Career: The curvy path to finding a fitting career

Posted: February 23, 2016

“We went to….”

Minnehaha Chef Jonathan Barnes paused while recounting his days doing ride-alongs as a paramedic.

“… a domestic [violence scene],” he continued. “You knew exactly what happened, but you couldn’t do anything, so we had to fix her up, and he just sat there.”

His day didn’t get any better after that.

“So you left that call,” he said, “and there was an elderly person who died in the living room, and if you’ve ever heard the last breath, what it really sounds like when the body completely shuts down, you’ll never forget it. I remember doing CPR on him until my partner said, ‘we’re calling it.'”

These are only a few of the scenes Barnes had to go to every day, until finally his captain took him aside and told him that he was getting too attached to the victims and wasn’t going to make it as a paramedic.

“I care too much,” Barnes said. “It was just devastating.”

As Barnes learned the hard way, finding the right career can be difficult. For a prospective high school student, finding the right job can be one of the hardest decisions they will ever make. The decision of what career to pursue can lead to a potential dream job, or it can lead to a dead end.

Some students know what they want to do from an early age, but everyone faces adversity at some point. For many, it is their passion for their job that allows them to persevere.

“I grew up in upstate New York, far from the ocean,” said Sam Meyers, who teaches oceanography, “and my parents divorced when I was young. My dad moved to the Bahamas, so I would go visit him on breaks, and [I] just absolutely fell in love with the ocean. It was just raw nature. I felt different on the ocean, and I knew it had become a passion of mine and I had to go into something ocean-related.” In contrast to Barnes, Meyers knew what he wanted to do from eighth-grade.

“I chose Eckerd college in St. Petersburg, Florida,” Meyers continued, “and their big focus was marine science, and it was right on the water, so I knew it was just an awesome location. My dorm was 20 yards from the water.”

Although Meyers knew what he wanted to do from an early age, his dream job didn’t come without its downsides, as nearly every job does.

“The thing that fascinated me was that 70 percent of the students who came there hoping to go into marine science ended up switching their majors, because most of them just wanted to hug and pet dolphins,” laughed Meyers. “They didn’t realize you had to take chemistry and physics and calculus.”

Because the department wasn’t as strong as he had hoped, Meyers sometimes wondered what he should do. He could transfer to another school, change majors or continue with marine science.

He decided to keep going with his studies and went on to earn a master’s degree in marine science at the University of South Carolina.

“I would feel empty if I hadn’t pursued my passion,” he said. “And I think that’s rare, to know what you really want to do. If you don’t have that passion I think it’s more important that you do try out several different things, and not just do one thing just for the sake of getting a job. Try different things so you can find a passion if you don’t have a passion yet.”

Very few people have a story like Meyers, where they knew what they wanted to do since high school.

“Maybe, five percent [of students] know exactly what they want to do,” said college and guidance counselor Lauren Bae, who agrees that students need to test different options to find what they want to do.

“The majority [of students] have an idea [of what they want to do],” she said “and how they know? Through classes.”

“Sometimes it seems like an innocent question, ‘what’s your favorite class?'” said Bae, college and guidance counselor, “but they give a lot of information about [a student’s] natural ability, and what they like.”

As far as dealing with the downsides of a potential job, Bae’s best advice is to immerse yourself in that experience, and see how you take it.

“I would say ‘talk to people,'” she said. “Talk to people in the field, talk to multiple people in different settings. If you have an opportunity to shadow or intern, it’s invaluable. Unless you’re in the field, it’s hard to know.”

Some students at Minnehaha, like senior Jacob Gray, are shaping their attitudes toward work by finding part-time jobs.

“Right now, the main reason I enjoy doing work is the satisfaction of actually getting a paycheck and how in the long run that’s going to be great,” said Gray, “I can build on that as [I] progress and get more experience in a working environment, and I do enjoy the people that I meet. If I’m able to reflect a good, positive attitude toward others, that helps me as well as them.”

Both Gray and Barnes try to embody these principles.

“I’m very, very passionate [about my work],” said Barnes. “You guys matter the world to me, what you guys like, what you don’t like. I ask you because I genuinely care.”

Barnes, having left his job as a paramedic, worked in restaurants before coming to Minnehaha. Used to working at a restaurant, Barnes says there are some long days with some busy work at Minnehaha, but it’s not nearly how bad it was in the restaurant business.

When working at restaurants starting at five in the morning, Barnes said it felt as though his children were being raised by two single parents, but now this past Christmas they actually got to decorate the tree together because of the more lenient hours in his new ‘gig.’

A positive attitude can be one of the most important factors in finding the right job or making the downsides of a job work for you. Barnes believes it’s possible to learn to enjoy a job  even if things aren’t perfect.

“It’s all in your outlook on life,” he said.  “You’re either half-full, or you’re half-empty. Just by getting up every single day, and even if you’re not the happiest person in your job, you can look at it as ‘half-full, I got something to do I’m going to go prove something today,’ then I think you can make it enjoyable. I think if you wake up every day with ‘my glass is half-empty, why am I going at it today?’ then it’s going to seep into your life.”

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