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From Confusion to Clarity: How I Designed a Career I Love

Tell me if this sounds familiar -- You’re somewhere in the range of 25-35 years old and have been cranking away at a career or a job that is not what you planned or is no longer what you want. Panic is setting in...

Now what?

This can be a lonely and confusing time, with a lot of self-doubt and psychological / emotional self-punishment. But it doesn’t have to be! This is not your fault.

Over half of Americans are unhappy at work. While this is a distressing number, it shows that we are not alone in wanting more satisfaction out of how we spend 40+ hours a week. But with such staggering numbers, how do we avoid falling into that trap? More importantly, how do we pry ourselves out of it after we’ve fallen in?

A Familiar Story…

I fell into that trap -- a job that started out great, with tons of positive feedback and upward mobility. Over 4 years, 5 bosses and 3 role changes, both my enthusiasm and the opportunities for growth dwindled. I was stuck, unhappy, and just going through the motions. I knew the career path wasn’t for me, but that was the type of work my experience and skills prepared me for. I felt trapped.

I saw three major impediments: time, lack of skills, and lack of direction. After two years of being overwhelmed, confused and reclusive, I knew that I needed to take action -- despite my lifelong fear of choosing the wrong path.

Having a basic understanding of the tech field, I dipped my toe in further by taking free coding and design classes. This provided a solid, relevant skill set that is in high demand and pays well. I figured that even if I didn’t like it, the knowledge gained would be useful in my work.

After several months, I still only had a minimal understanding of the concepts, but was enjoying the material. I decided to step it up and put my money where my mouth is by signing up for paid classes in several coding languages and visual design.

I quickly realized that understanding and classes alone would not get me where I wanted to be. I needed a change of mindset. So I started looking for career change resources. After considering several career coaches, I came across Mission Collaborative through a local DC newsletter.

A New Hope…

My time with Mission Collaborative provided me with three critical tools that are essential for anybody who is unhappy at work and considering a career change:

  • Community. The first thing that struck me within the first five minutes at Mission Collaborative was that I was not alone in this journey. That was such a powerful realization. Until then, I was suffering in isolation -- it was depressing and overwhelming. Despite our collective dissatisfaction for our current jobs, together, the energy was encouraging, hopeful and positive. Every attendee was willing to listen, share, and help others through their own journey. Everybody brought their expertise and their network to help each other out.

  • Self-Reflection. Wrapped up in day-to-day stress and dissatisfaction, it’s hard to step back and reflect objectively. What do I want? What would be a good fit? There are so many options out there, how do I narrow them down? A critical component of the Mission Collaborative method is re-assessing your strengths, goals, interests, and values. Paired with group-oriented design thinking, this yields several potential options for new career paths.

  • Planning and Testing. Great, now you have several potential career paths, but you still have the experience and skills gap to overcome. How do you figure out if any of these paths are good fits, and then convince a company to take a chance on you? How can someone without much experience in the field contend and stand out in a stack of qualified resumes? By developing and completing a project in one of your potential career paths, you can both test the field to see if it’s a fit while producing something tangible to put in front of employers. This is a great way to test career fit without a huge investment of time or money. If your test project is a success, you can start working on necessary hard skills, while finding the right ways to position your soft skills in order to be competitive in this new career path.

The Next Chapter Begins… Armed with new insights and confidence about moving into the product development side of the tech industry, I started applying for full-time bootcamp classes. The ups and downs didn’t end here, as I chose to withdraw from the first bootcamp that I enrolled in after coming to terms with the fact that it wasn’t the right choice for me. After another round of introspection, I realized that what attracted me in all of my previous efforts was the design aspect of product development. In February of 2018 I officially left my job and entered the full-time UX Design Immersive at the DC campus of General Assembly. The 10 week course was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and fully rejuvenated my spirit and my faith in enjoyable and interesting work. The day the course ended I signed a contract to help instruct the next group of immersive students.

Now nearly three months into the job, I can confirm that this is unexpectedly the best and most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I’ve signed on to stay on for the next group of immersive students, as well. Without a doubt, the process of reflecting on my goals and values and then testing career paths has led me to a much happier place. Mine is just one story of many successful career changers. They all starts with the firm belief that you want and deserve more rewarding work, and then having the courage, conviction and grit to push for those goals. You can do it too!

Javi Calderon is a UX design instructor, improv actor, and personal cheerleader to everyone he meets. His positivity and joy for life make people feel like they can be their best around him. Connect with Javi on LinkedIn to learn more about General Assembly, UX design, or improv!

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