Finding Myself in a Career

Melanie 1Melanie is a university career counselor, an avid reader, and a lover of deep, dark chocolate.  In her after-work hours, she enjoys exploring national parks, watching the latest season in Masterpiece Mystery programs, and teaching people to appreciate Abstract Expressionism. She blogs at http://mel-bel.blogspot.com/.

I did not go to BYU to get an Mrs. degree. I was there to learn, not to “catch a husband” (and I was probably a snob about it too). And yet, despite my suspicion of the girls studying Elementary Ed and Marriage, Family & Human Development, I didn’t have any grand career plans for myself.  I assumed that I’d get married shortly after graduation and spend a year or two working in an office, supporting my husband through grad school, before becoming a stay at home mom. But there I was, a recent graduate without a boyfriend, not to mention a husband. I felt anchorless. Being good at school had always been a large part of my identity, and an impressive, high-powered, glamorous career seemed to be the logical thing to fill that space, but it wasn’t something I wanted, let alone something I had planned for.

I stayed in Provo for a year and then moved across the country to a new city where, inspired by the ambitious, talented, successful people that surrounded me, I formed a new list of goals. I decided that I needed a graduate degree to qualify for the types of jobs I would find fulfilling. But what degree to get? None of the “practical” options interested me, so I decided to pursue what I loved (the humanities) and work the rest out along the way. I loved immersing myself in literature and history and research and writing once again, and I especially loved teaching at the community college during the months I wrote my Master’s thesis. At the end of two wonderful years, with graduation once again looming, I realized the impracticality of my plans for the future. Just out of graduate school, I would never find a full-time job teaching at a community college, and I’d never be able to make it piecing together adjunct work in the sky-high cost of living city I planned to move back to.

I made the move, and after a couple of stress-filled months I landed an administrative job at a university. I was over-qualified, but I had a wonderful supervisor who allowed me to enlarge the scope of the position and encouraged me to build my skills. I truly felt that Heavenly Father had led me to this job. Still, I hated when people asked me what I did for work. I didn’t want to be defined by a job title that I felt wasn’t an accurate reflection of who I was and what I was capable of. I utilized my university tuition benefit to obtain a graduate certificate in career development, and shortly after was able to move into a career consultant position at the university.

After a number of years of wandering, I’ve finally found a career. I’m no longer hesitant to tell people what I do for a living, and I’ve found a lot of joy and satisfaction in a field that is a good fit for me. Still, setting myself on a career path has its own set of challenges. I’m more invested in the outcome of office politics, and I get overwhelmed thinking about how to promote my work and prepare myself for the next step. When overly stressed, I joke that I need someone to come along and marry me so I won’t have to deal with career challenges. While I’m fully aware that marriage isn’t the answer to my work difficulties, becoming a wife and mother isn’t something I’ve ever stopped desiring. I never set out to be a career woman; that’s still not the way I think of myself. Yet I’m grateful for the ways that establishing myself on a career path has helped me to know myself, utilize my talents, stretch my abilities, and hopefully make a positive difference in the lives of others. Maybe one day my ideal of wife, mother, and community college instructor on the side will come to fruition, but for now I’m off to review a student’s resume and start another graduate certificate!

5 thoughts on “Finding Myself in a Career

  1. Mel, Thank you so much for your words. I certainly feel that way, too. I’m so glad that you have found a career. I bet that our experiences will help us love whatever comes into our future.

  2. Melanie,

    First of all when I opened the Segullah page, I knew that cute face of yours! I was in one of you wards at BYU! Aside from that, I pretty much have had a similar experience (at BYU, then after) you explained in your post. Are you living in Utah? Great words.

    Jennie LaFortune

  3. I didn’t go to college to find a husband, but found one anyways and got married before I graduated. I did the mostly-staying home, sometimes adjunct teaching thing for almost a decade. Then I had to find a career, and it was hard. I think one thing that didn’t help is that there are plenty of stereotypes about ‘career women’ and many have the idea that if you love your career, then you must not have a life or have room for other things. It seems like the women that have really high-intesity, high-powered jobs get a lot of visibility, and the rest of us who just work 40 hours a week at fairly standard jobs are somewhat invisible.

  4. This is wonderful! Life is such an adventure. Does it ever go the way we planned when we started? Mine sure hasn’t. But I like it, still the same. Thanks for telling your story. God bless you.

  5. Jennie: How fun to “reconnect,” in a way. I left Utah in 2006 and have been in DC ever since.

    Jessie: I realize that my first sentence may possibly offend some, but I took the risk and included it to communicate my mindset at the time (and my unwillingness to “catch a husband” was driven as much from fear and inexperience with dating as it was a focus on my education). I think stereotypes about women and work – especially mothers and work – in and out of the church can be really damaging. I wish that we could all give each other the benefit of a doubt more than we do.

    Melody: You’re absolutely right: life never goes as exactly as planned for anyone. For years and years work and motherhood didn’t go together in my mind. It never dawned on me that even if I had gotten married and had children on my own timeline, I may still have needed or wanted to work or find a career. Life is an adventure, and our challenge is to view it that way!

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