Saturday, May 5, 2012

How I Got Here: A Career Change Success Story

(reprinted from feed your career)

I spent almost 10 years as a Producer of on-line video games. I focused mostly on children’s entertainment and educational titles. I worked for both large production companies and small start-ups. I got into that profession just by chance. I dropped out of college when I was 21 after floundering for a long time, I got a job as a game-tester and thought I made the big time because I was being paid to play video games for a living. It wasn’t as glamorous as I thought but I still enjoyed the work and moved my way up the “corporate ladder” until I was managing the development process of games I had thought up. I managed a team of artists and designers and I was the person in charge of timely delivery of a quality product that didn’t go over budget. Even though I worked with great people, I never really loved going to work, in fact I ended up dreading it. I would start to stress-out Saturday night because I knew my weekend was almost over and I would have to go back to work on Monday morning.
Let me pause because I need to give some other background at this time. I’ve struggled with weight my entire life. After high school I became less active and I started to gain weight quite quickly. By the time I was 27, I weighed over 300 lbs. One morning I woke up and literally said to myself, “Enough is enough.” I started to exercise, eat right and I lost over 100 lbs in about a year without any outside help. It was quite literally a life-changing moment, not just because I was healthier, but I realized that I can do anything I put my mind to. So now we return to my life as a Producer which was horrible. I just coasted through my responsibilities, much like my life during college. After realizing that I was not getting anything more than a paycheck from my work, I went back to school to complete my BS in Nutrition so that I could become a RD.
After failing at school the first time, I sailed through my school work the second time around. I was motivated and happy and the grades reflected that. I treated school like my job and dedicated myself to learning as much as I could. Fast forward through graduation and my dietetic internship, to where I am now an outpatient dietitian working at the VA teaching classes as part of the MOVE program to help vets lose weight.

I hated my job as a video-game producer. I was not motivated but I didn’t know why. I had already read, What Color is My Parachute to help me identify what I’m good at so I had some insight into what previous experiences in my past had given me the most fulfillment. I began to research becoming a RD after losing weight but I was scared to go back to school. I was a miserable student the first-time around, but I also knew that becoming a RD was really the most “legitimate” way to go.
Finally, I found a career counselor who sat down with me and talked me through a lot of things. He helped me identify what I really wanted out of work and why I was so miserable in my current career. When I told him about the RD thing and mentioned how scared I was about returning to school he said, “You know your whole attitude changed when you started talking about this.” He said I lit up and was upbeat. He told me not to worry about the school thing, that if I loved it, I would excel. He also said, “So you become an RD at 35…that still means you could work in that job for 30+ years!” It was through those discussions that I really realized this was going to be a great career change for me.

I clearly remember telling my now wife that I was going to quit work and go back to school. I was worried about telling her and what she would say but she said that if that’s what I wanted to do, then I should go ahead and do it and we would figure out how to make it work! We were going to live on only one income for a few years, but that was ok. That was a relief!
My biggest freak-out moment though was the first night after I got home from summer school. I had to take college algebra at a community college as a pre-req for the Statistics course I had to complete before I could transfer to the university. I came home and cried for about 30 minutes thinking about what had I gotten myself into. My wife finally talked me down, but that was the first time that I my career change became real.

A lot of people are unhappy with their jobs. I’ve learned that there are pros and cons to every job, no matter what. There is always going to be politics, things you don’t like and things that make you crazy. We each need to make that personal list for ourselves and really understand what makes us happy at work. I knew for sure I needed to change careers, after bouncing around from company to company. At each new job, I was still unhappy. I finally realized the only thing that was consistent at each new place was ME. I was what needed to change.
That forced me to think about what I needed in a career. I realized that I don’t care about being the boss, getting a huge paycheck or being responsible for others. I don’t need to cure cancer or be famous, but what I do need is some positive personal interaction each day and to feel like I made a difference in someone’s life. My best days are the ones when I make that connection with one person; their eyes open up and they feel like they can change their life because of a conversation or advice they have gotten from me. That is worth a million dollars!

It was interesting to hear what people said when I told them I was going back to school or that I was a 32 year-old full time student. Either they said “that is amazing”, “how great”, or they would question how I would pay the bills, or was this just “an escape from reality” instead of just “sucking it up”. What I found is that those who fit in the latter category, were really just insecure and unhappy in their current jobs. Those were their thoughts about their careers…not mine. That helped me let it just roll off my back.
That being said, I had an unbelievable support system. My wife was willing to move to a smaller apartment, save money, and put off starting our family until I finished school. She helped me study for tests, proof-read papers and listened as I worried about not succeeding. Let me just say, I couldn’t have done it without her! She’s the best!


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