People often ask me, how did you go from being a documentary producer to working as a career counsellor? To answer that, I have to go back to when I was 18 years old, a newly minted CEGEP grad looking for a job without much direction.
At that time, I received sage career advice from my first supervisor that has stuck with me throughout my whole career. He said, “Peggy, whatever you decide to do in your career, make sure you are having fun.” These words resonated with me because:
- It was the only piece of career advice I had ever received.
- I had never ever thought of what a career would look like before that.
Growing up, I remember my dad being miserable in his job. In fact, I don’t think I knew anyone who really loved their job. Work was always seen as something you did for money. It had never occurred to me before that you could get satisfaction from a job. However, having fun at work would become my mantra throughout my career.
Finding my values
I had two deal-breakers when searching for my first job: I wouldn’t wear a uniform (which I associated with roles that would restrict me) and I needed a job in which I could be my authentic self – even though I had no clue who I was at that age.
I landed my first job working as a Student Engagement Coordinator in the Student Services Department at Dawson College in Montreal. That job changed my life. For the first time, I saw what it looked like to enjoy your work and to meet interesting people from all walks of life. I was surrounded by people who taught me about different ways of “being” in the world, which really opened my eyes to what was possible for me. I also learned that I wanted to help people in a meaningful way – another career deal-breaker.
Gaining an understanding of my career values led me to a job in human resources, then to working at a community college, followed by a five-year stint as a chase producer in a television newsroom. (I can still remember answering the phone “Newsroom.” I felt like Mary Tyler Moore!)
After the pressure of a live daily news show, former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson hired me to work on her arts documentary program at the CBC. With no documentary experience but a lot of determination, I spent the next 15 years producing documentaries on some of the top Canadian and international artists. I also interviewed leaders in politics, sports, education and many other disciplines. The common thread they shared and what set them apart was their ability to overcome fear. They were able to achieve their goals even when unsure of their initial direction. I never forgot that, because once I got past the celebrity status, I realized that they were all just people with insecurities and everyday problems of their own.
A mid-career pivot
When the series ended, I found myself working on reality shows and feeling very dissatisfied. I decided to re-direct my career. I had always been curious about what people did for a living, which drew me to producing profiles on prominent Canadians. I wanted to help others realize their goals and I enjoyed interacting with people one-on-one. I appreciated that career counselling took into account the whole person, and felt it would be a good fit for my transferable skills.
So, in my mid-forties and with two children to support, I went back to school to complete my undergraduate degree and then pursue my Master of Education in counselling psychology. It wasn’t easy. There were times when I felt like giving up. It was difficult to go to school part-time while travelling across the country producing television shows, a job I couldn’t afford to quit. I sometimes had to put school on the back burner. But I persevered. I completed my master’s in six years, and here I am today, working as a Career Counsellor at UTM.
Helping students is a natural fit for the skills I developed as a producer. My job then was to establish an immediate rapport with on-air guests. I listened to their concerns and made them feel safe, so they would feel comfortable sharing their story. As a career counsellor, I do the same thing with students, except now I don’t have to bother with the TV lights, make-up and cameras.
It takes a village
When I reflect on my career journey, I can honestly say that no one does it alone. I was lucky to meet people who opened doors for me, even if it was just a crack. However, luck is no accident; you make your own luck by working hard and then being ready when opportunity arrives.
I was smart enough to heed the helpful advice I received early in my career. Although there have been challenges in the roles I’ve held, from producing documentaries to working as a Career Counsellor, it’s been a lot of fun.