Changing Career Paths: Embracing the Nonlinear Life
At 9:30 AM, Megan McComb was watching the clock—tick, tick, tick—counting the seconds till the workday ended.
It did not make sense. Just one year removed from Seaver College, where she earned her bachelor of arts in psychology, McComb was bored. She had a fine job working in the corporate world. She was earning a living. And more than that, she was subscribing to the linear livelihood that most of her friends talked so much about.
Tick, tick, tick. 9:45 AM—How is time passing so slowly?, McComb admits to thinking. I mean how is this possible? Am I in some sort of a time warp?
She had followed the prescribed path of college, internships, and graduation. She had conquered the first chapter of her life and landed a full-time job working in the business sector. And yet, there she was, a ticking time bomb preparing to explode from high-octane levels of discontentment and dissatisfaction in the middle of her orderly office.
“I was deeply unfulfilled and unhappy,” McComb explains. “I realized I needed to try
If you had told McComb while a student that she would end up teaching right out of college, she may not have believed you. If you had told her that she would end up teaching in Thailand, West Africa, and the Czech Republic, she’d have thought you were crazy.
After studying abroad in London during her sophomore year at Pepperdine, McComb thought she wasn’t cut out to live overseas, even though she enjoyed the experience.
“I guess in my mind I thought [living abroad] is something where I’m just not the person for that,” she states. “I’m not super proficient in foreign languages. I don’t know what my career path would look like. "But ever since I came back from my sophomore year in London, I had this feeling of restlessness."
This malaise helped propel McComb out of her corporate office in search of something new. She ended up in Portland, Oregon, mentoring teenagers struggling with drug addiction and mental illness. In this position, McComb began drafting curricula and giving presentations concerning mental health.
“I realized I loved being with students,” says McComb, concerning her time in Oregon. “I really enjoyed it.”
Recognizing this passion and contemplating an eagerness to go abroad, McComb applied to a program that would allow her to receive her TEFL certificate, which would authorize her to teach English abroad. The only catch . . .the opportunity was in Thailand.
McComb hopped at the chance.
After completing the program teaching in Thailand, McComb moved to Benin in West Africa to work for the Peace Corps. She taught English for two years there, in addition to organizing and running a girls soccer team to promote gender equity. Beyond these endeavors, the Seaver graduate also started an afterschool English club for students and adults in order to facilitate cross-cultural exchange.
These experiences inspired McComb to apply for a Fulbright grant. With the support of the US Fulbright Student Program she was soon serving as a teacher’s assistant in the Czech Republic—again helping to teach English and advocating on behalf of her students' mental health.
Yet, amid all of this instructing and organizing, McComb was also learning. Specifically, the psychology major turned traveling educator began to recognize that student success was based on more than just an individual’s aptitude for academia. Instead, it became obvious just how many environmental factors contribute to achievement.
“There are many systemic forces that can either make a student successful in the classroom or sabotage them,” says McComb. “Their experiences will be informed by the economy, the general environment, the infrastructure, and their health. All of these different factors can converge to impact a student’s success.
“Maybe a student has to wake up at 5 in the morning so they can ride their bike 45 minutes to school down a dirt road . . . maybe a student doesn't have access to fruit and vegetables . . .maybe a student is female, and she is also taking care of little siblings, working in the fields, or selling things in the market. And then they come home and the sun has gone down, and they are either doing their homework by flashlight, or they aren’t doing their homework at all.
“If I see such a student, and they aren’t performing in class, I don’t think that student is lazy. These are all the factors inhibiting their success. That’s one of the reasons I pursued a master’s in social work.”
If teaching pushed McComb abroad, it was learning that brought her back home.
Living the Nonlinear Life
Fast forward to today and McComb is enrolled in the University of Michigan’s number one- ranked master of social work program. She is conversational in five different languages or dialects (English, French, Thai, Pariba, and Pan). On top of that, she is also working as a training and volunteer coordinator at the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center based out of Los Angeles County.
While the clock is still ticking all about her, McComb is now unaware of it. Instead, she is fully engrossed in her work, deriving meaning and purpose from the effort she pours forth each day.
“I would never trade the life I’m living right now,” she shares. “Even if it made things easier and more predictable. My commitment to this path never wavered”
The path she speaks of is not a straight line. In contrast, McComb’s journey to discovering her passion was jagged and difficult. It carried her out of her comfort zone, forced her to cross two oceans, and compelled her to learn in trying and foreign circumstances.
“It was a very uncertain path because I didn’t know anyone else who was doing it,” McComb explains. “Everyone went off on a linear trajectory. They had a job and a career path and a partner . . . I veered off into the unknown and was doing my own thing.”
Throughout this individualistic journey, the Seaver graduate earned an education in the power of being unconventional. Ultimately, it is this lesson that permeates her work today.
“All the skills that I learned being overseas inform my work on a day-to-day basis, especially interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds,” says McComb. “Any number of things can complicate the connection that you have with someone; I draw upon the ways I've learned to overcome those complications every single day.”