By Carrie Zapka, SIOP blogger
How does a Microbiologist end up in I-O? It was not easy. I-O is definitely not a well-known career option. I will share how I stumbled upon I-O (and I hope you will reply and share your story too) because I believe that we should find ways to help more people from diverse non-psychology backgrounds to discover I-O too.
A few years ago I hit an invisible mental career wall. I was happy when I was immersed in my day to day tasks. When I thought about my future, though, I was anxious and frustrated. I looked around at colleagues who were a few stops ahead of me on my default career path and I just couldn’t see myself in their shoes.
As Barabara Sher would put it, nothing about that future made my heart sing. The overwhelming awareness that I needed to do something significantly different just couldn’t be ignored any longer. I had become a boiling frog.
At first I had absolutely no idea what to do or even how to figure out what to do. Things got much worse before they got better. I wasted time unproductively revisiting the same pros and cons of the short list of career options that I could come up with off the top of my head or that well-meaning others had suggested to me.
Things didn’t start to look up until I realized that I needed to diverge my thinking. I began devouring career advice books and taking every career test I could find to get some fresh ideas. I nearly filled a notebook with the results of my soul searching adventure which concluded with the unexpected decision to pursue I-O.
Nothing was going to happen until I was clear about what really mattered to me. I remember feeling empowered as I stared at the result of diligently working through the self-discovery exercises in Richard Bolles’ amazing book, What Color is Your Parachute?. I adore that piece of paper. Finally, a tangible thing emerging from tortuous intangible feelings, a map that articulated which direction I needed to head.
The dots started to connect. Another pivotal moment of realization occurred during an exercise in Marcus Buckingham’s book Go Put Your Strengths to Work. After charting when I felt weak and strong at work for months, I learned a disturbing truth: I was weakest when I was doing things that were my job description. No wonder I had hit a career wall!
I was like a caged animal just trying to get used to an environment that was never going to allow me to thrive. I wasn’t able to follow my instincts. I learned that I was strongest when I was doing things that were not officially part of my role, but that used my misplaced untapped talents and passions. I had been carelessly dismissing them as merely distracting curiosities.
My Epiphany. I was relieved the night my research led me to stumble upon the specific term and description of the field of I-O. It might have been a little bit like the feeling people who have unknown health problems get after they get a diagnosis. I had loved I-O psychology all along, but I just didn’t have a name for it. If you are not a Psychology undergraduate and if you don’t personally know an I-O Psychologist, how are you supposed to know this career option even exists?
Please reply. Share how you discovered I-O, why you decided to pursue a career in I-O or some advice for people contemplating a significant career change.