Blaze a Trail

The estimated reading time for this post is 4 minutes

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Avoiding Well-Worn Paths

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the career advice I have been given over the years, and the advice we give our students. While I may be treading into sacrilegious territory, I am starting to feel like pushing kids into making career choices might not be the best use of our time as educators. While I admit I am tempted to quote the “statistic” that people change career fields five to seven times throughout their lives, on average, I have heard that statistic might be a misinterpretation of Department of Labor data.  I am also tempted to claim that a large percentage (40%? 60%? Depends on who you ask…) of the available jobs five to ten years from now don’t even currently exist, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be wholly new endeavors.  As much as I loathe the use of anecdotal evidence from a rhetorical perspective, I think my best move may be to briefly recount my academic/career “path” (although I doubt anyone else has walked this way before, so there’s not really a “path!”).

I didn’t really find an intense interest in anything academic until I was nearly in college; as a junior in high school, I had the opportunity to take a class called “Law Studies”, which was really a criminology class. While that class started to set the hook, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I really committed to studying Criminal Justice. I actually considered it interesting, and so I sort of forgot to project what my options would be after graduating with a degree in that field; it turned out, they were not especially appealing to me. So, I figured continuing to study Criminal Justice would allow the answer to present itself–that meant graduate school. Three years and $40,000 of student loan debt later, I discovered that a life in academia was not for me, leaving me to strike out on my own in search of fulfillment (and employment).

Over the next few years, I worked for several different companies–a burgeoning internet golf start-up, a well-established multi-national mutual fund giant, a highly-successful elite gymnastics gym, an internet advertising firm, and a company that sold wine over the phone (ok, I tried and failed to sell wine over the phone, but I blame the business model for my failure). There were certainly parts of all these positions that I enjoyed:  the excitement of being on the ground floor of a start-up, the expertise required and high-stakes in the financial world, the fast pace of the internet advertising industry, the energy I soaked up from working with kids while coaching gymnastics, and the creativity and camaraderie of being on the sales team, even though I never actually made a sale.  It was at this point in my life, as I ruminated about what to do next, that my grandma asked me, “Why don’t you just go teach already?” Apparently, my family had always thought teaching would be good career choice for me, but never bothered to mention it. Nonetheless, when Grandma gives advice, I take it!

Ten years later (stop doing math…I’m 37), I find myself on the 21st Century Learning Team, and I’m realizing that I utilize skills from all of my previous jobs in this role, including those I picked up in the classroom. Frankly, that has been one of my favorite parts being on Team 21c–I am constantly called upon to problem-solve, create, innovate, manage my time, be professional, communicate effectively, “sell” a product (in this case, the Santa Ana Unified School District), entertain, and teach others. All of the work experiences I have had are proving to be incredibly valuable, and there is no conceivable way I could have gotten here without them. The way I approach my life and the world has changed so dramatically over the last 20 years that any career decision I would have made in high school about my career path would have been horrifically misguided, potentially leaving me with a narrow, but deep, skill set that might not transfer easily, becomes obsolete or outsourced, or even resides in an industry that ceases to exist (ok, yes, and possibly secures me a lifetime of stability and contentment). Instead, because my career path has twisted, turned, and looped all over the place, I now have an average amount of proficiency in an above average number of categories. A strange thing to brag about, perhaps, but it’s given me the confidence and experience to feel comfortable blazing new trails.

Is this the recommended path to career happiness? Maybe not…I have certainly had to be resilient, lean on my support structures (which some people lack), get lucky occasionally, endure some discomfort, and muster the courage to take a leap of faith here and there. Having said that, I am happy, so I figured I would share the path I took to get here.




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Brad Swan

Brad Swan

Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA): 21st Century Learning Team at Santa Ana Unified School District
I am an English teacher turned 21st Century Learning Specialist. My personal interests/areas of expertise include the law/criminology, "hard" science (especially theoretical astrophysics and cosmology), athletics/fitness, and general silliness!
Brad Swan

Latest posts by Brad Swan (see all)

Brad Swan

Brad Swan

I am an English teacher turned 21st Century Learning Specialist. My personal interests/areas of expertise include the law/criminology, "hard" science (especially theoretical astrophysics and cosmology), athletics/fitness, and general silliness!

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