Murders. Corruption. Politicians milking cows.
It was everything I imagined being a professional journalist would be.
My first job out of college was officially covering two small towns outside Burlington, Vermont, but I really wrote about the entire state. It was heaven. Gruff editors hollering over the muffled voices on the police scanner provided my daily soundtrack. I was sure this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
But, unlike Allie Gray Freeland’s assertion that your first job out of college is your most important, my first job actually had little bearing on what I do, what I earn and how I conduct myself a decade later.
Your first job out of college doesn’t really matter to your career big picture. It simply pays off the work and decisions you’ve already made. Here’s what really matters: when you undergo your first career change. That’s when you’ll learn the most about yourself.
Most likely, you’ll change careers at some point in your life. (Although not as many times as you may think—the stats you hear about people changing careers 5-7 times in a lifetime are usually attributed to the Bureau Of Labor statistics, which promises they never actually calculated that.)
Here are four big lessons you’ll learn when changing careers:
1. You’re more than you went to school for.
I self-identified as a journalist in every facet of my life. It was what I did 24 hours a day. I was a journalist on the job, when out with friends and at dinner parties.
When the industry tanked and started making changes contrary to the core values I got into the field to pursue, I jumped ship. I felt sick to my stomach in job interviews just thinking about leaving my career, but I knew it was the right decision.
And here’s what I realized: you learn a lot about yourself when you untangle yourself from your career.
While you should make a change if you’re not happy in your current job, turning what you love into a career isn’t always healthy.
Find a job that fulfills you. And love the life you live.
2. Your imperfect job background is valuable.
Before my interview for a job in a new industry, I had to Google industry jargon from the job description. My boss knew I didn’t have a traditional background for a marketing manager, and she looked at the bigger picture.
Whatever you do, you have skills that extend well beyond the job you do.
Be bold. Be proud of what you know.
You will bring things to the table that your coworkers, who might be on a more direct career path, have not encountered.
Let me tell you: having to knock on the door of a recent widow and ask to borrow their favorite photograph of the person they lost hours before makes everyday work stresses not that difficult to tackle. You, too, have something like this in your background, something that makes you more valuable than you realize.
3. You have a lot to learn.
College has prepared you for your career. Once you’re ready for a career change, you will have spent countless hours absorbed in your industry. You will have succeeded. You will have failed and learned from those failures.
After 10 years of working in your industry, you’ll finally be comfortable doing it.
So making that career switch will be refreshing. Scary, but refreshing. All that amazing learning you underwent when you fell in love with your first career starts anew. You begin discovering. And you will get better and better.
4. There’s more to life than work.
I’m not going to credit my marriage to my career change, but I can’t say I’d have the same relationship had I not changed careers.
When you’re not truly married to your job, you open your heart more to the world around you. It’s not to say that if you’re work-obsessed, you don’t get joy from other things. But when your career doesn’t define you, it’s easier to find joy in other parts of life.
In my new career, I actually put in more hours on the job than I did as a journalist. But it doesn’t consume me like my first career did. It doesn’t define me.
I love being a husband. A father. A homeowner. A neighbor. A friend.
Are you considering changing careers? Tell us in the comments what you’re struggling with.
Andy Netzel (@Andy216) is a recovering journalist who loved his first job at The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. He now shapes the brand voice, directs social media and manages marketing pieces for a national retailer.