5 Steps to Put Yourself on the Right Career Path

Niche Movement community member, Kalie Sabajo, wrote in to answer the Niche Movement’s latest community question: How did you use a moment of stagnation as inspiration to propel yourself forward? There’s nothing worse than going to work and feeling utterly stuck. You could be stuck in a toxic work environment, stuck in an unfulfilling position, or stuck in a rut. The Niche Movement seeks to help people escape that rut to find work that they love. Read Kalie’s story to find some inspiration of your own.

A Rocky Start

I graduated from California State University, Long Beach, with a bachelor's in Music Education/Instrumental Music. I went through most of the teaching credential program to become a music teacher and knew it was not the right path. Unfortunately, I didn't know what the right path actually was.

I worked retail for a while, but eventually found myself working at elementary schools in special education and after-school programs. After about four years, I knew something had to change. I either needed to complete my teaching credential and really commit to this path, or maybe I would go back to school so I could someday become some kind of K-12 administrator. In my gut, I felt it was wrong, but boy, was I stuck.

A Common Thread

In all of my jobs, having some sort of leadership position always appealed to me.

  • In retail, I enjoyed my job a lot more when I became a manager.

  • As a camp counselor, I always enjoyed it, but my experience was enhanced when I was part of the leadership team for the camp.

  • In the after school program, I became a Site Director . . .

Are you sensing a theme yet?

One day, this theme occurred to me and I remember saying to myself, “I wish I could just do leadership stuff all the time!” "Leadership stuff" refers to things like team building, self-reflection, and self-assessment. Alas, I had no idea if that was possible and couldn't think of where to begin searching.

From Stuck to Unstuck

I stayed in my three (yes, really) simultaneous part-time roles for a few years, just sort of waiting for something to click. The thought of attending grad school was becoming the option that felt best for me, though pursuing K-12 still made my soul feel a little less free. I was so tired of working every single day. I wanted a free weekend! I wanted benefits! I wanted to stop driving across LA county to and from all of these jobs that didn't truly fulfill me.

Lucky for me (in this instance), I was stubborn. I felt stuck, but I used my leadership theme to implement new training and professional development for my staff. I had an informational interview with our elementary school's principal to learn more about her job and the journey she took to get there. I took initiative and signed up to attend an after-school programs conference with our management team.

Leadership was my ticket out, and I had to use it!

I was selected to attend the Best Out-Of-School-Time (BOOST) Conference with my colleagues at work. I was optimistic about bringing back fresh ideas to our program and being around others who were so passionate about their jobs. I thought it would help feed my hungry, caged soul. I attended a workshop called "The Leadership Compass" - please guide me, noble leadership compass, to the promised land!. The workshop was facilitated by a very enthusiastic business executive who introduced himself with his name, his current profession, and that he was attending graduate school in San Diego to pursue a PhD in LEADERSHIP STUDIES.

My excitement is better expressed in person, so I will spare you all of the capitalized jumbled letters. The light bulb had gone off. The "click" I was waiting for finally snapped into place. What followed was a series of steps that led me to pursuing a Masters in Higher Educational Leadership at the University of San Diego. It led me to my first (!) full-time position at California State University, San Marcos. I have one job! I have free weekends! I have benefits! More importantly, I LOVE my job. My soul is happy and full.

When we are stuck, it's hard to see the light. My advice is this:

  1. Accept your "stuckness". It is okay!

  2. Find your group of people who will be your biggest cheerleaders. You will need them!

  3. Find that central theme that appeals to you in every role you've ever had - this can be hard for those of us who did the food service/retail game, but once I was able to become a manager and help other staff develop, I had to pay attention to why that appealed to me.

  4. Weave that theme into your current role and see how it feels - is it calling you back for more? Chase it.

  5. Put yourself in new situations. Getting unstuck typically means we have to break our routine and experience something different.

  6. Persevere! Becoming unstuck takes WORK - both personal and professional. It can knock you down a lot, and you have to use those moments to grow.