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Realistic Expectations
Photo: Georgios M. W.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” From the time we’re children, it’s what everyone wants to know. When you’re four, it’s cute to answer that you want to be a fireman, a rocket scientist, a giraffe or an airplane. Kids have boundless imaginations when it comes to what the future holds for them.

I’d wanted to be a veterinarian since childhood. I knew I was destined to play with puppies and kittens, heal their boo-boos and feed them treats. I loved animals and was sure that meant I would be a great doctor.

When I got to college and saw the list of classes I needed to take to apply to vet school, I wanted to cry. Math was not my best subject, and there were so many math courses on the list. I knew I’d failed before I even tried. Crushed, I decided to major in something completely different.

The year after college, I was working part time and needed another job. I applied for a position as a veterinary assistant. Armed with my English degree, I felt totally out of my league. My only animal experience was walking my dog and scooping our cats’ box.

As I saw what the doctors really did—wrestle with angry dogs who didn’t want vaccinations, tell people their beloved cat had cancer, perform surgeries to spay and neuter pets or remove golf balls from a dog’s stomach, put old and sick animals to sleep and stare into a microscope looking for bacteria—I saw how far from simply playing with baby animals the job description really was.

Now, I work at a doggie daycare and spend all day with other people’s pets. I love my job, and it fits my interests much better than I could have hoped. My veterinary technician training taught me about caring for animals and keeping them safe, making me a better fit for my current job, and my background in English allows me to write on the side for organizations and causes I care about.

I’m not sorry I didn’t pursue a career as an animal doctor, but I wish I’d had more realistic expectations of myself and my career path. If I had done more research, I would have known what I needed to do to make my plans a reality—and be sure my dream was really what I was dreaming of.

Here are some things you can do as you consider possible career paths:

• Talk with and observe professionals in the field you’re interested in. Find out what they do on a daily basis and what they like and dislike about their career. Ask them hard questions and find out all you can about their line of work to see if it’s really something you’re interested in.

• Experience the atmosphere first hand with a summer job or after school work in a place that deals with your interests.

• Read all you can online, in books and magazines about jobs that interest you. Find out about the pay scale, if it is hard to get work in that field, education and grade requirements, and other criteria to help you decide if the job is for you.

• Don’t get discouraged if you change your mind about a job or your interests. Keep looking for something that fits your strengths and life goals. And remember, experience you gain in any field can help you achieve great things no matter where your search for the perfect career takes you.

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By Lauren Bongard Schwarz. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. 

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