How Do We Choose Our Career? – Part 1
As I approach retirement, I have been doing a lot more reflecting. And one of those reflections has been upon how I ever get started in this career in the first place? Looking back, I realize it was not a natural progression or a straightforward path. After reading this tale, to some it might seem like I was just lucky or always in the right places at the right times. To others, it might seem like divine intervention. How I got to where I am today was absolutely a multi-stepped process of seemingly unrelated events. If I had had an internal GPS guiding me all along the way, there would have been multiple times when the mechanical voice would have declared, “Recalculating.” I have my own thoughts about how my career came about but I will leave it up to my readers to form their own conclusions.
For many people, settling on a career may be a difficult choice. For others, they may never find just the “right” career their whole life even after several unsuccessful starts. I have always felt and often say that you should enjoy the work you do or find the work you enjoy—and if work can be more like play, then all the better. Over my entire career, I can say it has been a rare day that I have dreaded going to work in the morning. I feel I have truly been blessed in this regard, in finding a career I enjoy and one that I have attained a level of success.
So what career am I retiring from? Well for the last 30+ years, I have worked for a pharmaceutical company, not the same one as the company has been bought and sold more than once, but at the same location. Just by the title of my blog, it is obvious that I have been a scientist—to be specific, an analytical chemist. And during that time, I have specialized in two analytical disciplines: analytical method validation and stability.
For those unfamiliar with these two disciplines, the pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated by the FDA and these two analytical processes are required by law to be performed by every pharmaceutical company that sells drugs in the United States. In its simplest terms, analytical method validation is all about proving that the analytical methods used to test drugs work. Stability is focused on proving that the drugs are stable over their shelf life, or the time from manufacturing through their labeled expiration.
So looking back, have I been accomplishing a career goal I had my sights set on when I was in high school? No, I didn’t even know it existed. In fact, I had little idea what career I wanted to pursue. In high school, I was taking a standard curriculum with no defined focus. I was also working part time selling ladies shoes at a local department store. This sales job was important because it enabled me to buy my first car—cars being a topic I have previously written on extensively. Working in retail, while it provided me the funding to support my love for cars, did not interest me as a field to enter.
One of the pastimes I enjoyed growing up was building car models and over my adolescent and teen-age years, I built quite a few. I also enjoyed drawing pictures—either of cars of my own design, or of homes of my own design. I recall drawing one huge home, really a mansion with large grounds surrounding it. I think I taped about six or eight sheets of notebook paper together to create a large-scale design. I envisioned designing the home and then building it one day to live in. It was this latter interest in architecture that I took with me when I went to a career-counseling course when I was a junior in high school.
The church where my dad was pastor offered free counseling to rising seniors to help them decide where to go to college and what to study. The counseling was held at a local college and offered a number of tools for helping prospective college students narrow their focus of study. There I was able to talk to a professional about my interest in designing homes—to become an architect. I was given some tests to measure my aptitude towards this field. I also took other tests to measure my interests and abilities.
When the testing was complete, the counselor sat down with me to explain that based on the test results, I would never be very good as an architect if I could even get a job in that field. I really challenged him on his comments since I thought my passion was to go into that field. He pointed out that based on my testing, my strengths and interests seemed to be focused in the sciences.
This was a hard pill to swallow since my thinking for some time had been that I would become an architect. I imagined getting to build models of my own design. But at the same time, I didn’t want to pursue a career that I would ultimately fail in.
When I thought about science, I knew I had always been interested in it growing up having actively followed the space program throughout the 1960s. When I thought about the science courses I had had in high school, I actually narrowed the choices quite easily. I hated biology with all its memorization and physics seemed way too complicated and difficult to comprehend. In thinking back, I realized, it was really chemistry that I had enjoyed the most. So then and there, I decided I would study chemistry in college—a fiat that literally set my future course.
With a field of study selected, my next choice was where to go to college. This decision turned out to be fairly simple. My parents, being associated with the Presbyterian Church, wanted all four of us kids to attend a Presbyterian college (which we all ultimately did). The one I attended happened to be in the town we lived in and where my mother could work part-time and receive a discount on tuition. While this made for an easy decision, events that started while in college serendipitously played heavily on the field that I ultimately entered years later.
To be continued…
I wonder why they didn’t think you would be a good architect?
I scored poorly on the test. It was about design.