In my attempt to make a career shift in the least risky way possible, I’ve had to expose myself to a bit of career politicking. By this, I mean that in order for me to lay down the foundations of a future paramedic career, there are certain things I need to do now while also working to support myself. I’ve read a few books recently that advise against diving head-first into your passion and instead build career capital that you can eventually cash-in when you decide to make the shift. Cal Newport discusses in So Good They Can’t Ignore You how a person who is passionate for yoga should not quit their job to start a venture as a yoga instructor without first building a business foundation: getting certified as an instructor, gaining experience as an instructor, building a client-base, etc. The idea is that you have to hustle on the side, until you can smoothly make the transition from one career to the next with minimal disruption to your income. Larry Smith, in No Fears, No Excuses: What You Need To Do To Have A Great Career, takes a similar approach when he recommends researching and exploring your passions in a systematic, deliberate manner.
I’ve been largely following this attitude by reading widely on medicine, researching schools, taking the biology course to ensure I have the prerequisites to apply to school, etc. Some of this I can do on my own, but some (like getting my boss to sign-off on an employee tuition discount for the biology course), requires me to share my plans with others. This has lead to an interesting tension between my current opportunities and future options.
My boss knows that I have aspirations to go back to school. In fact, she supports the effort. However, this leaves her in a difficult position. Because she knows there is a chance I will be resigning my job if I get accepted, she’s hesitant to expand my role at my job. Even if this is a small chance (less than 3% based on admissions statistics), she does not want to increase the scope and responsibility of a job tailored to my strengths if she will then need to replace me down the line. While I’m not saying this is a problem that should concern me, I empathize with her dilemma. The job I currently have is unique at my place of employment. To my knowledge, no one else has a job exactly as I do. My job has evolved over the last three years based on my outcomes, skills and strengths. In order to replace me, she would have to find someone that is essentially me, or have to dramatically change the nature of the job, which she’s not inclined to do because I’m currently solving problems for her that would then have to be addressed down the line.
I say all of this without the intention of making me sound more important than I am. I know I’m not special, and I am easily replaceable. What I’m saying is that this level of uncertainty in my boss’s mind about my future is also impacting the present opportunities extended to me. Even if my boss doesn’t want to punish me for thinking about leaving (quite the opposite, my boss has been very supportive with the idea of me advancing my career within the College, including changing roles and growing into management levels), she nevertheless will think twice before updating my duties with more responsibility.
So far, I’ve been dealing with this by remaining transparent and keeping an open mind. I assure them that I don’t have an intention to quit before I receive an acceptance. If I am accepted into a program, then I will have to make the decision to carry on down the path, or stay where I am. If I’m rejected from all the schools I apply to (again, each program is incredibly over-subscribed, with over 1000 applicants vying for 30 spots), then I will keep working at my job and reevaluate my plan. I’ve also kept an eye out for further opportunities to improve myself, such as taking on a teaching job for the Fall to try it out. If it works, there could be more avenues opening up for me. If I discover that it’s not for me, then I’ll have a fun story to tell about the time I was a college professor. But, the point to keep in mind is for me to be cautious and deliberate in how I move forward. Otherwise, I’ll end up screwing myself over and closing doors that never needed to be slammed shut.