“Lucy” is one of the hostesses at a well known restaurant on the coast of Connecticut where I live. A few years ago, she entered my office for a career counseling consultation. She has a distinctive look so I remembered her and asked: “don’t you work at X restaurant?”.
Lucy forced a smile but it was one with regret. She explained her pain. “I’ve been working there for 5 years. It was supposed to be my summer job after college. It then became my fall job. And, then my full year job. And, now it is my career.”
Lucy was 27. Hostessing was hardly her career. I explained that most of her generation will work until 70, at least. So, she had 43 years of a career ahead of her. The sooner she directed her energy into something she preferred to do, the sooner she would be happier. But… she had to engage in meaningful career exploratory work to find a career path.
Like many graduates of liberal arts colleges, Lucy graduated without any career plan. She finished Conn College in 2006, not knowing that the economic climate was about to shift dramatically. She really did think that her hostess job would last a year while she figured out what she wanted to do. But, as soon would be clear, she had to plans as to how she would “figure out her career”.
I asked her what efforts she made during that year. “I thought about graduate school. But, I didn’t know what to study. I didn’t really apply to other jobs because I wanted to know what field to enter first.”
I appreciated that she avoided plunging into a career without thinking what would suit her. But, it was clear that she did not engage in any meaningful career exploration.
When the Great Recession hit, Lucy was glad to just have a job and didn’t put much effort into figuring out her career path. After the economy was out of the teeth of the economic collapse, Lucy found herself in a funk and again avoided any meaningful career exploration.
When we met, Lucy said she was coming for career counseling but then said she just wanted to focus on the GRE. “I know I need to go to grad school so I’ll need to take the GRE.” I urged her that she should do both: meaningful career exploration and prepare for the GRE. “I’m better at doing one thing at a time. Let me just take the GRE first.” I understood that Lucy had avoidance issues. She would get stressed thinking about her career. So, she would simply put it off. Lucy took a few GRE lessons. And, then stopped. She never took the GRE.
And, now when I see her at the restaurant, she smiles, but it is the same pained smile she had when she entered my office three years ago.