Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Accidental Career

My Accidental Career

This is the annual ritual of university and high school graduations that spawn any number of articles about the challenges that graduates have ahead of them in this economy. Those delivering commencement speeches or writing editorials for the various new organizations point out that times have changed, that one must seek opportunity, and reminisce about those heady days or yore when American manufacturing jobs afforded anybody with a high school education a path to a solid middle class life.

But it has been a very long time since the manufacturing industry provided that path to relative comfort. The writing was on the wall back in the 1970’s during the gas lines when smaller Japanese cars started making inroads into the American automobile monopoly.

Times were not all that promising when I graduated from my university in 1980 with a degree in French. Granted, I knew that Chinese or Arabic would have been more valuable; however, I tested out of numerous credits in French, which provided an accelerated avenue to graduation, which was particularly appealing with my parents having two more college bound offspring directly behind me.

So, I enjoyed my freshman year, which was more a social experiment than an academic success, spent my second year in England and France, and then for my final year took 20-24 credit hours per quarter to graduate in three years.  In my naiveté, I fully expected to land a job with the Foreign Service and work as a low-level diplomat or translator. However, President Carter saw fit to freeze all government hiring just before my graduation, which put a real crimp in my plans.

Returning to my parents’ home after graduation was not an option. I am still amazed at the attitude of young people today who believe that is a good idea. Once one graduate with a degree, one should be independent. And that means accepting any job that will pay the rent. I interviewed with any company that would consider a liberal arts major – even if I didn’t fully appreciate the intricacies of the job.

To my amazement, I was offered a position as a claims adjuster trainee for the now defunct in the USA Commercial Union Assurance Company.  The job paid $12,500 per year.  Unbeknownst to me, I was getting a company car. I’d never heard of a claims adjuster. The insurance industry was a foreign concept to me. But I accepted the challenge, learned to investigate, evaluate and negotiate claims, and developed the tools needed to handle complex coverage and catastrophic injury claims. What was once a foreign concept has become a career at which I have excelled.

The lesson – don’t limit your options. Investigate every opportunity. Be open to something unfamiliar. Embrace challenges.  Make your own way. Do not return home and allow your parents to support you. That is not the American way. That is not what independent adults do.  Adults figure out how to live without parental support. Adults understand that one doesn’t start at the top and that sometimes, it is necessary to live in an apartment next to someone who has recently been paroled from the Indiana Women’s Prison after serving time for murder. 

I found my career by accident. The early days weren’t always easy. But the rewards have ultimately been worth it.  I am grateful for my opportunities, for the challenges, and for the blessings that brought me to the place I am today - which is where I am supposed to be.

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