How to have no idea what you want to do with you life, change careers paths multiple times, and fall ass-backwards into career happiness.
By Aaron Lattanzio
Warning* this is not a blog on how to have a fiscally responsible education.
There are far too many parallels between the first version of Apple Maps and my career path. It’s been a lot of inaccurate destinations and recalculating of routes, which until recently, seemed like a bunch of bad decisions and failures on my part. Then I learned changing careers is the new norm and most of us will make a change 5-7 times before we retire (1).
Huh? Why didn’t someone tell me that when they forced me to stop ignoring the “what do you want to do when you grow up” question? To be honest, I’ve never felt that was a very fair question to ask a 17 or 18 year old anyway. I’m sure many impending grads feel really good about what they want to be when they grow up, for me it was a really tough question to answer, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Destination 1: Practicality
Before college I had a lot of different jobs. I waited tables; delivered pizza; worked at the buildings and grounds of the local school district; I even remanufactured and tested laser printer cartridges. So I’d say I was exposed to a pretty diverse set of jobs, not to mention the ones I actually considered as a career.
Growing up my real passion was cooking. I tested new recipes on my friends after school and was pulled in by the rise of the celebrity chef on Food Network. But when I started to talk about doing it for a career everyone told me the restaurant industry was a tough life and that it would be hard to start a family.
When I finally had to make the college decision I took their advice and made a practical choice. I went with a career where the job market was growing and I would make a decent buck - computer science. But after two years at RIT I was feeling no passion for my work and hated being stuck behind a computer all day. I figured if couldn’t stand it while I was in school there was no way I was going to be happy doing it for the rest of my life.
Destination 2: Passion
When what you're lacking is inspiration and passion, it is easy to jump to something that inspires you the most. So I packed my bags and headed to the Culinary Institute of America. I loved the adventure, learning about the food, experiencing a new cuisine every week, and how can you not be excited about a 2-hour wine tasting class for 6 weeks?
I’m going to sound like a spoiled brat here, but when I got into the real world I learned the classroom setting was the polar opposite of the work life I was experiencing. After five years of 12 hour shifts, barely seeing family and friends, late nights that often ended at the bar, and trying to drive kitchen staff that didn’t have the same passion for food as I did because they really just wanted a pay check, the restaurant life was sucking the passion for food right out of me. I couldn’t risk losing the joy that came from cooking for friends and family.
Destination 3: Inspiring practicality
At least by now I had learned a little bit about myself. I didn’t need an inspirational area of expertise. Rather than find a career where the theory behind it was my inspiration, I needed an inspirational job in a practical area of focus that allowed me to be inspired by the work I could do with it. And I needed to be around people that had the same commitment to their work that I did.
For me the question “what do you want to do when you grow up?”
Became much more complex:
- What kind of life do I want?
- What do I want a typical day to be like?
- What am I passionate about?
- Can passion and practicality coexist in my career?
I still wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do but at this point I just needed to find something that allowed me to find the inspiration in the job. Marketing seemed like it would offer me the most flexibility to apply an expertise to a ton of different types of jobs, so I went back to RIT (since they already had a bunch of my college debt) and headed towards destination 3.
One of the greatest assets of an RIT education is that they require you to do a paid CO-OP basically 40 hours a week for a whole semester. When I was doing research for a local CO-OP that would at least give me some directional inspiration a few people pointed me towards Causewave (then the Ad Council of Rochester). With just a few hours of research I could tell it was the type of organization that could inspire the hell out of somebody. I went for an interview, convinced RIT to let me take an unpaid CO-OP, and stayed way beyond my assigned CO-OP period. I hung around like an annoying uncle until a full-time position opened up and I’ve never looked back.
Now I get to be inspired every day by the work I do, the team I do it with, and the impact it can have on our community.
All those misdirections and stops along the way may not have been cheap but they still bring value to my work almost everyday. My IT background helps me put the constant burn of technology fires nonprofits experience and will come in handy on a new partnership we’ll be announcing soon with a local tech company. I get to cook for Causewave events all the time and even find ways to cater on the weekends.
What’s the point of all this?
Unless you aren’t normal, you are going to feel stuck at some point in your life. Maybe you’re an AE who is an illustrator at heart. Maybe you’re in IT but you love animation. If I hadn’t tested my passion as a career I’d be questioning it the rest of my life. If you aren’t finding inspiration in your work you owe it to yourself to at least think about putting a new destination in your GPS.