My name is Jessica, and I’m a career changer.
What is a career changer? Well, I’d like to think that it’s someone who is continually searching and learning, about herself and about the world in which she lives. I’d also like to think that it’s someone whose experiences and interests are multiple and varied. But it’s also someone who wants to do everything. And can’t. So, we career changers hop from experience to experience, from job to job, searching for the thing that will fulfill all the aspects of our values, personalities, wants, and needs.
I started off wanting to be an actor. When I graduated from college in 2000, I moved to New York City to pursue this dream. Acting is a logical choice in some ways for someone who wants to do everything. With each role, the actor gets the opportunity to inhabit someone else’s life, even if it’s just for a short moment. I’ve played pioneer women and secretaries, battered wives and English country girls. For the duration of the show, I could feel what that person’s life would have been like, how their backgrounds and histories and present circumstances converged to create who they are in this moment of the play.
But acting sometimes doesn’t provide a steady paycheck. When I first moved to New York City, I needed to make some real money to pay my bills. First, I found a waitressing job at a restaurant in Soho. Soho is a neighborhood on the South end of the island of Manhattan. I lived in Queens. The trip from my work to home took about an hour by subway, and the restaurant was a late night place, so I often found myself waiting for the subway to go home from work at 4 am. I would walk down the stairs to the empty platform and wait for 30 minutes for a train to arrive, watching the gaping hole of the subway tunnel in anticipation, falling asleep standing up. I wasn’t making much money for the amount of time I spent there. Sometimes less than $100 in tips for 10 hours of work. And I was so tired during the day that I didn’t go to many auditions. I had to keep reminding myself that I was living in New York to be an actor, not a server. One of the other servers I worked with at this Soho restaurant was a writer, trying to write a novel during the day and make enough money to pay his expenses by serving fancy pink drinks to already drunk ladies in thigh high boots at night. He was having a hard time of it, just like me, but he kept plodding along. I didn’t last very long there, maybe a month.
When I left this unnamed restaurant, I signed up with an office temp agency, and within weeks, I got a job doing reception at a technology firm near Radio City Music Hall. Remember that this was 2000, and jobs felt plentiful, at least in New York. Many people moved from job to job easily, and I felt like I could pick and choose. I had a degree, and I learned things quickly. The world of work looks a bit different now that we’ve moved into a new era of economic downturn and uncertainty. Now, a degree is no guarantee since there are often hundreds of qualified applicants for each job. We have to be good self-promoters, with a strong resume, a well-written and specific cover letter, and a polished interview style. As I’ve moved from career to career, I’ve needed to become more adept at navigating the job market as times change and the working world shrinks. But that didn’t stop me from my career changer tendencies, hopping from job to job or from field to field. Look for my story to continue twice a month with more “Confessions of a Career Changer”.
Jessica Baron is currently a Graduate Assistant in Career Services at OSU and a full time student in the College Student Services Administration Program. Before making her way to Oregon State, Jessica worked as an actor, waiter, online tutor, receptionist, college composition instructor, creative writer, gas station attendant, nonprofit program director, writing workshop leader, high school drama coach, Hallmark card straightener, substitute teacher, real estate office manager, and SAT tutor, not necessarily in that order. Her “Confessions of a Career Changer” will focus on her wavy career path and the challenges and joys of wanting to do everything.