Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The careers you never heard of when you were a kid

When I was in college, I always dreaded the follow-up question to "What's your major?" After finding out I was an English major, about ninety percent of the time people would ask, "Are you going to teach, then?"

It drove me crazy. To me that said, "Oh, well English is basically a useless major, unless you plan on teaching high school or something." An unfounded accusation, yes, but that's the way I felt every time someone assumed I was going to be a teacher.

Note: I have nothing against teachers. I have a lot of respect for them, in fact, from the Gospel Doctrine instructors to the world-renowned college professors. It's just that teaching is not something I ever wanted to volunteer to do, especially in a career.

Things haven't improved much since I graduated. People still make incorrect assumptions about my career path.

But it's not their fault. American society tells us that we can be whatever we want to be, but we are still limited by what we know and understand. Most kids don't dream of becoming a data systems analyst when they grow up, for instance.

When I was in kindergarten, I concluded that I had five career paths to choose from when I grew up: teacher, bus driver, musician/athlete, doctor, and secretary. Those were the jobs I was familiar with because, for the most part, the adults I spent most of my time around fit into one of these categories. As far as I was concerned, the world didn't hold any other jobs.

When I was in fifth grade, my worldview had expanded a bit to include writer, actress/actor, computer genius, chef, janitor, seamstress, barber/hair dresser, president of the United States, and police officer.

And by high school, the career options in front of me had grown even more: interior designer, mechanic, architect, editor, lawyer, photographer, vet, interpreter. All careers that fit in nice little categories, with job descriptions that everyone understands.

It wasn't until I started searching for a post-college job that I began to comprehend just how many careers there are out there, many of which I had either never heard of before or was baffled to learn that such jobs even existed.

Take my current job title, marketing copywriter, for example. I didn't know what a copywriter was until I started applying for copywriting positions. Now I dread the automatic assumption that follows my revelation that I'm a copywriter for a company that does software for doctors' offices. It's usually either "So, you do some sort of legal work?" or "So, you write the software?" The remaining people just smile and nod, having no clue what I just said.

I am one of thousands, if not millions, of Americans who has one of those jobs that can't be adequately explained in three words or less, unless you spell out the acronym (if applicable). I wish I could just tell people that I'm a writer and be done with it, but society's traditional definition for "writer" doesn't really fit my job description.

Most of us don't dream of becoming something we've never heard of when we were kids, but that's the irony of the career world; there are far more ambiguous job titles than traditional ones available. It's one of those strange things that makes the world go 'round.


  1. Agh - I have the same problem pretty much every day of my life. I feel your pain. Especially in healthcare. If you are writing in healthcare IT, people just give you a blank stare.

  2. Another reason I'm glad we're friends--similar job angst. And you know what meaningful use is. :)