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How I Dealt with a Career Crisis at Age 30

Published:
November 28, 2023
December 17, 2017
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.

Creators:
Carolyn Larrivee
Published:
November 28, 2023
December 17, 2017
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