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Why Did I Become A Career Coach for Recovering Academics?

I’ve lived long enough to have a long story, but I know you don’t want to hear ALL of it, so here are just some of the turning points that have taken me into, out of, and around academics more than once.

Flash back….
Growing up on a farm, I always felt a little out of step with friends and relatives, but when I first walked into the library at Penn State as an undergrad, I felt like I had “come home.”

Flash forward…
Fourteen years later, having worked multiple part-time gigs the whole way, I finished a doctorate of education in anthropology. It was an unusual degree, and universities weren’t falling all over themselves to get me.

I scrabbled for a few short gigs in contract archaeology, started a sheep farm, ended a marriage and got a one-year contract as assistant professor of anthropology.

After forty-some applications for the next academic position (two replies), I gave it up and went back to another series of temporary career-confounding jobs at the university where I’d finished my doctorate. Then the English department hired me to teach freshmen comp classes (and later, business and science writing to seniors).

I loved it, my students were great, and several won local writing awards, but teaching 3 classes of 25+ each 10-week term (marking 7-8 papers per student), was a punishing job for anyone who wanted a life too. But I learned a lot, and the pay was about what I had earned as a grad student….

Flash forward…
Three years later, after an industrial accident nearly killed my husband, and he was learning to live in a wheel chair, I started freelancing so I could be at home. (I assumed that if I could teach writing, I should be able to DO it, right?)

I did, but after another long series of temp, part-time and freelance gigs (300+ publications and about that much for-hire writing), I realized that I was, again, working awfully hard for a pittance.

Flash forward…
My husband and I moved across the country, and I decided to look for something else – but first came several more years of volunteer and part-time career confusion.

Deciding to re-tool, I traveled 70 miles to the nearest university, and again, I felt that I had “come home” when I walked around campus. I nearly cried.

Circumstance (and more trial-and-error) led me to a professional certificate program in career development, and I made a momentous discovery about myself and about careers that had eluded me for more than 30 years. (But, that’s the focus of this blog.) And, I found my place.

Flash forward…
Ten years later, and as many more career and coaching certificates, training programs and professional conferences as I could cram into my life, I have worked with students of all kinds and at all levels at the University of Washington, and my heart is still with academics, many of whom who aren’t entirely sure they want the traditional academic’s career (which is where I was nearly 30 years ago).

I now have the tools that I so sorely needed then, to help students and professionals today (whether still in school or in jobs they’re not sure they want) to explore their own strengths and inclinations, to get more information about other career options, and to actively pursue the kinds of work that fit them best, rather than letting circumstance have its way with them so entirely (as I did at various times).

The element most helpful to me was Dependable Strengths training, which has enabled me to articulate a clear thread that runs through my career all the way back to the farm. That kind of continuity, or strength, can be found in everyone, if one looks deep enough. And, when we can articulate and own our strengths, we have the power to change our lives.

It took me a very long time to learn this, but now I can help others shorten that learning curve.

Two final notes…
If you aren’t sure about the relative weights on the scales of their individual life balance, I can help you test the weights on your scales, explore and make decisions to find the best pathways for you individually – maybe in traditional academics – or elsewhere – or maybe a combination, serial or simultaneous.

Many of my grad school colleagues have satisfyingly successful careers in traditional academics, and I’m glad they do and I don’t. For those who aren’t sure what they want, I hope this blog (and any of my other resources, tools, techniques or services) contributes to their finding it.

Cheers and all best wishes,

Kate Duttro
Career Coach to Recovering Academics

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