian parents want their kids to become engineers, IT professionals, doctors, accountants. Why? Those guaranteed a good income. Good income meant being able to afford that nice house, support a family, and live well. Whether it’s your calling or not is irrelevant. Afterall, are you too good for a stable job? What’s the problem with that? Calling or passion is what you make out of it.
Thankfully, my parents became more “Americanized” and didn’t buy into that idea that the only legit careers were what I mentioned above. And times were changing. Children of middle-class Indian immigrants were pursuing other careers like journalism, midwifery, acting.
There’s also this idea of “model immigrants,” a concept that I hate with a passion. It’s not a compliment. It’s a narrow stereotype. Model immigrants compared to whom? It also dismisses diversity within diversity and grossly over-simplies. There is no such thing as a positive stereotype. I find many middle-class Indians ignoring the issues of racial politics and acting as if they’re somehow immune to racism. Sometimes, Indians are just as racist and prejudiced towards other groups, the so-called non-model immigrants. The model immigrant label is nothing to be proud of. Yet, many buy into it—both Indians and Americans. Growing up, I was expected to be a high achiever. I felt like there was a vague high standard that I could never measure up to.
I was one of those people who had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew that I couldn’t be an engineer. I failed my physics classes. No matter how hard I tried, I never got it. Being a doctor wasn’t for me either.
I knew that I excelled in writing, English literature, and humanities. I considered business, journalism, communications. My first job was retail worker at the age of 16. My neighbor commented, “Why do you want to work? Why not focus on your studies? Isn’t your father making enough?”
That reflected a mindset. I told her, “My father isn’t at fault.” Not entirely true. He was alcoholic, narcissist, and an asshole. He brags about his achievements but would make a big deal if I asked for school supplies as a 13 yr old. It’d be a ridiculous argument of why I needed it and shamed for asking. My mom would step in. And it was drama that I didn’t want. I was asking for school supplies NOT expensive clothing. When I was old enough to work, I jumped in because I didn’t want to deal with it. Later, it occured to me that if I save enough, I could leave the nest as soon as I was the legal age of 18.
Everyone saw the model immigrant family: success, good family, good life, and others. But they didn’t see what went enough closed doors. When I was a junior in high school through my first few years of undergrad, I underwent plenty of trauma, sickness, and hospitalizations. This made me depressed. I was afraid of not being able to “make it” in life. I worried about discrimination. And sometimes I was just too exhausted.
At this vulnerable time, a religious cult found me. I turned to God for purpose and what a big mistake! I thought religion would give me purpose. If I gave my life to God—a mythical being, things will straighten out. Eventually, I discovered that it was a lie. I wasn’t becoming more godly but pressured into being someone I’m not. I didn’t like what I was becoming. I felt that belief in God and church did more harm to me than good.
I grew up with this, “give it all to God.” But no real answers. Whenever I asked what it’d look like or how it would play out in life. It was vague emotionalism and “pray about it” or along the lines of God will show you. No one wanted to take the time to really listen, examine, and talk. It was told in this manipulative, superiority complex. Obviously, I must be lacking faith and not tuned into God.
Of course, church culture tends to idealize pastors and missionaries. Those were the heroes and the ideal professions for Christians. So, I thought about God’s calling. And people have told me that I have a missionary calling.
That’s what eventually led me to choose teaching. I thought it’d help me travel abroad and do mission work. I wanted to make myself open and a vessel for God. But I was burning out by being something I was not. Following things that were based on lies.
I went through college to get my teaching degree. I also worked as a Instructional Assistant in the local school district and eventually worked my way up as a substitute teacher.
I had my doubts but constantly told, “Every new teacher feels that way” and “subbing is not the same as having your own classroom.” Growing up in such an environment, both religion, my home, and culture, I did not know how to pay attention to myself, express what I want, be authentic. Failure was worse than paying attention to a red flag. Looking back, there were many red flags. Boundaries weren’t taught to me. Self-care was selfish. I got so many conflicting messages. It was frustrating.
I graduated from college. Then, I was on this transition to leave that cult. But deconstructing is tough. I got my first teaching jobs and I tried hard. I always believe in work ethics and give 110% even if it’s wrecking me. I started getting migraines, PTSD, and other health issues but I pushed on. My body was telling me something and I ignored it for years.
I tried to make it all work. It was difficult getting a job, so I pursued a Master’s degree in Publishing. I needed a graduate degree anyway for my teaching license. I also thought, “If teaching doesn’t work out, at least this degree will help me get out.” In hindsight that was a good decision.
So, I’ll share the rest in Part II, the continuation. I learned that there is no point fretting over bad decisions. When I choose my teaching degree, I made the decision with all the resources I had. At that time, it was a good decision. There is no straight, perfect path. Why do we idealize success and fear failure so much? Changing my major wasn’t a failure. The fear of failure was so instilled in me that it was a paralyzing type of fear. Quitting doesn’t make anyone a failure. Sometimes, it’s the best decision. Also, just because teaching didn’t work out for me doesn’t mean that I had valuable experiences and transferable skills. When I made the transition out to a new job, I had skills and experiences that I could bring.
Most importantly, the journey is more important than the destination.
Lastly, I wish this idea that you have to have it all figured out by your early 20s would hit the grave. Yet, how many young people feel pressured by that? It should be ok to say in a scholarship or college essay something like this, “I cannot say what my lifelong career choices will be but this is what I have so far. This is how I hope to make the most of my college experience. And this is how I plan to do it and what I hope to get out of it.”
Next: when I quit teaching and how I transitioned.
Indu Guzman is a freelance editor, fiction writer, and Associate Fiction Editor of Pangyrus near Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Before settling down in the Boston suburbs, she lived in 5 countries (India, Dubai U.A.E, U.S.A, Argentina, Singapore) and traveled to many others. Experiencing the larger world helped Indu see the universal themes among the human experience. In other words, we all have much more in common than differences. She explores third-culture kid experience, family dynamics, trauma and loss through her fiction. She can be found at the-penlife.com