As I was saying previously, I was getting counseling or therapy from the very beginning of my time at Georgia Tech. Initially, it was with the vague knowledge that I had problems that one might characterize as shyness and social anxiety. The larger issues of who I was and what career direction was best for me would become another very important issue later in my college life.
While it's important to recognize my accomplishment in getting through Georgia Tech, it would not be a career direction that would define me for the rest of my life. From age 22 until the present, I have known that I was someone different than the kind of person who goes into engineering.
I have been defined as a Social Worker, a human services professional, a mental health professional, a helping professional, a psychotherapist, or a member of a similar profession or para-profession. This is who I am. I am 54 and so for the past 32 years, I have known this about myself. This is something everyone who has really known me has known about me. I'm not that technical geek. Not at all.
I'm going to describe how I made these discoveries and built my career. However, the most important thing you need to know about me is that I have not been defined by what I started to study as an undergraduate student when I first went to college.
This has led to some confusion in a discussion with my sister recently. Up until recently, we kept in touch and I assumed that she knew these facts about who I am just as everyone else has known. That is a topic for later. I have always wanted everyone who has known me and cared about me to be proud of me and my accomplishments, not to mention happy for me when I found happiness in life. Again, this is a topic for later.
This decision to change my career direction was not a whimsical decision as you can imagine. I am sure you also can appreciate the challenges inherent in making such a radical change in career direction. One might wonder what all the undergraduate work was for until you realize that an undergraduate degree is a prerequisite for a graduate degree. Plus, as my father had said, college teaches you how to think. In that regard, Georgia Tech had successfully taught me how to think.
Also, no reasonable person would question the competency or decision making skills of a Georgia Tech student or recent graduate, which would characterize me from the late 80s through the next decade of the 90s.
I was going to the Counseling and Career Planning Center to deal with issues that surrounded being shy and wanting to develop social skills. It was a very practical form of psychotherapy with homework that I was doing the entire time in which I was going to college. Plus, as mentioned, there were group therapy sessions where we practiced our skills. It was convenient to discover that others just like me had problems that were similar.
Like any Counseling and Career Planning Center, the psychologist with whom I was working could and would help me figure out my career direction and choices. Initially, that was just a matter of discussing the possibilities that one Engineering major focus of study might be a better match than another one. Nothing major.
At some point, I had an epiphany. I knew a friend from the fraternity where I was living who said he thought restaurant management might be more interesting to him but he felt that engineering at Georgia Tech was more prestigious. I listened intently and with compassion, as my skills in this area were increasing, i.e. active listening skills, empathy skills.
I finally asked him if he wanted to be an engineer for the rest of his life. He would end up leaving Georgia Tech for his preferred professional direction. Then it hit me, shortly after that. I asked myself the same question from a very practical and pragmatic standpoint. Did I want to be an engineer, myself? The answer would soon turn out to be a resounding "NO!" Of course, that answer was not immediately obvious.
There are psychological tests that can help in this regard. Nothing can tell you exactly what is right for you. However, these psychological tests can be useful tools. One such psychological test that is still very popular is the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory. The idea is straightforward and it looks at your interests and personality characteristics to see how they compare with others who are in various career fields. This includes all ranges of careers, not just those that require advanced degrees.
This was part of my self-discovery. Obviously, the other improvements I was making or accomplishments I was making were helpful in opening up opportunities that I would not have considered previously. As I said, I was learning social skills, which includes communication skills. The latter can be inferred if I didn't state this previously. As it turns out, these skills would prove to be very useful for a social worker or a mental health professional who works with people.
The test gives results that are broken out into specific careers and the themes that might describe certain careers. The themes are "Realistic", "Enterprising", "Artistic", "Social", "Investigative", and "Conventional." Engineering is a career area within the theme of "Realistic."
My highest scores were in the themes of "Social" careers and "Artistic" careers. So, naturally, one must wonder how I ever found myself studying engineering. My score for Engineering was somewhere between 8 and 11 out of 100. That meant that the percent to which my interest in activities matched those of an engineer was at best 11%.
No one is a carbon copy of another person in the same field. However, you should look at careers where your interests align with others in the same field at the level of at least 45%. To say that this confirmed my suspicion that I was in the wrong field is an understatement! I had almost nothing in common with engineers.
Clearly, and obviously, to anyone who was going to be looking to hire someone for a permanent position, there was no way I was going to be able to BS my way through an interview and convince an employer that I was the best person for the job. This would be confirmed during my last co-op quarter and when I was interviewing for jobs my senior year.
My supervisor during my several years at Digitial Equipment Corporation, Bruce Smith (that was his real name) stated this in my exit interview during my last quarter of work. He said "you don't seem like the other co-op students. I don't think this is the right field for you." I answered, "yes, I have figured that out. I am going on to get a graduate degree in Social Work after I graduate from Georgia Tech.
My counselor was very helpful with the planning that would be required when I landed on the best choice for my future career and in helping me figure that out. A counselor doesn't tell you what is best for you, but they help you figure that out for yourself.
We considered psychology since the social theme area, as it was described on the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory, was of interest or a match with my interests, i.e. the activities that interested me matched those who worked in those types of fields. I also was getting a minor in Psychology at Georgia Tech.
With further careful consideration, I landed on Social Work as a proper and appropriate career path for me. I applied the logical and rational reasoning skills that were helping me get through Georgia Tech to help me with this major decision. I had to be certain that I was right.
Over time, it would be infinitely obvious that I was correct in my decision as to what career path to follow. I knew I wanted to be a psychiatric social worker and to work as a psychotherapist.
I hope you can see, dear reader, the hard work that I put into everything I was doing in my life - throughout my entire life. Whatever challenge I took, I pursued it with a passion that was required to succeed. Even if Engineering was not my calling or my destiny, I made sure I was successful in the task of getting through and graduating from Georgia Tech.
The plans I had for continuing after I left Georgia Tech were also carefully planned. None of the challenges were overlooked. This was going to be a major change for me so I had to map out a plan for the next chapter of my life - the chapter of my life that would ultimately define me.
I thought that I was going to have to get some experience in the field to get letters of recommendation to get into graduate school. I thought of all this as a plan that I would take on as an adult without the further assistance of my parents. As I said, they indicated that they could not pay for graduate school. I wasn't surprised nor did I expect them to do so.
There might have been a time when I could have changed my major to something closer to my interests like psychology. That would require taking an additional amount of time to graduate and additional funding from my parents. They didn't think that was possible. The loans they had taken out probably had something to do with this decision.
The point is that all options were carefully considered. Every aspect of my future was considered and a specific, practical plan was developed. I had known that my parents had moved again and were living in North Augusta, South Carolina, which borders with Augusta, GA. They had a state psychiatric hospital.
Great, I had a very specific plan now. I could volunteer with the social work team at that state psychiatric hospital in Augusta. I would prove myself there and get the necessary letters of recommendation from whoever was supervising me on the staff there. Everything was carefully planned in every detail.
My counselor over the past five years was so very helpful and supportive. There are almost no words to describe the valuable nature of the relationship I developed with my counselor over these years I spent at Georgia Tech. Having someone to listen to me and to whom I could bounce ideas off was infinitely valuable.
I wanted to be sure that I was doing everything right!
I also wanted to know from my counselor that he felt that I had the right character traits to make a great social worker and psychotherapist. Indeed, he totally and completely supported me in this important decision and the tasks ahead of me - the life ahead of me.
Everything seemed right and I had figured out who I was. I also had accomplished so much. I had developed so many skills. I had overcome so many challenges. All this would only continue.
Of course, there was some miscommunication that was occurring between my parents and me. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. They knew I wasn't in the right field. It seemed like they understood the choices I was making and my plans.
I started feeling some sense of low self-esteem though about graduation and not having a job. I had known intellectually that I would never be able to sell myself in any job interview no matter how hard I tried. This would become contentious with my parents. For some bizarre reason, they seemed to think I was refusing to work as an engineer and thought I needed to be convinced that I could make good money to support myself as I pursued my future.
This would be a theme that continued when I moved in with them after I graduated. It was complicated.
Anyway, before graduating my long-time friend and roommate Thomas Faison offered some valuable supportive words of wisdom for me. I had been his roommate until he graduated ahead of me. I had been his best friend along with his wife who was my second best friend. She and I became good friends when they were still boyfriend and girlfriend. I was the best man at their wedding.
Thomas also was one of the two most intelligent, smartest people I ever knew in my life. There was another guy in the fraternity named Doug who was nearly as smart as Thomas. They were both geniuses but Thomas was someone who would give Einstein a run for his money. It was scary to observe just how far his intellect outshined everyone I have known. I am not just saying that. If you only saw him.
Anyway, sensing that I wasn't feeling good about not having a job as an Electrical/Computer Engineer on my graduation day, he offered the following words that I will never forget. He said "you got through Georgia Tech and you didn't even like this stuff. Jo-Lee couldn't do this and she loves this stuff."
Wow! Jo-Lee was no slouch. They were both intellectual giants in many ways. So, just getting through Georgia Tech was indeed an enormous accomplishment! Far be it from me to argue with the logic and reasoning of Thomas!
Again, when you think about my life now, as I write this book at age 54, the years from birth to age 22 were a time of immaturity in a way... and self-discovery. For most of my life, I have known who I am and that is NOT the technical person who studied computers and computer engineering at one point.
One could dwell on the past and say "Gee, I wish I had known sooner before I went to Georgia Tech." But there is no sense in that.
I did know a pre-med student at Georgia Tech. He said that almost any degree in science would be accepted as preparation for medical school. He didn't have plans to work once he got his degree from Georgia Tech. He was going straight into medical school, I believe. For me, the transition would be a little more complicated. I would need to get some experience in the field to get into a graduate school to pursue a Masters Degree in Social Work.
In the next chapter, I will discuss some other issues that are related to what was happening at this time in my life just before I made the transition into my new life.