Growing up, I was bombarded with messages from teachers and family members telling me ‘you can be anything you put your mind to, and if you work hard you can realize your dreams!’  As an adult, I see it is not that simple. Many people set goals and work 12+ hour days to accomplish what they originally planned, but are met with a letdown. The good news is, there are a lot of opportunities in this country, so if the one thing you really had your heart set on does not work out, you can dust yourself off and take a serious look at something else.

The Odyssey of the Would-Be Oceanographer

A gentleman in my volunteer group named Arnold* recently mentioned that while he commissioned as an ensign in the Navy he wanted to become a Navy oceanographer. He applied three times and was not selected, and ended up transferring to the Navy Reserve. Despite this setback, Arnold feels he ended up where he was supposed to in his career as an analyst in a Federal law enforcement agency, because he always had a skill and an interest in intelligence and in enforcing the law.

When I asked him more about it, Arnold gave me another example – he “failed” to promote in the Navy Reserve, but by remaining a Lieutenant Commander (LCDR), he was able to mentor those junior to him and be a trusted advisor to his commanding officers and other superiors. Arnold firmly believes that mentorship is not about standing in front of people, but rather about sitting beside them. In fact, today he has deliberately eschewed applying for management positions at his agency for this reason.

Last month, the most senior analyst in Arnold’s agency, an SES, specifically mentioned his work in the weekly analyst newsletter. This is the same supervisor who wrote him up once! Arnold emphasized that “success” takes many forms. In addition to moving up the ladder, many lessons are accumulated through bruises in addition to brains.

This is an important message remember this time of year when many people are setting New Year’s Resolutions. Taking on a new endeavor or is admirable, but beating yourself up over not making it is not. Sometimes things do not work out as planned because they were not meant to be, and that is ok!

Your Career Detour May be the Career Opportunity You Need

Arnold was honored and humbled when I told him I wanted to share his story, as it is just one among many. But I’m betting others out there can relate to saying “I want to be X when I grow up” and having life not quite pan out. Just because you’re career path leaves twists and turns doesn’t mean you failed to climb the career ladder, however.

Leave a comment below if you would like to share a concise version of your unique career journey! Your story, like Arnold’s, could be the just encouragement someone needs to see right now as they are trying to get back on their feet and plan their next move in 2021 and beyond.


*named changed

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Christina Lambert is a native Washingtonian who has been a DoD Contractor since 2015. Prior to joining the DoD contracting world, she was a tour guide at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing where she delighted in showing visitors a live production line printing real paper money! Christina’s hobbies include taking cruises, playing with her neighbor’s cats, and volunteering for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.