Session 5: Academic & Career Options

Introduction

When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a lawyer. However, as I grew up, I became infatuated by computers. When I was in the 8th grade I taught myself how to create websites using languages such as HTML, PHP and CGI and programs such as Flash, Dreamweaver and other programs that I illegally downloaded. When my mom got our first computer I spent all day on it. That was especially easy because by the end of the 9th grade I had stopped going to school.

Following my release, when it came time to start thinking about an academic and career path, my first thought went to computers. However, before college, the highest math class I had ever completed was pre-algebra in the 8th grade. I was basically gifted a D in that class so I didn’t know if I would be able to succeed in any classes that had to do with math. I did horrible on the math section of the G.E.D. test but somehow my average score was enough for me to pass. I figured that I couldn’t avoid math if I did anything with computers and I also had a desire to go into a field that would allow me to help people so I went another route.

I decided that I would get my degree in Alcoholism & Drug Abuse and become a Chemical Dependency Professional. Little did I know, I wouldn’t be avoiding math. I had to start in Math 48, which was probably a pre-pre-algebra class, and work my way up to college level math. It actually made me feel pretty good to see that class so full of other college students. After getting over that initial fear that I might not belong, I was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one who had a shaky background in math. I wasn’t the only one who had no idea what the order of operations was. I wasn’t the only one who had no idea how to do anything on paper outside of basic addition and subtraction. To this day, I’m still not great when it comes to math but I worked my way up and eventually I passed college level statistics.

Being a drug and alcohol counselor really seemed like a good fit for me. One of the most encouraging aspects is the fact that many people who go into this field are recovering addicts or alcoholics who have had run-ins with the law. I knew that my criminal history would not be a barrier to success. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and I knew I would have to prove myself to any potential employers. However, knowing that people who have felony convictions can thrive in this field and flip their background into an advantage and a source of connection with clients was a huge contributing factor in me choosing this path.

Ultimately, it never happened. Although I could have began working in the field shortly after starting classes, I never worked a day as a drug and alcohol counselor. I did do a short-term work study at a local counseling agency. Despite not working in the field I earned a degree in, my time in community college was very worthwhile. I ended up increasing my knowledge base and enhancing my credentials as I went further and added a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Master’s in Interdisciplinary Studies to my resume. Those three degree paths combined to create a unique educational journey that will lead to tremendous benefits for my future employer and those who I will serve.

You need to know yourself in order to make the right decision. Know your goals. Things can and will change but if you at least give yourself some direction you will be more happy with the results of the path that you decide to take. Make sure that you will be in classes that interest you. Make sure that your degree choice matches your career choice. The sooner you can make a solid commitment the better, but flexibility is never a bad thing.