My career advice? Simple: follow your passions.
I was never one of those people who knew exactly what they wanted to ‘be’ from a young age. My professional aspirations see-sawed between journalism and fashion design, to speech pathology and back up dancing (for Janet Jackson, to be specific).
Being forced to choose subjects in Year 10, that would narrow down my interests into Year 11 and 12, was torture. I knew what I was good at – English, mainly. But I liked lots of other subjects too – Environmental Science, Photography, Accounting, P.E. These were somewhat contradictory and didn’t mesh well with any kind of prerequisites for career choices.
The advice from my parents was to follow what I was passionate about. And that was writing. So, I took on an English- & Literature-heavy load in my final years, and scaled back on Science and Maths. Achieving a high enough score to be accepted into an Arts Degree at Monash University, I was then left with such a wide choice of subjects, I had no idea what to do. It was like standing at a smorgasbord and not really knowing what I felt like eating.
I tried a whole lot of weird and wonderful classes – philosophy, film making, children’s literature, third world poverty, linguistics. None of them pointed to a clear and cohesive skill set to find me a vocation.
Upon graduating, I worked in banks, retail and call centres, with the single-minded goal of saving for the clichéd backpacking holiday to Europe. I hated every moment of those jobs and realised customer service was not for me. It was a great process of elimination in the vast world of professions.
Arriving in London, I figured I’d get a nanny job or pour pints in a quaint pub. When I saw how dismal the pay and conditions were, I opted for an office job in central London. I’m not sure if it was luck or timing but I scored a position within a tour department and over the course of a year, was sent to Italy, Holland, France and Spain to help with administrative support in all their tour offices. I knew then that the travel industry was where my life was headed.
Arriving home, and applying for travel job after travel job, I learned the hard way just how competitive that field was, all for pretty average pay. I finally got a job as a “Programs Coordinator” for a company that sent Aussies to be leaders on camps in America and the UK. Great job, great fun. I did a lot of interviewing and screening of applicants, I even got to do some writing for the programs and information booklets.
After two years there, I identified what I enjoyed most about the position: recruitment and nurturing people through their employment experiences. Next stop? Human resources! I landed an HR assistant job within another travel company and was loving it. It was as though my niche had finally been carved out. All my personality strengths shone in this job, and I could see myself making real progress through the ranks of HR.
Then I was retrenched. In a time of travel uncertainty with the demise of Ansett and then 9/11, travel staff were being made redundant all over the world.
It confirmed to me that I needed to move on from that industry, but stay within the world of HR. I applied for a job as an HR Manager for a furniture company. It was very different to anything I’d done, or any place I’d worked. There was a long history and strong manufacturing slant, so the ‘fluffy’ world of HR, according to management, was not something they prioritised. It was a challenge every single day to make them see how managing staff well and treating employees right made for a happier workplace, and therefore a more profitable business. After two years, I left to have my first child and never returned.
The pull of HR was still strong, even when I was home caring for my newborn. Strangely, it was an industry that was not family-friendly. I found it hard to locate part-time jobs that would fit my skill set and interests. My husband encouraged me to return to writing. I scoffed, knowing it was a profession that not only paid poorly but where work was irregular. I chose to write for free, for my own creative needs, to challenge my brain.
Ten years and four children later, I am the author of four children’s books and hundreds of (paid) articles online. The work as a freelance writer has fit in well with our growing family, although the pay and the sporadic nature of the work has had me questioning my decision often.
I look back on those days as a teenager in high school, when I was so fraught about what I would ‘be’. And now in my forties, I know the simple advice my parents gave is true: follow your passion. It is the only way to navigate this ever-changing job market. Adapt, open your mind, and hone in on the skills you feel are your strongest, and you will find a job that brings you joy and hopefully sufficient remuneration.
I don’t know where the next 30 years will take me in terms of work. I hope to publish a novel. Or maybe I will find my collective skill set is better applied to something else? All I know is I have faith that the paths I’ll follow that will lead to somewhere new and exciting, just as they have since I left school all those years ago!
Kylie Orr is the author of four children’s picture book, and a freelance writer of hundreds of articles. You can buy her books, or read her articles at her website, www.kylieorr.com -
Kylie is also on Instagram @kylieorr_writer