Changing careers is okay.
If someone had told me back in my freshman year of college that I’d be a professional writer and editor, I wouldn’t have believed it. At the time, like many other young and ambitious Asian-Americans, I was determined to be a doctor. I’ll be honest—chemistry class difficulties derailed my pre-med track, and I soon switched to two subjects I was far better at: psychology and philosophy. But the thing is, Asian parents will gasp out loud if you tell them you’re majoring in liberal arts. That’s why I decided I’d use the skills I’d learned, particularly in philosophy classes, to become a lawyer.
Well, surprise—It’s been years since I graduated and I’m not a lawyer. Sorry mom and dad. After seeing the sky-high price of three years of law school, I opted for some practical work experience instead. After graduating, I worked as a mental health case manager and then at an institutional review board (an organization that reviews medical trials with human participants). When I was working at the IRB doing mostly administrative tasks, I felt an utter lack of fulfillment. Instead of tracking numbers in a spreadsheet, I wanted to get my ideas out there. I wanted to constantly be learning and growing.
This desire led me to start a blog so I could write in my spare time. The more I wrote, the more I questioned why I wasn’t doing it for a living. I’d always loved to write. English was my favorite subject in high school, and I also consistently wrote for our school magazine. I had a blog in college too, just for fun. It had never occurred to me that I could write professionally. This revelation shocked me and forever changed the trajectory of my career.
I started interning and later freelanced for the local alt weekly in my hometown. I then became an assistant editor at another local magazine, went to graduate school for journalism, freelanced for a variety of publications, worked for a public radio station, worked at a nonprofit, and eventually landed a job at The Good Trade. Throughout this whole journey, I’ve had nuanced experiences within the writing and editing field. These nuances helped me realize what, specifically, I wanted to do—which is work within the digital space at a publication that promotes social and environmental justice.
Journalism is a huge, broad field. You can be on the frontline of a war, risking your life, or you can be reporting on celebrity gossip in Beverly Hills. At the alt weekly, I was mostly writing entertainment pieces. After that, I was covering business for the local magazine for professionals. I then gained audio skills at the public radio station. As I became more passionate about activism, I wanted to share what I’d learned about issues pertaining to gender, race, culture, and identity. I wanted my work to have impact—and I realized I best convey myself through the written word.
It’s been one heck of a journey just figuring out what it is I want to do. Dabbling in various fields, and then within the journalism industry, gave me the insight I needed. That kind of trial and error is perfectly normal, if not necessary, to finding out what you want to do in the long-term. Without trying out a variety of jobs that interested me, I wouldn’t have the clarity I have now about myself and my career goals.
That’s why I want to emphasize that it’s totally okay to change career paths. No one, in their teenage years, knows what they’ll want to do for the rest of their lives. You may think you know, but there’s no telling in what ways you’ll change as you grow older. There’s no way to predict how your interests, habits, outlooks on life, relationships, passions, and creativity will develop and expand over the years. Not to mention, they’re always in flux.
A career is something that takes up a large part of your life. On any given day, you are spending a majority of your waking hours working. It’s important to be happy in your career—otherwise, you are trapped doing something that makes you unhappy for a majority of your time. You have to find out what’s right for you, and only you can know this. No outside persuasion—whether from family, spouses, friends, society, or otherwise—should determine your career decisions.
Change is the only constant in life. There’s no reason it shouldn’t apply to your career, too. Embrace that it’s okay to go through career changes, and you’ll be happier for it in the long-run.
I asked The Good Trade team to share their career journeys so far. No one’s path is completely linear, but each step of the way builds upon the previous one in valuable—and often surprising—ways.
Courtney Jay Higgins, Associate Editor
It's cute looking back on my little bright eyed 19-year-old self. I had just moved to California and was here to conquer the fashion industry. I didn’t know how I was going to do it or what I was going to do, but that was my ambitious plan. Flash forward to now: I am 28 years old and the winding path that got me to working for The Good Trade is a long and tireless tale filled with twists and turns. What amazes me, is that all of the different positions, passion projects, and times of feeling aimless were actually the stepping stones on the path that led me straight to where I was meant to be.
AmyAnn Cadwell, CEO and Co-Founder
I feel I am one of the rare cases in which my academic path converged pretty directly to support the work I do today. My undergraduate degree was in Development Economics where we explored sustainable solutions to global social and economic inequities. Through my studies, I became deeply curious about the human and environmental impact behind large industries (like the fashion industry!) and I sought out a graduate degree in Social Entrepreneurship. The final year of my graduate program culminated in a business plan and pitch competition—which ended up becoming the soft launch for The Good Trade.
Emily Torres, Managing Editor
I’ve always loved fashion magazines, so I decided to pursue apparel merchandising and fashion design in college. That wasn’t the right fit for me, so I changed majors a couple of times before I landed on Creative Writing. I spent the first few years of my career wandering through social media jobs, freelance content consulting, and media outreach and public relations. I’ve presented cloud computing promotion strategy to IBM, and I've written about indoor hydroponic gardening. I almost bought a handmade paper company at one point, and almost became a teacher with City Year at another. None of it made sense for a long time.
I joined The Good Trade as a way to help anchor me in Los Angeles after my move here, and one day woke up and realized that all the twists and turns in my path led me here: to a publication that values impactful storytelling, beautiful brands, and conscious living.
Celeste Scott, Social Media Coordinator
I majored in Screenwriting in college, but about halfway through, realized that I was also interested in editorial writing. Though I was too far into college to change majors, I started writing for online magazines on the side, in addition to my schoolwork, and eventually built a nice portfolio. After I graduated, about a year ago, I found the job posting for the Social Media Coordinator position here at The Good Trade. I feel so blessed that my first job out of college is a writing job. I still hope to pursue Screenwriting or narrative work in the future and I am working on some of my own side projects now!
Have you been through a career change? Share your stories in the comments!
Belinda Cai is a multimedia journalist who frequently writes about lifestyle, social and environmental justice, and identity and culture. She has a master’s in journalism and communications from the University of Southern California, and hails from Cincinnati, Ohio. When she’s not writing, she’s Wikipedia-spiraling, staying active, enjoying nature, and thrifting. Check out her website and Instagram.