Podcast Episode 009: "I've Given Up On My Dream Career. Where Do I Go From Here?"

Season 1, Episode 9: “I’ve Given up on My Dream Career. Where Do I Go From Here?”

Today we answer a letter from Patreon Donor Julia, who feels lost after making a big change of direction in her life.

Today’s question

I’m twenty-one years old and I was in college majoring in biology, but I was just miserable and had to leave. But all I ever wanted to do was science, and now I’m really struggling with what to do next. I was paying for classes as I went (as much as I could, anyway) so I only have one loan to pay off. But I just really don’t know what I want to do with my life. I’ve worked in retail and foodservice and I hated it. I’ve been applying to daycare centers because I like kids, but I haven’t heard back from any of them. Any advice you could give me on finding a direction would be very much appreciated.

– Patron Julia

This question made our hearts heavy. We hate to see a twenty-one-year-old sounding so lost and resigned. Because twenty-one is so young! You’re an adult when you’re twenty-one, but like, it’s the toddler stage of adulthood. The world won’t always feel so intimidating and impenetrable.

Our Boomer parents would certainly tell her to fOlLoW hEr DrEaM, dAmN tHe CoNsEqUeNcEs. But obviously we have to bring a more nuanced answer than that.

Allow us to remind all of our young listeners that…

  • Cs are passing grades. They are enough. Let yourself step down off the hamster wheel of your own demanding expectations.
  • College curricula can be more challenging than the “real world” career you’re preparing you for.
  • Piggy and I graduated from college ten years ago, and in the last decade, the number of employers who have expressed a desire to know our letter grades in college is absolute zero—a thermodynamic state once thought to be merely theoretical! SCIENCE!
  • Some careers are challenging to pursue because they’re vanishingly rare and impossibly glamorous: professional video game player, A-list film actor, high-end vibrator tester, etc. But other careers are challenging to pursue because they require a lot of intelligence, persistence, and education: biologist, surgeon, high-end vibrator engineer. Shake the former, push the latter.
  • STEM fields will remain overwhelmingly male so long as women and nonbinary folks lack mentors and programs to help them through the doubt.
  • Sometimes you wanna quit because you know yourself, and you’ve made a mature and informed decision about what’s best for you. Other times you wanna quit because you’re scared of failure, or scared of success, or unsure how to move forward. You will spend a lot of your young adulthood learning to spot the difference between the two.

A huge thank-you to Julia—both for being our patron, and for asking such a vulnerable question. I know she isn’t the only young person struggling with this kind of confusion and angst. We hope our answer will help her, as well as others who find themselves in a similar situation.

And as always, thanks to ALL of our patrons! Without you, we would not exist. And boy do we love existing!

If you have a question burning in your mind, we are happy to answer it! Find out how at our Patreon page.

Episode transcript (click to reveal)

Theme Song 0:00
If you need some dough
You don’t know where to go
In this patriarchal capitalist hellscape
Well here’s the ‘sitch
We’re gonna help you, sis
Because bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
And so can you

Piggy  0:31
I’m Piggy.

Kitty  0:31
I’m Kitty.

Piggy  0:32
And we’re the bitches in Bitches Get Riches.

Kitty  0:35
We are your kindly internet grandmas cursed with firm young bodies.

Piggy  0:40
And we’re here to feed you cookies and reassure you that it’s all going to be okay.

Kitty  0:44
Our time on this planet is limited…

Piggy  0:46
So let’s get started

Kitty  0:48
Today’s letter comes to us from Patreon donor Julia. Thank you Julia!

Piggy  0:51
Thank you Julia you glorious and radiant land mermaid!

Kitty  0:56
Julia writes: “I’m 21 years old and I was in college. majoring in biology, but I was just miserable and had to leave. But all I ever wanted to do was science and now I’m really struggling with what to do next. I was paying off classes as I went as much as I could anyway, so I only have one loan to pay off, but I really just don’t know what I want to do with my life. I’ve worked in retail and food service and I hated it. I’ve been applying to daycare centers because I like kids, but I haven’t heard back from any of them. Any advice you could give me on finding a direction would be very much appreciated.

Piggy  1:29
This is one of those very weighty questions that makes me feel like I’m holding someone’s life and future in the palm of my hands. So just a disclaimer: We are not professionals and we have no idea what we’re doing.

Kitty  1:44
Yeah, worse than not being professionals. We’re just random creeper weirdos who live on the internet and want I tell you our internet opinions, which are worth less than nothing because

Piggy  1:56
Yeah – do not trust us. Ever!

Kitty  1:59

Piggy  2:00
Great. So credibility established.

Kitty  2:02
I actually sent her a follow up because I was curious if when she said that she was miserable and had to leave – Was that the biology part? Or was it the college part? She said a little bit of both, but mostly it was that the coursework was much more difficult in terms of the amount of time that everything took, the number of hours that she had to be in classes, followed by then coming home, reading, studying, doing homework, writing papers – it was just she felt like she was spending so many hours just to maintain C’s and that is a really frustrating situation. I’ll be honest, as I have aged

Piggy  2:48
And you have aged quite a bit since we’ve met.

Kitty  2:51
I’ve aged beautifully. I’m the finest wine to your Two Buck Chuck – which is now Three Buck Chuck. Inflation man.

Piggy  3:02
That’s preposterous.

Kitty  3:03
It’s really bad. Okay, so as I have gotten higher and higher and higher in terms of my career ladder, I have worked less and less and less and less. And I think anyone who tells you otherwise, either has a ton of integrity and they really pour their heart into what they do, or they’re lying. In general, I think the lowest paid jobs tend to be some of the hardest jobs. Oh, yeah. And some of the jobs that pay really, really, really well you can fuck absolutely everything up and they will send you out on your way with a golden parachute as thanks so you can buy your fourth Villa for your daughter’s horse groom. So the level of work I was expected to do in college was, in retrospect, the most work I’ve ever been asked to do and the hardest I’ve ever been asked to work. If I could describe professors as like bosses, the hardest and most unforgiving bosses a lot of them that I have ever had. So I do want to acknowledge the college is really, really difficult for a lot of people. That is a valid way to feel that you’re being worked really, really hard. And I don’t think that most jobs ask you to work as hard as they do in college. That hasn’t been my experience. What’s your experience Piggy?

Piggy  4:45
It’s fairly similar. I do want to say that I work in an industry that has a culture of martyrdom. Publishing is one of those vastly competitive industries that’s also vastly underpaid. Everyone wants to do it because “working with books is fun!” but once you get in it like you work your ass off to rise by the like little inches rather than like actual steps up a ladder. So I do think publishing is a little bit of an outlier. But as far as like my personal experience goes, I think when I was an assistant editor, which is kind of the second step above the ladder, and two steps down from where I am now, that was definitely my hardest working period because I was supposed to know what I was doing by that point. I wasn’t, you know, an editorial assistant anymore, and by the way, like, my husband always makes fun of me because he says every job title in publishing has some form of the word editor. So editorial assistant, Assistant Editor, Associate Editor, acquisitions editor, managing editor, production editor developmental editor like he says, we all have the same job – we don’t. Anyway, I definitely earlier in my career worked a lot harder than I do now. And if by some horrible, tragic chance my boss ends up listen to this, I want to say that it’s because I understand what I’m doing more. And I’m, I’ve been freed up to do more of the strategic thinking and brainstorming and sort of idea work that I didn’t get to do when I was lower down on the totem pole, because I was working so hard at that grunt work. So I definitely agree that you know, for Julia, there’s probably a light at the end of the tunnel where going to school for biology is a lot harder than maybe the life of a biologist or hot take a science teacher because if she really likes working with kids, that doesn’t mean she needs to throw away her education in biology entirely.

Kitty  6:52
Yeah, I know, I wanted to point out two things that I see in this letter One of them is “all I ever wanted to do with science.” That is such a strong statement.

Piggy  7:09
And it warms the cockles of my cold dead heart like you always hear people being like “all I ever wanted to do is play professional baseball” or “be a singer” and she’s like, she just wants to do science. How fucking wholesome is that?

Kitty  7:21
I think that’s beautiful and honestly, I think there are so few women in STEM that I would be remiss if I didn’t urge you to like, don’t throw away that love that you have for science easily. It doesn’t mean that you have to resume this particular coursework in this particular field at this particular college at this particular time in your life, but, you know, find some way please to bring that love of science into your life, just because there are so few women who can look up to other women in the field. And also like, you love it like this, this is the strongest statement of love that you make in your letter, all you ever want to do is science, that’s really beautiful.

Piggy  8:14
It’s really beautiful. And also we’re kind of we’re kind of living at an era in which science is not as appreciated as it perhaps should be. So I’m going to go ahead and encourage everyone who has ever had an interest in science to maybe explore that interest.

Kitty  8:28
Yeah, do it. Um, can I can I go way off the beaten path here?

Piggy  8:33
You may! I grant you permission.

Kitty  8:35
I’m really gonna psychoanalyze this. Majoring in biology, like biology to me is like, wow, like if someone told me they’re a biologist, I would be like, holy shit I’m talking to someone way smarter than I am. And the other things that Julie mentions having an interest in or an experience in: retail, food service, daycare centers. And she also mentioned that she was working really hard to maintain C averages. I wonder to what extent the internal critic is being allowed to kick you while you’re down.

Piggy  9:15
Mm hmm. It’s a really good point.

Kitty  9:16
It can feel like I have overstepped my skill I have reached too high in wanting to study this thing that really interested me. I should back off, know my place and work in something that aligns with people’s expectations of me. I could be completely off base on that, but that kind of like perked my ears up thinking that maybe the coursework is really difficult and that you are struggling with what you want to do next, and that you’re wanting to move to something that feels safe, something that doesn’t feel like you’re challenging yourself, not to say that those jobs aren’t challenging because they are are really challenging.

Piggy  10:00
And you know, and I’m kind of reading into your answer a little bit, but like there’s the heteronormative stereotype that like childcare is an acceptable career direction and a safe career direction for women, whereas science, that’s the boys club right there. All of which is not true. In fact, you know, I do want to make a shout out to the male nurturers and the women scholars out there because what you do is important and representation matters across all fields.

Kitty  10:32
Yes. And there’s such a difference to me between someone who’s just a professor or just a teacher or or just a coworker, and someone who’s truly a mentor to you. Someone who can really just like Kiki with you be really real with you. And I feel like finding that kind of person who is in the sciences would be really valuable to you.

Piggy  10:58
Oh, totally.

Kitty  10:58
Someone who could give you some real perspective about like, how much is what the coursework I’m working on now – How much does that really align with expectations in the industry?

Piggy  11:11
Absolutely and that’s the kind of conversation you can have with a potential mentor or you know, like a ‘real’ scientist that will tell you not only like, #ItGetsBetter and the coursework is not indicative of what your day to day life as a scientist will be, but who will also be able to maybe help Julia get that direction that she’s looking for, you know, she wants to find a direction that seems to be her biggest issue right now. And talking to professionals in the field, whether it be through informational interviews or internships, or you know, going to the professor’s office hours. That’s where you’ll find out like, what your options really are, because let’s face it, neither of us is a scientist. So we don’t really know what the career possibilities are there. We don’t really know what the part time jobs or the entry level jobs are like in the sciences, but a real scientist or one of your professors (who are also real scientists – I wanna make that clear) will understand that and be able to give Julia that direction. She just needs to have the conversation. She needs to talk to people who potentially have the life that she wants to lead in 10 to 20 years.

Kitty  12:19
Yeah, I think you and I both always felt like we really thrived in an academic environment. I think you and I are similar in the..

Piggy  12:27
Oh totes. We’re huge nerds!

Kitty  12:28
We’re such nerds – we’re freaking nerds like, we test well, we enjoy the sort of logic and the puzzles and challenges.

Piggy  12:38
I finished assignments weeks in advance. I was THAT kid.

Kitty  12:42
Ugh – disgusts me. I finished them five minutes after they were due. Welcome late in life ADHD diagnosis.

Piggy  12:52
I also feel like you’re the reason I got into the habit of sleeping with an eye mask because you would be pulling all nighters while I was trying to sleep.

Kitty  13:03
Yes, because it’s due the next day so I need to work until 3:30 in the morning to get it done because I put it off. But like, we really love it, like we thrived in that environment. Not everyone does.

Piggy  13:17
And that’s okay!

Kitty  13:18
That is completely okay. If you’ve internalized any of that feeling that like, because I have to work this hard just to make Cs that that means that there’s something wrong about what I want out of life. That’s not – that just ain’t right at all. You sound like a wonderful person with really cool interests, and I think you should follow those interests. And if you need to step back from college for a while or, you know, take a semester off and do a little bit of nannying or something that will help you just sort of keep afloat, but also regroup mentally.

Piggy  13:54
I want to give you some advice. First off if you want to get into childcare, which is that daycare centers are not your only option. I (spoiler alert) was actually a nanny for about five years, which is how I paid my way through most of college, not my actual tuition, but my living expenses. And I recommend going on either SitterCity.com (they’re not paying us), but I’m recommending them anyway or various other nanny gig finding sites. So I would just say that if like kids and you think childcare is something you want to do, you can get into it in the gig sector, rather than just through daycares or preschools or anything like that.

Kitty  14:39
Yeah, that’s great advice. very actionable.

Piggy  14:41
I know right?

Kitty  14:42
I really feel like I want all the best for you and I think a career in what you really feel that you love, a career that probably pays pretty well. A career with a lot of growth. You know, someone with a degree in science, there’s so much that they could do. So I want that more for you then doing the kind of work that has a more limited career path, fewer options,

Piggy  15:18
The safe path

Kitty  15:19
And you know, less money.

Piggy  15:21
Less money sure.

Kitty  15:22
Sorry we don’t pay people who do retail and food service and daycare very well at all.

Piggy  15:29
Yeah, we don’t. If you would like to live a life of limited financial means, definitely get into the very, very difficult work of the service industry.

Kitty  15:41

Piggy  15:42
Hey, are you good with that?

Kitty  15:43
I think I’m good with that.

Piggy  15:45
All right. Listeners if there’s a question you’d like for us to answer go to BitchesGetRiches.com and click Ask The Bitches.

Kitty  15:52
There is only one way to guarantee that we will answer your question and that is to become a Patreon donor.

Piggy  15:58
If you like what we do and you do want to keep us going, please become a Patreon donor and support us with whatever donation amount you feel comfortable with.

Kitty  16:05
 We also have a merch store where you can buy t-shirts and printable worksheets and more.

Piggy  16:10
Finally, there are some free things you can do to say thanks. Please rate and review us on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, whatever you use, it pumps us up on the charts and makes us easier to find. Follow us on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest and subscribe to our articles so you never miss a new one. You can do all of that at BitchesGetRiches.com.

Kitty  16:29
Hey, is there anything else that they should know?

Piggy  16:33
I’m under a blanket!

Kitty  16:35
That is good to know.

Kitty & Piggy  16:36
Bitches out!

Kitty  16:52
So I want to acknowledge that I think – Hold on.

Piggy  16:57
Oh, was that a dog? Do we have a special guest appearance from a dog?

Sunny is having a nightmare – or a good dream. I can’t tell the difference. But he is twitching and going “wick wick wick!”

Oh he’s a little baby.

Kitty  17:12
Yeah I’m gonna – Sunny? Sunny? Hey baby boy! Go back to sleep.

Huge thanks to Purple at A Purple Life for her help creating these transcripts!

7 thoughts to “Season 1, Episode 9: “I’ve Given up on My Dream Career. Where Do I Go From Here?””

  1. Biology is not a great degree unless you pursue a graduate degree, but even at that it’s not as bad as some other liberal arts degrees. At 21 she must be close to completing, degrees only take 4 years. I’d say finish that degree first.
    She needs a decent plan and at 21 it’s sad she hasn’t figured one out yet. I’m a boomer, following dreams is a sure path to poverty. Picking a career you have enough talent to master is the only high probability path to take. But still, if you are only a semester away, finish! Then get a job and figure out what you are good at that pays well and begin moving toward it.

    1. This (the first paragraph, not so much the second). Biology is kind of like humanities—lots of people major in it. But a degree is a degree—you likely won’t end up doing wetlab work as a career even if you finish in that major. However, the thinking skills you acquired will be useful to employers, just like the thinking skills your English and history friends have will be even if they don’t get jobs analyzing Chaucer.

      Do some cost benefit analysis about finishing the bio degree vs changing majors vs working without a degree. How much is left? What are the other options? How much of a break can you take before you’ll have to retake classes?

      Also, talk to a career counselor! Sometimes the ones your college provides are really helpful. (Sometimes they’re not.)

  2. I didnt think i was going to comment here… but have you considered doing pediatric speech pathology? Pays well, works with kids, diverse classes and reasonable priced graduate programs. Its a home run.

  3. Help, this episode needed a content warning that sweet tiny puppy noises were going to bless us at the end with their blissful innocence. I was taken by surprise and my heart exploded; huge mess. Hoping it was a happy dream, Sunny!

  4. I’ve had a few friends with biology degrees go on to be science writers for contractors and NASA and such. There are softer jobs circling the science field that exist . You might not start in one right away – but as long as you’re doing something that teaches youa skill or lets you learn on the side you’re headed in the right direction.

  5. I feel like it’s totally normal to feel like this in your 20s. I had a lot of jobs I disliked in my 20’s, but eventually found my place in the world, while earning good money. For me, I worked in a very big company, so I could job hop every 18-24 months to “find myself.” The company culture encouraged frequent job changes anyway, so I could conform while learning about what I liked and disliked.

    I hate the term “follow your passion” and found it unhelpful and it made me feel even more clueless, like I should somehow magically know ahead of time what it’s like to work a real job before ever doing it.

    I like a lot of things. How the hell and I supposed to figure out what I like the most? I felt a lot better when an older cartoonist friend told me that it is often the most talented people who struggle the longest with finding their passion because they literally could do almost anything for a living and be good at it. It was a real turning point for me. Some people have only a couple of doors ahead of them that they can open. When your world is a sea of doors, it’s pretty damn overwhelming.

    Gen Xer telling you, you are right where you need to be and it’s absolutely a normal feeling…but I would encourage you to finish your degree if you are close to graduating. Also, keep building your skill set/resume so you have options moving forward. A lot of employers still won’t look at you if you don’t have a degree of some kind. Does your college have a co-op program? Maybe that can buy you some time to figure stuff out while building the resume? Last but not least, the people often make or break the experience. A healthy working environment that matches your values is gold.

  6. I know a lot of women who fit this type of profile, and a lot of them wound up becoming middle or high school science teachers. I’d suggest sitting down with either someone from the college that you went to, or to someone at a local state college, and strategizing what credits you have and what school switch or major switch will lead you to the quickest “exit-with-a-degree” plan. Sometimes that will be a general science degree, a philosophy degree, even consider kicking down a notch and getting an Associates degree. Any piece of paper can take you up to the next step. Teaching does require a Master’s degree in Education, but these are much less stressful to get (compared to science masters) , and there are usually night programs available. Remember that teaching in a public school is a Union job and includes summer vacations and decent benefit packages.

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