When I speak to students about employment, I tell them there are several types of "vocational discovery" and we often don't know which type we will experience until well into adulthood. Some of us experience more than one type of vocational discovery, too. The types of discovery I mention include:
- Certainty from youth
- Accidental inspiration
- Experimental elimination
I was certain from first or second grade that I would be a writer, at least avocationally, and ideally professionally to some extent. But, I also loved science and technology. By the fifth grade, I was fascinated by business and the stock market. To this day I find myself trying to balance my various interests. The only constant is writing, because I would write about my other interests as I pursued them. Writing defines me, even when I have tried to be something "more practical" professionally.
My personality doesn't lend itself to accidental inspiration, but I've met many people who discovered career paths accidentally. These people found themselves doing something that inspired a complete revision of their charted vocational paths. A friend of mine went from being a teacher to being a nurse when he realized a nurse "teaches" patients about their medical situations. Several friends have turned hobbies into businesses, not through careful planning but by "accident" when their friends started asking to buy services or products.
Most people I know have found careers through the process of elimination. That seems wise, especially since high school and college students might not know their own strengths, weaknesses, and passions. I encourage students to try various careers to eliminate ideas until they discover a great "fit" for themselves. Schools offer job shadowing, internships, and career counseling services to help with this process.
Sometimes, like right now, the job market doesn't allow us to follow our dreams -- we have to pay bills and survive. That's okay, as long as you don't give up your dreams. When I've had to work jobs that were work, not dreams, I kept practicing my other skills and interests. I never stopped reading about science, technology, and business. I keep on writing, even when I'm writing only for myself. Working is good experience, even if you have to put your dreams on hold.
Right now, most of my income comes from writing and editing. I'd like to have a safety net, financially, so I'm still searching for opportunities that will offer that security. Maybe I'll return to teaching, or maybe I'll end up in private industry. I cannot predict where I will be in a year. What I do realize is that everyone has to take his or her own path professionally.
I'll address some "autism- / disability-specific" issues next week. We should never forget that the employment environment is challenging for many people right now, regardless of personal challenges. I encourage students to never give up and to keep their skills and knowledge current. When opportunities do appear again, you need to be the most prepared candidate for any openings.
Disabilities are additional "bumps in the road" on our career paths. That's okay. In many ways, dealing with those challenges can make you a better employee -- you know the value of adapting to your limitations and circumstances.