For many students after high school, going to college, getting a degree, and landing a job is the path they see themselves on. Nowadays, that path is changing. Fewer students are pursuing traditional education, and jobs are shifting towards accreditation-based and hands-on experience. I chose somewhat of an odd course and am definitely still in the middle of finding my way. I know not yet where it will take me, and while the future is daunting, it is reassuring to look back and see how far I have come.
Six years ago, I was a high school sophomore, unsure about what I wanted to do after high school. Go to college? Get a job? Something else? In my gut, I always felt like going to college was not right for me, even though I could not pinpoint why.
Regardless, I ended up choosing what my peers were doing and applied to universities with an intended major of environmental science. I even toured a few colleges that I really enjoyed, and this is when my gut feeling became strikingly clear to me. I recall telling my mother about how many schools drew in students with beautiful amenities, high-tech student centers and libraries, state-of-the-art exercise labs, and if that was not enough, free merchandise. To me, universities offer a façade of independence and a taste of adulthood, when in many cases, it is a bubble that can be quite secluded from the outside professional world. Still, I forged on and did not think much of it until the time came in my senior year when I forewent college and took a gap year.
Eight months into my gap year, I was in my first office job. I became interested in sustainability and hydroponics, which led me to pursue a LEED accreditation, where traditional industry and sustainability collide. Near the end of that job, I completed my first living plant wall design as a nod to my passion for plants, although I was in an office building 200 feet above the earth. When fall came around, I pursued an associate’s degree in horticulture.
For many, college is about academics and hard and soft skills, networking abilities, and learning other professional attributes. However, I found there was a lack of workplace education that led to opportunities for competitive jobs. It was not all bad; I was introduced to urban farming and permaculture, a mindset that builds regenerative communities based on indigenous knowledge of materials, native flora and fauna, topography, soil, water, and sun. One semester in, I realized that horticulture was not going to teach me what I needed. I wanted to delve deeper into mycology and soil sciences, two majors that are not offered at an undergraduate level, so I continued with my original plan.
After nine months of school, I knew the initial college program I had picked was not right for me. Coincidentally, university and the workplace, as we knew it changed as I finished my last four months of my freshman year online. Months later, in the fall of 2020, I drove across the United States with a friend to work on a small homestead in California, where we stayed for three months, and I finally got to see permaculture in action. Now, nearly a year after I left college, I have completed my permaculture design certification and am working towards more accreditations and experience.
Tips for Building Your Own Career Path
There are few givens when you decide to take the path less traveled, but one thing that is certain is that it will be a winding road, and you may find yourself changing paths month to month or even week to week. To stay grounded, here are some important things that I learned.
- Find places that interest you via web search, social media platforms, and talk to the people there.
- Many places host workshops, lectures, or other events, so sign up and get involved.
- If you have the opportunity, go to a workshop, or try for a skill trade. Not everyone is going to respond, and that is okay. Later down the line, it will be important to know the companies and individuals in the industry you are pursuing, so doing this research is essential regardless.
- Something to keep in mind is to support others along the way. Uplift those around you, and in turn, they will uplift you too, building a stronger community.
Start Small & Local
- The best place to start is by going into your community.
- Do not limit to just one type of industry, as building relations means forging relationships between a variety of businesses.
- It will be important to build a portfolio of skills and/or accreditations in a variety of subjects, as intersections between industries are more prevalent. Having diverse skills can also put you ahead of the competition.
Trust the Process
You may find that the path you choose is very winding and may feel chaotic at times, but there are a few key things you can do to make sense of it all:
- It is always good to have a set goal in mind, even if it changes.
- Working towards one goal may lead to another opportunity.
- It is easy to get overwhelmed, so work on smaller goals that help you reach your ultimate goal.
Hold True to Your Values.
No matter where you are or what you do, do not do something that does not align with your values. There will always be work that challenges us, and this is great, however difficult does not mean you have to leave behind your core values. If I had not questioned the institutions and norms in which I was brought up, I would not have made it to where I am today. Take reasonable risks, that is, do not go for anything that would be a huge setback if you failed, but take healthy risks that push you outside of your comfort zone. I am often told that I “take the path of most resistance,” that is, I tend to make things harder for myself than they should be. In the end, the “harder” path, for me, is most rewarding.