Sabbatical, Step 4: Finding Career #2

“The vicissitudes of life usually teach an intelligent person what he can handle. It does help to have someone wise in the ways of candles to steady you as you grope toward the light.”

-Bill Bowerman

In Slaughter Canyon Cave in Carlsbad Caverns. Sometimes, you have to light your own way, but it sure is easier when you have help.

What’s it like to work with a career coach? It’s kind of hard to explain, if you haven’t done it. Then I remembered this quote by Bill Bowerman. I don’t know how Sue would characterize what she does, but I think it is a great summation of what her role was.

I literally went into this process without knowing specifically what to expect. She does not work with just “medical” people – there are career coaches that do that. Should you go with someone that specific? I don’t really know. If you do, it’s more money, by a fair amount. In my case, I was looking to get out of clinical medicine, and I wanted to work with someone that had broader knowledge of the rest of the world. In my case, the fact that she worked with a broad range of clients was a positive factor for me.

(In full disclosure, I’m certainly not telling anyone if you are changing careers or jobs to hire a career coach. I’ll address that in my Q & A blog. All I’m saying is that in my situation, I found the guiding voice extremely helpful.)

I went to Sue’s office in mid-July, and from that point on – even until know – I’ve never been bored. I’ve always had something constructive to do. It almost seemed like doing a career search was a full time job. At a minimum, it was a 30 hour per week job. This was no walk in the park, I tell her what I want and then it just happens. Far from it.

The early portion of our work together focused a lot on the psychological aspect of finding a new career. She outlined what I needed to prepare for. I had homework. Yes, homework. We would meet (in the first 6-8 weeks) once per week. I had assignments to complete for our subsequent meeting. She forced me to consider my own personality in picking a job. I completed a long psychological inventory. It was beyond helpful.

I had always thought of myself as an introvert with extrovert tendencies. I don’t know why; I just did. The more I worked with Sue, and after completing my work with her, I realized I need to flip that order. I’m an extrovert with introvert sympathies. That seems like a small thing, but for me, it’s not.

You see, in order to pay for the cost of the career coaching, we now run an online resale business (no plug for the business here). It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy the challenge, and it’s interesting to find our own little niche. It’s very much a part-time endeavor, and Sonia and I get to work together – which we fully enjoy doing. Here’s the thing. Now that she’s working for a local elementary school, much of the career search (and the running of the business) is down to me.

I’m alone. All by myself. Here’s the audio clip, full of syrup and cheese. Thanks, Eric Carmen.

I had thought that, going into my sabbatical, maybe I could run my own business. And maybe someday, I will. However, I realized that after about one week of working at home – both at online resale and my career search – I had a revelation.

This sucks.

Where are other humans?

I’ve often joked that I won’t see a therapist, under the following rationale: I don’t have any choice being in my own headspace. Why would anyone else want to get in there?

I found myself going to the post-office to deliver packages for our shipping business, rather than wait for the mail carrier to pick them up from our house. I loved going to Aldi and talking to the checkout people. I was looking for excuses to interact with people. Honestly, I went a little nuts.

Therefore, I reached the conclusion that whatever I did next couldn’t be predominantly “work from home.” I had to be around people. Good to know that after all these years, I’m still a social beast. Taking off work hadn’t made me a hermit.

I also learned that I still really didn’t want to be in the for-profit sector. Not that I couldn’t do it in the right scenario or for the right company, but I felt like I would do better in the non-profit world. Put it this way, a fair number of physicians that leave practice try to work in venture capital environments. And understand I’m not judging “good” or “bad”, I just didn’t think that would be a good fit for me.

After I got through a lot of the “psychology stuff”, Sue had me break down things that I done of which I was very proud. Things that got to the core of what brought me joy or to which I’d react “See, I did THAT!” So initially, everything started off with a very medical tone. But after I had refined examples, she really had me hone in on what was elemental about things that brought success and gratification. She made it very simple.

Basically, the thought is that in most industries, we have titles and day-to-day procedures that are different. But the core of what we do well and what we enjoy translates across those lines. It’s just a matter of making those connections, and then finding the spots in a new career path that accentuates these elemental pieces.

Thus far, Sue helped with two major things. Really know who you are, so you pick things that best fit your personality in order to bring out the things that give you the most reward. The other things she did was to convince me (and anyone she worked with) that your skills and talents really do apply in new areas – you just have to get elemental about it.

What I just summarized in one Google Docs single spaced page was about two months worth of work. To this point, we hadn’t done anything “practical”, like write a new resume or cover letter. I don’t know if anyone would find this shocking, but it surprised me at the time. But, Sue was right. You can’t re-sell your skills for a specific job until you can describe your talents and have a specific motivation.

Now came the practical stuff. We got done to writing a resume and cover letter. She was very helpful in making me clear and concise, and made sure that I communicated what I was looking to do in writing. It didn’t matter if I was going into industry A or B – I could tweak things that would fit certain career paths as needed. But the communication of elemental skills and accomplishments had to be there.

In Left Hand Tunnel Cave in Carlsbad. It did help to have someone wise in the way of candles.

This was incredibly helpful. But two more things were even more helpful than that.

The first thing she did was to teach me how to approach people – those whom I knew, and those I didn’t – to discuss their careers with them. If there was an area that I thought I was interested in, then I had to get more information about their jobs. Their career arc. Their backgrounds. The backgrounds of the people with whom they worked.

It was amazing. She literally showed me how to approach people and I was able to get in to talk to just about anybody. It was stunning to see how many people were willing to talk to me about their jobs, their careers, and then offer to help. They didn’t have to do anything hugely time consuming, just a “Contact this person, give them my name and tell them I sent you. They’ll be happy to talk to you as well.”

When I approached people, I’m not sure what my success rate was for having informational interviews with complete strangers. If I set the over/under at 75% successful, that probably gets me in the ballpark. I would estimate that I talked with well over 60 individuals from day #1 of the process until I wound up with “my job.” It took time, and effort, and belief, but I did it. And, in the long-run, it worked.

The next thing Sue did is she set up a meeting with me and two other of her clients, right as I was beginning this interview process. She wanted use to converse with other people who were in the same situation, tell our stories, and give some feedback to each other as to where the “fertile ground” might be. That meeting ultimately got me to where I am now.

I met two other people pursuing a career change. We talked for about 90 minutes, and Sue directed us where to go. I left that evening with two primary paths: behind the scenes healthcare work (think healthcare design and improvement) and education. One of the younger clients even told me, “it sounds like you want to teach.”

So I started pursuing both directions. Admittedly, I hit the healthcare angle harder. Both options seemed to suit my personality. Ultimately, I decided to invest a little more time at first in pursuing healthcare because it would involve less re-training. I felt it could be a seamless transition where someone could use my clinical expertise in a different capacity. Education made sense; I love working with children and young adults. I could do elementary education or teach science on a high-school level. Since I’d never done a job search before, I went after both avenues, and I figured something would eventually happen to tip me one way or another.

I will be delicate here for a few paragraphs. It was late October by this point. I did interview after interview. Ultimately, I got in to a few places that looked at me seriously, either for a vacant position that my skills would fit, or even creating a position for someone with my skillset. In fact, I had one entity that was looking for funding so they could bring me on into a needed role. The administrator that I was conversing with was very positive. It might take a month or two to make things happen, but sure, by early 2018, they should have an avenue to bring me aboard. Sit tight, young man.

I talked to Sue. Per her discussion, usually when places are looking to create an option for you, they want you. I was 90% of the way there.


Don’t stop until you have an offer. Keep looking.

At this point, I didn’t want to sit from Thanksgiving until New Year’s waiting around, doing nothing. So I started some training (self-funded) that would help in my hopeful new job (it wasn’t that expensive). I also got a substitute teaching certificate. I figured that if HR is HR, I might be sitting until the early spring, or longer, even if everything goes my way. I could at least work starting in January and do something productive while I was waiting for “my new job” to officially come up. It’s the classic Kesselring rule. Have a Plan A. Also have a Plan B.

In January, the administrator I had been communicating with asked me to interview for another position while they were “creating” the new role. That should have been my tip-off. So I did interview; and from what I was told, I did great.

But I found out at the end of January that I didn’t get the job.

Well, at least I have something in the pipeline, right?

I would have, perhaps, if the gentlemen I had been conversing with wouldn’t have left to take a new job himself. That’s a piece of information that I would have liked to have had a few weeks ago.

Oops. That was a bad day for me. I was “upset” for about 24 hours. I got the anger out of my system. But now, what was I going to do about it? Two options – start over on the healthcare angle – it wouldn’t be re-inventing the wheel at this point, or go down the education pathway. I do have the substitute teaching certificate.

I used Sue’s method, and approached numerous teachers to ask for advice. Many of my contacts had entered teaching as a second career, or at least worked with (and hired people) who had done so. The message was, “You can do this. It’s common in our world. You’d be good at this. Give it a shot.” I found that talking to teachers was akin to talking to nurses. Kind, helpful, earnest people. After talking to one or two teachers, I probably had close to a dozen references of people I should talk to about certification pathways.

All I had to do was one simple thing.

Actually teach.

By mid-February, I was on the substitute teaching list at 2 different school districts, and I had applied at several others. There was plenty of work on a daily basis, all I had to do was jump in. My first teaching job was elementary education – 5th grade to be precise. I had to help students write an opinion piece on a topic. I was never so scared in my entire life.

It lasted about 15 seconds.

“Hey, I can do this! They don’t know I’m not a writer.” It was fantastic. I loved it. I had a great 4 hours with those students.

So I took another job. And another. And another.

I wasn’t looking back at this point.

My skills as a pediatrician translate. While my insight into the 0-18 year old crowd is different than that of a teacher, there is a lot of overlap. We both have extensive insight into the mind and development of young people. Both professions, at their heart, should be one of helping. OK, the paycheck is lighter, but the work is rewarding. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

I also realized something else. Sue had wanted me to make sure I had a good explanation for why I left medicine without turning it into a sob story. Maybe she wanted me to do this for “spin”, but I doubt that was her motive. I really needed to think about – on an elemental level, why I wanted to do “something else.”

Until she said that, I had spent the better part of a year identifying what I didn’t want. But what did I want?

It was hard to articulate at first, but I think I can break it down.

I still wanted to work with young people, but I wanted to do a different type of problem solving. The way I see it now, is that pediatrics is an insanely rewarding field of medicine (given how I’m writing, you can see where this is going). The problem is that there a lot of variables out of my control, and that the interactions are brief.

How much good can I do in 15 minute blocks of time? Especially when I see some children once per year, if that? How much can you actually make better? I started to run scenarios through my head, and the answers was (for someone of my wiring) “not as much as I wanted to.”

I could tell stories, but I’ve done that enough. It really came down to that paragraph. The way I see it, teachers/educators still have a number of things out of their control. They have that in common with pediatricians. What I like about teaching is that you have repeated, longer interactions to potentially impact a young person in a positive manner. Am I going to reach everyone? No. I’m not that silly. But I think the chances are greater that my winning percentage will improve, just by the nature of the career. In other words, if I want to be the “invisible hand” that helps affect positive change for a person, I think that I’ll have a greater chance of success as a teacher.

(Please, understand, I’m not downgrading anyone in medicine at all. I’m just trying to explain how, given my personality, I see things now.)

It’s settled. I’m a teacher. Well, I’m a substitute teacher. Now I have two more decisions. One last fork in the road.

-How do I get certified so I can teach?

-Am I an elementary teacher, or do I use my science background and teach high school?

Details, details, details. There’s always more details. I’ve figured those out, too, and now I’m busy as hell. And loving it.

Sometimes, life kicks you in the ding-ding, so you need to give it a kick back. This sabbatical stuff really works!


Author: Jason Kesselring

I am a 44 year old high school chemistry teacher (and former pediatrician), happily married, and a father of two wonderful children. I blog sporadically, and if there's a theme in here, please tell me what it is!

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