“I don’t really like math for its own sake. What I love is that it lets you take some things that you know, and just by moving symbols around on a piece of paper, you find out something that you didn’t know that’s very surprising.” -Randall Munroe (“Comics that Ask ‘What If’” – Ted Talk)
“If you love science for science’s sake, teach college. If you really like science, but you really love to work with students, teach high school.” -Dr. Karen LaFever (in a conversation with me as I was picking my path to teach high school chemistry)
These quotes pretty much summarize why I’m happy with my new career. I could have saved myself a lot of writing.
The dust has settled. In 16-17 months time, I have gone from pediatrician, to resting, to adventure seeker, to searching for a career, to teaching. Sometimes, it feels like it has been 10 years since I was in practice. Other times, it feels like mere days have passed. What did I learn that maybe I can pass along to others that are contemplating or making a major change?
Q: Was it really a sabbatical? Or was this an early mid life crisis?
A: It was a sabbatical, but self-funded. If it were a mid life crisis, I would have a convertible, I’d have visited Europe, and probably gambled on the riverboats. I started off with goals, modest as they were. Rest. Regenerate. Once that happened, I did real and actual work to come out on the other end. Plus, I started a business and now I write in addition to starting on a second career. Taking time off is in common between the two. The difference between a sabbatical and just screwing around are the goals, or more appropriately, goals versus lack of goals.
Q: How will I know if it’s time for me to step away and “dream it all up again?” (Thanks, Bono!!)
A: I can’t explain it to you. This goes back to being honest with yourself. At some point, you just know that the status quo isn’t maintainable. Ideally, one changes course without needing/taking as much time as I did. It would be great if you could pull off the process while still working at career #1 and still doing all the preparation for career #2. I think that’s hard, and many people would benefit from a “breather” in-between.
If you are routinely thinking about doing something completely different, even if you don’t have details, then it’s at least on your mind. Acknowledge it, and don’t push it away. If you conclude that it’s time to make a big change, don’t deny it. You’ll wind up taking more time in the long run. I found that out!
More specifically, look at how work affects your “non-work” life. I’ve expressed the symptoms. If your vacations don’t recharge you, but are a source of dread, it’s time to think about making a change. If you can’t find a way to reliably unwind, it’s time to think about changing. If you feel like you are no longer making the difference THAT YOU WANT TO MAKE, it’s time to think about a change.
Q: Looking back, would you do it all over again? Or would you have stepped away earlier and taken less time off and planned an exit while still working?
A: Yes, I would do it all over again.
The follow up question is harder. With 17 months of hindsight, I still fail to see where I could have jumped earlier. My schedule was unique – I was in a very small call schedule, and I had a lot on my plate at all times. I know it was theoretically possible that I could have started the process earlier and had less time off, but I don’t see it in practicality.
What is fair to say is that if I had listened to the group session with my career coach, I would already be certified to teach, and not finishing that process this summer. I would have been further down my current road (and my summer would probably be a little more laid back). At a minimum, I’d be working on a 2nd certification. I had to get the last bit of wax out of my ears, and it just took a little longer.
Q: What if I’m really scared about making the jump?
A: You probably will be, no matter what your motivations are. Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty are part of the sabbatical process. However, you have to realize that these emotions are coming, but that no matter what, you won’t let those feelings stop you from doing what you need to do.
I’m a big Lewis Black apologist. His speech embedded below is not unique, but something about his passion resonated with me. If all else fails, listen to him. I’m paraphrasing, but you have to worry about what drives and motivates you FIRST. Yes, you have to consider money, I’m not naive, but it is a secondary consideration.
(If you are really lazy, start the clip at 19:56 for the one-liner – but the whole things is relevant.)
Q: How scary was the process for you?
A: At times, not at all. Other times, “scared shitless” might be an appropriate description. I was scared once the initial thrill of being “free” wore off. I was scared when I started working with my career coach. And I’ve certainly had trepidation during the teaching and certification process.
Look, big changes – for most of us – are never easy. I knew heading into this that I would be uncomfortable at times. This isn’t original, but the phrase “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” rings true for the process.
I knew I made this change for the right reasons, which gave me the confidence to push forward even when I became apprehensive. I suspect most people will have the same feeling. You just have to know it’s coming and be prepared to deal with it. Truthfully, I was more confident than not in this career process change. Coming from a worrier, that hopefully tells you something.
Q: How scared was your family? Did they ever want you to abandon ship?
A: They weren’t scared, and if they were, I didn’t pick up on it. Remember, Sonia was on-board with this idea YEARS before I was. Our relationship isn’t predicated on finances, but on how the other person is doing. She wasn’t afraid once during this process.
My kids are intelligent. They are kids however. In their view, they had seen the downside to the medical life. They knew I missed a lot of their “stuff”, and that I didn’t like it. Now, I don’t miss nearly as much of their “stuff.” Will I be busy as a teacher? Yes, I plan on it. But I’ll always have more time for their world. It’s a win-win.
Q: What if my family isn’t completely on board with this idea yet?
A: Wow. That’s a hard one.
First of all, if you are single and don’t have any responsibilities outside of your own needs, making a big change ought to be easier from a practical standpoint. Run the numbers, decide how much money you need in order to re-charge, and then do it. Only you are holding yourself back (forgetting family expectations on career, cultural expectations, etc…)
Second of all, if you are in a relationship where your partner (or you, and your partner wants to make a change) is not supportive of making a career change, then what is the basis for your relationship? I know there are financial realities that can differ – maybe you are supporting a sick relative. Maybe you are paying off debt. But, if your significant other is not “down” with this in general principle, wow.
You can always set plans, timetables, and budgets so that you can make change in a reasonable timeframe. If you or your partner are not on-board with improving the other’s quality of life, I really don’t have an answer for you, and I’m glad I’m not in that relationship.
Sonia had an outside shot of taking a full time job right when I’d start teaching. She has loved her job as “in school” IT support. She loves being back around people. She asked me what she should do if she got an offer for a full time job. I said if that’s what she wanted, we’d find a way to make it work. She was worried about adding on stress as I started a new job. Again, I responded, “It will still be less stressful than our lives were in 2016. If that’s what you want, then I’m happy to find a way to make it work.” You HAVE to have each other’s back.
Q: In what ways did your family benefit from the change?
A: On a fun note, we took 4 trips that we’ll never forget. I had a over a year of time to do simple things, like cooking for my family, taking kids to school, helping with homework, and all the other things that my family will remember when I’m an old man. I know I’ll be busy when school starts (I already AM busy), but I’ll have more balance. They are getting someone that will always be mentally engaged in their lives.
My kids also learned that 1) it’s ok to be afraid of change but 2) you still have to do it anyway. I was able to model what most parents tell their children – don’t be afraid to take chances. It’s better to be afraid but willing to do something about it, rather than toiling on in a situation because you are haunted by the, “what if this goes wrong” question.
Q: Did you have enough relaxation time? Will I find my motivation again?
A: Yes and yes. Maybe I could have starting looking for a career a little sooner, or maybe I could have waited the entire summer before getting moving, but I had plenty of time to relax and find myself again.
Furthermore, I have always been someone who is willing to work hard; it has never scared me. Once you get to the point where you can think logically about “what you might want to do”, the motivation never lacked. I haven’t even started formally with permanent job #1 in career #2, but I can see jumping off points already, and I have plans to address those. The energy is back. The good juju is present. It will take time, but sure, let’s do this!
Q: Why did you elect to use a career coach? Is it necessary for a successful transition? Financially, is it worth it?
A: I elected to use a career coach because I didn’t want to do anything clinically. I couldn’t navigate all the choices on my own.
Let me put it this way. Certain careers (medicine and lawyers come specifically to mind) have very set routes. You go to medical school, match in a residency program, and do residency. You either become a generalist of some type, or spend more time in a specialized fellowship. Then you get a job. And you don’t have to create as many opportunities – they are just THERE. In 2017, I had to think about how to get from point A (no work and recovery) to point B (a path of my own choosing). That’s hard, and there wasn’t a blueprint.
I think if you are changing jobs and career #2 is semi-related, then no, you don’t have to use a career coach. I think the bigger the transition (or if a long time has passed since you were last in the job market, actively looking for new work), then it is something you should consider. I thought it was necessary for me, given the significance of the jump I was making.
I don’t know what career coaches cost. There are various levels of service (working with a larger group vs. one-on-one) that will change the price tag. My career coach provided data suggesting that in the long run, you make more money in your transition if you have some kind of guidance. 1) I expected that and 2) I think she was correct.
I wish I would have budgeted for this particular expense before I took sabbatical, but now I run a part time business as well, so the expense was covered (and I learned a new skill). I’m glad I had outside help, but I don’t think it’s a 100% requirement to do so.
Q: Financially speaking, how have you come through this? What if I want to make MORE money in a second career? I don’t want to take a step backwards.
A: Please understand that I was in a unique situation. Our family has elected to live well below our means. I don’t have student debt, and we outright own our house. Finances were the last consideration in my job search. And I’m probably lucky in that respect. Actually, no probably about it.
You should be able to make as much, if not more, in career #2 than career #1 if you so choose. I was in the position to think about what I wanted to do. Of course, stepping back from medicine to education, I’m making less money. Our combined family income will be about 40-50% less than my last year in medicine. We don’t have debt, and we saved a lot for retirement and education for our kids in the last 10-15 years. In a year or two, Sonia would like to work full-time. Financially, we are just fine, and most people won’t take a monetary step backwards like I did. Having said that, it is the LAST thing on my mind.
Q: Do you ever wish you were back in medicine?
A: No (sorry, medical and nursing friends!) The positive aspects that I miss about medicine I managed to find in career #2. I’ve said before that teachers and nurses – in personality and in mission – have a lot in common. I’m still working with children and young adults. I’ll still work with families. The other details about the job have changed, but the overarching ideas that I really enjoyed are still present. Aside from missing certain individuals (which is the case anytime one moves or changes jobs), I didn’t wind up that far (philosophically) from where I started.
As a side note for people leaving medicine and nursing, I can’t make a sweeping statement about whether to keep your license and certification. All I can say is “know yourself.” For me, I had to give that up, or I would have been sorely tempted to cave in to go back to what I knew and had done before. It’s a personal decision, and I can’t guide you more than that.
Q: What did you learn about yourself during and after the sabbatical?
A: 1) I’m better at advocating for myself. 2) I really value compassion and kindness more with every passing day. 3) I’m an extrovert (who will go through intense stretches of just wanting to be left alone.) 4) Having done this, I would be a lot more willing to actively shake up other aspects of my life if need be (and I don’t find that prospect nearly as scary anymore).
I don’t feel like I’m a fundamentally different person. I am more aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I’m a better advocate for myself. I learned that I can take chances and forge a different path. But I’m not cynical, I’m not suddenly a hippie, and I’m not a recluse. Aside from being under less stress, I don’t feel like I’m a new person.
Q: Are you sure teaching is the right calling from you? How will I know if I’ve gotten this right?
A: Yes, I’m sure. My former career was essentially in applied science. I worked with young people and their families. I had adult colleagues. I had to listen a lot and teach things about specific topics to people. Sounds like a teacher, doesn’t it?
I love being in a helper role, and I love facilitating knowledge acquisition. I will work with young people, have conferences with parents, and have adult colleagues. For me, despite going through a career change, I didn’t have to change a lot. The certifications are different, the specific subject(s) that I teach are a little different, but the basic job description is almost identical.
This goes back to my “Black Magic” blog. We all live for the moment where we walk through the door and get the feeling of, “that’s why I’m here today. This is what I came to work for!” I had that sensation on my first day of substitute teaching, and I’ve had it every step of the way since. But I don’t see myself getting bored by the possibilities of the good things that I can help to actually come to fruition.
Q: What did you learn about finding a new career? Is there a way where I can find a better batting average the first time around?
A: I learned that most colleges don’t do diddly squat correct in job search processes. Most people go into career #1 blind. The power of the career coach was knowing how to approach people about 1) what they actually do for a living 2) what their background is 3) what kind of background would be good and 4) who else you should talk to. Colleges can’t, or don’t, do much of any of that.
I learned that the biggest factor in finding a career is knowing yourself. I could say, “I like science.” So, I could be a college professor, teacher, pharmaceutical rep, doctor, nurse, master of public health, go into research and design, work for a museum, get an MBA to go with my degree and do some kind of combination…. The list goes on. All of this comes from one degree. The characteristics of all of those jobs differ greatly. If you take an honest inventory of how you are wired, how you operate mentally, and what you do well, it will be a lot easier to find what best suits you. Otherwise, you are taking a blind stab and hoping you hit the right vein.
So, yes, I think many of could do better the first time around with more practical knowledge navigating different careers and if we were really honest with ourselves more.
Q: Any takeaways from the job search itself?
A: HR peeps, I need to rap at you for a minute.
Most of us know we won’t end our careers with the company that we started with. Gone is the plaque, gold watch, and pension. May I remind your of this data, most of the workforce will change careers (not including job title changes) 3 to 7 times.
Why, then, does HR treat people that have changed careers as freaks? We know people will change jobs more frequently, so stop questioning them and trying to assume that they are “weak” for doing something different. It is still the prevalent attitude in HR interviews. The only place that wasn’t (that I found) were education systems, where they are used to getting 2nd career teachers.
HR, get over yourself and adapt. The workforce is changing. Your questions and your attitude needs to as well.
Second group on blast… I’m not directing this at school superintendents or principals (or nurse managers), because they actually do things other than “lead”; they have real skills and do more tangible work. In the medical and business worlds, I think most CEOs and COOs are 1) overpaid for providing leadership because 2) most of them are very mediocre leaders at best. And that’s not a shot at people that are good leaders – their leadership is invaluable. But if “leadership” is the primary reason you are drawing your income, you had damn well better be good. And most CEOs and COOs don’t seem to be humble enough to actually listen and communicate appropriately. Certainly, I could be wrong, but I doubt it. I think most people in leadership positions know how to boss people around, but don’t know much about leadership. A lot of top executives conceive of themselves as a visionary like Elon Musk, but they are probably a lot closer to being Kenneth Lay of Enron fame than they’d like to admit.
Q: Any regrets about the entire process?
A: No. Other than I should have asserted myself sooner, no regrets about taking the sabbatical. My family is happy, I’m happy. I have a job that hits the high points of the things that I want to accentuate in my life. I’ll have time off with my family. I’ll have a career that is portable, even after retirement (I can work part time easily, I can tutor). And I’m still a helper. No regrets whatsoever.
Q: Where do you see yourself in the next 2, 5-10, and 20 years?
A: I hope that I’m still working with students throughout this time period. Maybe I’ll be at a different school, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll have some science teams competing for a “nerd bowl”, and I’ll be honored to be their coach. Maybe I’ll get to develop some new classes. But I see myself teaching in one form or another, and being quite satisfied and content with my choice.
Q: I have questions about my own transition, may I contact you?
A: Absolutely. If I can help someone down the road with a little more confidence and style, I’d love to chat or correspond. You can message me via the blog, and I’ll get to you. I also have a Facebook page under the same title. Or, email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org