Breanna L. Cox
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
In this paper, I will critically analyze and discuss all of the interests, skills, experiences, events, and abilities that make up my career journey. It is organized by three sections that starts with the Early Years from age six to high school, then Young Adulthood talks about high school and college years, and finally Recent Years discusses college graduation in 2009 until now. I will cover major “a-ha” moments that brought me to my career choices. Also along the way, I will cover my awareness of work environments and how people work. Discussion includes my career models, my personal vocational satisfaction, other observations on why people work and the place of work in my life. Plus, how a career has changed my life.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is give to us.” – Gandalf (Tolkien, 1954)
While my career and life has not gone as planned, I am still blessed to have the opportunities at different parts of my journey. My dream as an author manifested into photojournalism, took a turn and became a medic, and now I am on an adventure to be an Art Therapist and Counselor. Along the way, I have reexamined my dreams, interests, and strengths; and I have taken opportunities based on current life situations.
The Early Years
As a young child starting my academic career, my father always emphasized the importance of learning. I have many memories of him saying “You gotta learn something new every day.” No matter my age and the context, I took the time to explore the objects and people around me. Even though my father is a humble man and graduated with a high-school education, he still wanted to instill in me a love of learning. This has lasted all these years and now I’m a professional student; and pursuing scholarly work in everything I do.
Recently, I took the Character Strengths Test from the VIA Institute on Character (VIA, 2019). It came as no surprise to me that ‘love of learning’ showed up in my top five character strengths. More than thirty years later, and I can still find ways to learn in a classroom, a museum, a conversation amongst family members, or at a workshop around professionals.
In a study done by vocational psychologists and published in the Journal of Career Assessment (Littman-Ovadia et al., 2013), researchers sought how strengths and self-esteem can make a difference in a client’s career exploration. They also looked at any day-to-day use of those strengths and any improvement in a person’s lifestyle. Within 3-months, the strengths-based sample reported an 80% rate of employment and this is a possible predictor of positive well-being. Knowing and growing character strengths can influence self-esteem; which in turn influences a person’s career decisions.
The love of learning is a great character strength that many teachers through my life helped me develop. From birth and growing up, I always had and still have an innate sense of curiosity. I asked questions and I remember feeling ashamed that maybe I was asking too many questions. My fourth grade teacher Ms. Thomas pulled me aside and said, “Keep asking questions.” Now I hope to do the same with my clients to see something they can learn or at least see a little good in everything.
While learning my first words to learning to write full sentences and essays, I loved to learn and write. Recently, my mother shared with me my first memory album to document friends, pets, activities, trips, and what I want to be every year. While most kids may want to be a police officer or the far-out astronauts, at the age of 7, I wanted to be a “book writer”. A year later in the third grade, it changed to wanting to be an “author.” Nevertheless, there are two things happening here. At a young age, I learned and wanted to document, record, and track experiences from year to year. The other important thing happening in this beginning memory album is that I learned to recognize my interests, and write them down.
In the early years of vocational counseling, many counselors focused on a client’s interests. A counselor would be delighted that I knew my strong interest of writing at a young age and that I’ve challenged myself on the craft. Plus a counselor would be motivated that an everyday interest has influenced my occupational interests (more on that later). In the early 20th century, the trait and factor theory says that a person’s traits and interests when matched with a good occupation will show for more job satisfaction.
Trait-and-factor theory came from Frank Parsons, who is said to be one of the earliest philosophers of counseling as a whole. (Gysbers et al, 2014) This theory also influenced a major test that is still being used today, the Strong Interest Inventory. This came as a result of helping military members coming out of World War I to find an occupation. The first author of the Strong Interest Inventory is E.K. Strong who had a lifetime of work interests research and how interests influence career decision making. The Strong Inventory has been through several revisions, but it is still being used today. (Hansen, 1987)
A few years later, I was given my first easel and box of art supplies. The outside is glittery silver and the inside had all the essentials that any beginner artist would need: coloring pencils, markers, pastels, and basic watercolor paints. This was the beginning of learning my creative discovery and learning that I work better independently. However, I struggled with liking all of those materials and they would prove too much challenge for me. Plus, my family thought that playing with markers or paint is just something that little girls do and not an occupation. I never took an art class in my early education years. It took many years for me to grasp an artist identity.
Within a few years, it became apparent to my family and me that I enjoyed taking pictures. At a family vacation at New Smyrna Beach, Florida, I asked for my mom’s point-and-shoot camera and studied the difference in shells. The shells told a story and I wanted to take pictures of their story. More than that, I wanted to document the shells that I discovered and document the experience I had. This shows again and again that I have a love of discovery, and a love to document. This helped me realize my love for photography, and my constant exploration brought me to journalism.
I spent years studying the basics of photography in basic kid workshops in 4-H. I learned that photography comes from the study of light and that light quality can change how an image looks. The 4-H organization was pivotal and a positive influence for my starting career in photography.
My mother and I would venture over to our hometown newspaper and ask the editor her advice on an SLR camera I should get. I got a Canon Rebel and now I could learn to take photos like a pro. I watched other photographers who took photos and got them published in the LaRue County Herald News. I watched local volunteer and community photographer Terry Sandidge who attended many practices and events. He was quiet, still, and captured the moment. It is important to point out how he worked as it influenced what kind of photographer I wanted to be. It still influences me in the kind of therapist I want to be. He is a great sports photographer and it was influential in me going into sports as well.
During my high school years, I followed the basketball teams through their practices and games. I would go and watch the games, write down how the players did, interviewed the coaches, and took pictures. I enjoyed this time and it was solely volunteer. These experiences have a special place in my heart as they are my first years in the journalism industry. Any time my coverage got published, I was proud of it. Plus my hometown could read and see the photos from the game; so it was the beginning of my journey as a selfless servant and helper.
At this point, I want to discuss Holland’s theory of vocational environments. Holland published his theory in the Journal of Counseling Psychology. (Holland, 1959) He came up with six work environments for workers to flourish in either Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. This is commonly referred to as “Holland’s Codes.”
For me, I know that I am open and curious so that falls under investigative. I tend to be sensitive and creative, so that falls under artistic. Then I do appreciate being sociable and helping others, so that would be the social domain. However, I tend to be more introverted than outgoing and paired with my practical side; then I am more of the realistic domain. According to Holland’s Theory on vocational personalities and work environments, if a person finds an occupation within their tested domain that fits their personality and the way they work; then that person is more apt to have congruence. (Holland, 1959)
According to the Holland Codes database from the Dictionary of the Holland Occupational Codes (Gottfredson & Holland, 1996), if I were an IAR combination, then I could go into jobs like Animal Behaviorist or Wildlife Biologist. While I have always loved all animals, both of those seem too scientific. If I were an IAS combination, I could choose from Dictionary Editor or Financial Economists. Both of those seem too cold and lack actual human touch. Under an IRA combination, there are a variety of possible surgeon occupations. Under an
ISR combination, there are a variety of medical subspecialties like Chiropractor, Dentist,
Surgical Technologists, and many others.
As you can see there are many different combinations and even more occupations based on the interest domains that I think I have (Investigative, Artistic, and either Social or Realistic). Fortunately for millions of job seekers and their counselors, Holland Codes is made readily available on O*Net. The U.S. Department of Labor provides and maintains the reports of many occupations on MyNextMove.org. (National Center, 2019) For the purpose of this paper, I took the Interest Profiler and I got Social, Artistic, and Investigative (“SAI”). I am pleased to see that at a brief glance under this Interest Profile, it shows “Art Therapists” and it reaffirms that I am on the right track. Of course, my interest profile might be different if I would have taken this profiler when first entering college.
While in college, I started as a journalism major but switched to an art major and journalism minor. For years, I battled with which one I liked more: writing or photography? Or I also looked at which one am I getting a better grasp at the craft. However, I knew I wanted to stay in the newspaper industry and even in the early 2000s; many journalists of all kinds started to adapt to technology. So I took classes in both fields. In fact, I took so many classes of both and a few electives every year; I graduated with two Bachelor of Arts degrees.
Even though I was learning actual knowledge to be a successful photojournalist and writer; I made sure to get the experience I needed. While in college, I worked for the student-run college newspaper and I interned at a small local newspaper that was owned by the Cincinnati Enquirer. Plus I worked in other departments doing tasks that were similar to what I wanted to do as a photojournalist writer. I worked in the Community Connections department introducing young students to the school and getting more practice with speaking. However, so much education and experience still proved to not be enough in such a competitive field.
Upon graduating in May of 2009, I continued working in the Community Connections department at Northern Kentucky University; but now in the role as a ‘New Media Specialist.’ I used all of my skills in web design, social media outreach, newsletter building, and other tools allowed me to learn new skills that I would need as a reporter. Plus it worked out as a student to graduate and then have money coming in. Also, in terms of looking at work environments, I was lucky that I had my own desk in my own mini office with a window. I had my own tasks every day and projects to report to the team every week. At the time, it was a temporary job to bring their department up to speed on new outreach processes. It was my goal that I would find a long-term job that aligned with my education and experience up to that point.
At the same time, I had a freelance internship at an indie newspaper CityBeat in Cincinnati. This was a great place to work in that I have never identified myself as a news reporter covering politics or car wrecks. I always looked for a human element in how people enjoy their lives. I took a ton of photos at various events including a major week-long music festival; and got published weekly and in the “Annual Manual” that CityBeat publishes of the happenings in the city. However, once the internship was over; then I did not have a job ready to go or any freelance leads.
I took advantage of my free time and began co-working with other professionals; and attended a variety of networking events. I put myself out there to meet other photographers, web designers, marketing professionals, business experts, and job seekers in general. I am lucky to call a group of them close friends still to this day. I practiced my “elevator speech” to include my skills and passion in visual storytelling. While I could do standard portraits and weddings like any other photographer, that’s not where my experience is and where I had hoped my future would be.
In a longitudinal study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, (Wolff & Moser, 2009) researchers sought to see the relation between networking and career success. Networking is seen as discussing business matters outside of working hours. Career success is seen as both observable accomplishments (objective) and individual aspiration levels (subjective). According to the authors’ discussion, their results showed that networking can be considered an investment for the future. In this particular study, they looked at salary increases and sometimes better work performance. They discuss that it is still unclear whether the better job performance and salary change is from the workers’ efforts; or from power and reputation attained by networking. The researchers stress the need for more formal research on the connection between networking and career success. I agree that there needs to be more research on a successful job as a result of networking. (Wolff & Moser, 2009)
I was not so lucky. I began working retail in Fall of 2009 at RadioShack in order to make ends meet. In late Spring of 2010, I moved from northern Kentucky to Louisville and central Kentucky to be closer to my support system. I met my husband that summer and we moved in together within a few months. However, that Fall would prove my work ethic as I worked two retail jobs with Hallmark and also the local UPS shipping facility. It was hard physical labor, and the retail work took a lot mentally and emotionally out of me day in and day out.
None of these places were the work environments where I could thrive or where I wanted to work. In the big picture, I was not living a life worth living. I wanted to work in a job, but more importantly I wanted to have a career. Also, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. However, it is safe to say that I found myself in an unplanned predicament.
According to Happenstance Theory of Vocational Choices published in the Journal of Career Assessment (Krumboltz, 2009), job seekers should remain engaged in activities and be vigilant to opportunities. Many citizens find themselves in many varying roles and positions that have no rhyme or reason on how one connected to the next except by happenstance. There are many factors that influence how a person ends up in a situation.
For many years, career counselors have helped clients choose a future occupation. However, none of us can predict the future. This theory helps counselors and clients to have a better understanding on career choices or other possibilities. Krumboltz discusses that when a professional is “undecided”, it has a negative connotation but saying that one is “open-minded” it sounds much better. I am proud to say that I hold the value and skill to be open minded. (Krumboltz, 2009)
In the summer of 2011, I enlisted in the armed forces. On July 5, I raised my right hand and vowed my life to the United States Air Force. While our military is an all volunteer force; it was a deliberate decision to serve my country and community while making myself better. However, while I don’t regret putting the uniform on; there is a slight piece of me that resents my decision to join.
Based on my ASVAB scores (Defense Manpower Data Center, 2012) and “the needs of the Air Force”, I picked and was placed in the track to become an Aerospace Medical Service Technician. This requires an accelerated course to become a National Registered EMT. Then it also requires several weeks of practical nursing and “rounds” at Eglin AFB to show that I am proficient in many different hands-on medical skills. As you can see, I came a long way from writing and art.
By June of 2012, I arrived at my first and only permanent duty station at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the Family Health Clinic, I enjoyed being the first person to see patients to check them in and hear their chief complaint. My interviewing skills were valuable to make the patients feel heard and to have good handoff to the licensed provider. I got known by my peers for my attention to detail and I became the “Go-To person” for making sure all medical forms were done right. Outside of the clinic, I further served the active duty community as the PR Officer for the Rising 6 organization. This was the group that served all E1-E6 members on base and I made sure they had all information they needed for all morale events.
Towards the end of 2014, it became increasingly difficult for me to manage the active-duty lifestyle and keep stress at bay. I found myself with an adjustment disorder diagnosis and in the mental health clinic to find new coping strategies. I was lucky to be with a good therapist at first who encouraged me. In the spring of 2015, I took the Myers-Briggs Step II and I got several pages describing the INFJ personality type. It was relieving and eye-opening to see that personality type make so much sense. (Myers, 1962) Looking back now, it was the first time that I saw that as an INFJ; I could be a counselor. (Tieger, Barron, & Tieger, 2014)
My mental health got drastically worse and was managed by medication and occasional Cognitive Behavior Therapy. On my own, I started keeping an art journal so that I could get my thoughts and feelings out. I kept a “Smashbook” style composition journal with a variety of collages. My therapist had changed and our alliance wasn’t working, but my journal helped.
While it wasn’t art therapy, it was another tool I had for myself. I could get what was in my head out on paper. I tried to take any artistic expectation of what it should look like and I got the images down. I felt better time and time again. These art journals and discussions with mentors were quasi introductions into art therapy. I had a clinical psychologist that I worked with (but never saw her as a patient), and she continued to “get me” and my journals; and truly push me where I want to go. I am blessed that she wrote recommendation letters for me. I want to do the same of the tools that helped me, but get formal education and get licensed on how to help others.
I made a collage representing this time and also looking at what I hope to do with others. This was a pivotal point in my career. In this art piece, I am showing the personal side of art journaling I did and then becoming a free spirit. Once becoming a free spirit and still in the midst of clinical experience, I wanted to do the same for others of what helped me. Then this paired with my strengths of empathy and honesty on one side as well as creativity, growth, and art passion on the other side. The upper right corner represents my future clients in their transformation; symbolized with a dragonfly among harmonious colors. See Appendix A for the career journey art.
When I separated the military in October of 2016, it came down to having all of this clinical experience with education and passion in art. What career field combines medical and art? I spent about six months doing undergraduate prerequisite coursework and started art therapy graduate classes in September of 2017. Now in the middle of my graduate career and I am looking at having my Practicum this coming fall at Our Lady of Peace Psychiatric Hospital in Louisville. I have interviewed several local art therapists for a different project. I hope to continue to work on active listening, empathy, and paying attention to what the art says in my future as an Art Therapist and Counselor.
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