I finally found a career that’s right for me. Here’s what I learned in the process

The first career I remember wanting to have was to become a teacher. When I was able to accept the fact that I didn’t have the patience my own wonderful teachers had, that switched to a writer. Soon, I learned writers didn’t generally make much bank, so becoming a pediatrician sounded fantastic. When I realized I could barely stand the sight of my own blood, let alone the blood and other various bodily fluids of people who weren’t me, my career goal promptly switched to software developer. Safe, unassuming, writing-based, and fairly lucrative as far as careers go. Plus, it had the added bonus of putting my feminist stake in a male-dominated industry? Perfect.

Except it wasn’t. It was fun at first—as a left-brained person with little to no original artistic talent, I initially couldn’t get enough of building pictures and tools by simply writing words. But eventually, I had to accept that regardless of the fact that I was great at math, maybe I wasn’t quite as great with computers. This realization came in the form of the first (and, to this day, only) “C” I received in a class. While in most cases my type-A personality would’ve seen the grade as a challenge, I just wasn’t interested anymore, which made my “C” one of the few flashing “It’s Time to Move On, Jen” signs in my life I actually heeded instead of fighting tooth and nail against.

But it was still difficult. Throwing in the towel when you’re doing something to prove a point and make a difference, especially when you’re stubborn and competitive, is difficult. At first, I was really disappointed in myself. Sometimes I still am. But I changed my path because I wanted to be happy just as much as I wanted to make a point – and in the end, computer science wasn’t making me happy.

So on my quest to figure out what would make me happy, I remembered how much I loved to write and wondered if there was a way to tie that to a somewhat well-paying job in the technology field. This was when I discovered technical writing, which gave me the best of both worlds: writing for a living without coding AND getting paid a technology-level salary while helping pave the way for women to succeed in a male-dominated industry. I finally found a career that I like, and that met the goals I was hoping for. But it wasn’t an easy road. Here’s what I learned in the process.

Don’t sacrifice your happiness for what you think you should be doing

A big part of the reason I wanted to get into technology was to make my mark in a male-dominated industry. But I also had to make adjustments to how I did that in order to find happiness while doing it. It is possible and realistic to make a statement and be good to yourself at the same time. If those things don’t parallel each other, change them. Don’t sacrifice your own happiness for progress, and vice versa. Both are important, and they play into each other greatly. An unhappy woman in technology is only going to tell other women that technology makes women unhappy.

Remember that your 9 to 5 job doesn’t define everything about you

I work as a technical writer 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. In my free time, I write and edit other types of material, including editorial content for awesome feminist publications like HelloGiggles. You can do more than one thing with your career, and those things don’t even have to be related! Once you start placing limits on yourself, you play into the whole idea of women being expected to do that. Whether it’s by not having a career or by having a specific career or by having tunnel vision in our careers, it’s still a limit – and we don’t need limits.

Do your research, never stop learning, and own your craft

Whatever you decide to get an education in and pursue, you’re on the road to becoming an expert in that subject (or those subjects). Even once you land that awesome job, there’s always more to learn and figure out. Expand your boundaries, explore what opportunities arrive, and you can turn things you’re interested in into things you’re knowledgeable and confident about.

Remember that you have the ability to choose, and that is the most powerful thing

One of my favorite movies exploring feminism in the professional world is Mona Lisa Smile. I saw it with my mother in theaters my freshman year of college, and one of the parts that resonated with me most is when Joan tells Katherine that wanting to be a stay-at-home wife and mother is what she wants, even though she COULD have become a lawyer (and still can in the future if she wants to).

In a nutshell? Arming yourself with the right tools to be able to choose what you want to do in life is 100% crucial. But just because you have the tools to do X doesn’t mean you can’t also do Y – or do Y instead, if that’s what you want. The ability to choose is what makes you a powerful woman – not the actual thing you choose. And don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

Today, I work in a department still dominated by males – the closest woman to me is about four cubicles away – and I write to teach.I’ve somehow taken all my career goals and lumped them into one while adding a level of helping to pave the path for women who want to work in technology just because I do that. I am also married, and want to have children within the next couple years. And I’m proud of all those things because they represent the right to choose and, if you want, to have both a career and a family.

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[Image via The Devil Wears Prada]