How I Dealt with a Career Crisis at Age 30

Before changing careers at 30, Carolyn kept these two pieces of yellow legal paper with notes about how Carolyn reevaluated her life and career path.

I have always been a person on the move. I am extroverted, passionate about people, and hate following the status quo. Entering college, I had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. And as I sit here at age 32, I realize I still don't know. When I am 58, I’ll probably still struggle with an answer, because life is full of squiggly lines with ebbs and flows, stories and people.

I started my career path living and working in a homeless shelter in Denver. It was a full immersion program that forced us to consider more intimately the population we were serving. From there, I knew I wanted to serve and help people. I fell in love with people's stories, their journeys, and serving them.

Following a career path

Fast forward a few years, and I was living in Philadelphia with a newly acquired master’s degree in counseling. I was ready to take on the world and help everyone in need. In the city of Brotherly Love, I worked as a counselor at a community college, at an eye hospital, in foster care for undocumented minors, and finally, at age 27, landed in refugee resettlement work. I served a highly traumatized population…with very little support from my organization.

I remember sitting in my office one day — with a caseload far beyond what was manageable — when one of my clients came in to complain about a problem I felt was not a big deal. As she sat in my office, I stared at my to-do list and waited for her to leave. I thought, “I don’t have time for this.” She was crying, struggling with her new life in America, adjusting to an entirely new culture — and I did not have the bandwidth to care. After she left, I reflected that I was no longer seeing my clients as people. I saw this woman as merely a hindrance to getting my to-do list completed.

A couple years into this job, I had lost purpose in my work. I lost sight of the humanity right in front of me, and I was losing myself.

Career crisis at 30

I knew I needed to slow down. I placed a call to my Aunt Barbara in Oklahoma, who, despite the distance between us, has played a significant role in my life. I knew her as someone who has a deep desire to help people. Who better to call in a crisis?

I offered her my stream of consciousness, and she invited me to her home for a “reevaluation weekend.” The short visit was full of what I call divine moments from God.

As we sat in her office during our heart-to-heart, she took out a yellow legal pad and said, "Okay, hon. What are your strengths?" Her gentle spirit encouraged me to dig deep. I remember staring at her blankly, thinking, “I should be past this. I'm too old to go back to choosing a new life path, and I am way too old to be discussing strengths.”

But I trusted my aunt. She had my best interests at heart, the patience of a saint, and the gift to see beauty in others in a way that I once could but had since lost. It was time to dive in and be open in my most vulnerable time.

We talked through my would-be-nice locations to live, my personality strengths, my must-haves in a job, and my absolute will-nots and will-dos in life.

We sorted out a lot.

It would be nice to live in the mountains.

My strengths include that I am good at interacting with people, and I love sharing experiences with them.

A must-have in a job is a positive and supportive work environment.

I will not work somewhere just to climb up the promotion ladder, and I will not live to work.

I will live with purpose, which includes a life where I help people, give back to my community, reserve time for the outdoors, and grow in my faith.

I’d like to say I left Oklahoma feeling enlightened and inspired, but I was kind of frustrated and confused. I took home with me two pages of notes we scribbled on that legal pad. I had no idea it was actually a map to a new life and that I was about to embark on a journey.

Considering a career change

Back in Philadelphia, I replayed what I had learned with my aunt that weekend. Could she and I have uncovered some things that could make me feel more fulfilled professionally and personally? I decided it was worth investigating.

I began to research jobs I hadn’t considered previously, like in recruiting and sales or returning to my background in education and nonprofit work. I set up informational interviews, explored different paths, and considered cities to move to that would also satisfy my desire to be near or in the mountains.

As I started to apply for positions out west, I thought I would have better luck securing a job if I lived there. I had to take a leap of faith. So, I quit my job as a refugee resettlement case manager and drove to Colorado.

Soon after arriving, I landed a job in legal recruiting at a staffing agency. After nine months, I landed a position I didn’t know was my dream job: corporate recruiter for a large ski resort company.

Before I knew it, I was living the life that my Aunt Barbara and I had messily outlined on a legal pad. I work directly with people (my passion) to help them find jobs (my purpose). Plus, I work for a company that places me in the mountains (my dream location). I’m living my ideal life.

Lessons learned from a career crisis

My journey is not perfect or complete by any means. I am still building community in a new city and figuring out what I want to be when I grow up, and that’s okay. I am older than most at this point in their career, because I completely changed my vocational direction at age 30. And I am okay with the fact that I do not have a 10-year plan.

But thanks to my Aunt Barbara, I’ve learned to hold loosely to the way you thought your life would turn out; look around and count your blessings when things feel mundane; ask hard questions and be willing to take gigantic leaps of faith if life gets too mundane or frustrating; and risk being vulnerable with loved ones when you feel lost. Doing so can bring unexpected blessings.

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