Contemplating A Career Change

Usually, I would have been sitting on an article like this for months. Stewing on it until I think I have an answer, or maybe not? 

In this case, I hope to harvest some of the wisdom from other, wiser, more experienced personal finance and life-in-general bloggers out there. 

I am contemplating going back to school, and it would both decrease my earning potential to create a job in this field, and it would not be an easy job. 

But right now, it also sounds damn attractive. 

The Norwegian system

To understand the issue, I suppose you would need to understand the Norwegian school system a bit. After 10 mandatory years of primary and secondary school, students get to choose their high school. There are two main kinds: Vocational and university prep.

The first being a mix of mandatory courses like math, Norwegian, social sciences and job training, such as hairdresser, car mechanic, plumber, carpenter, receptionist, waiter, fisher, cobbler, etc. Good, solid blue collar jobs society needs to go around. 

Back in the early 2000’s, I did not know what I wanted to become. There were just so many different things I wanted to be! Gardener, farmer, chef, artist, designer, seamstress, pet technician… there were just too many options!

Well-meaning parental advice

My parents, of course, were active in discussions and suggestions when it came to what I “should” become. 

“Don’t be a chef,” my dad would say. “They have to work nights and holidays when everyone else are off.” 

“Don’t be a farmer,” he would say as well. “After the industrial revolution, that’s the loneliest job in the world.”

I landed on university prep. Despite being fed up with school and wanting nothing but to get out of the system and get a job. This in turn led me onto university and chemistry. I still didn’t know what I wanted to become, but this would do, right? 

Little did I realise that my parents advice against farming would turn out to match perfectly with another exasperation they had: My parents were constantly nudging my to leave my books behind and go visit people. Least I grow old and lonely and sad. 

Sadly, after more than 15 years, I still prefer the company of myself and a few, select friends. And after a few years working with university students, I’m afraid that “loneliest job in the world” is starting to sound real appealing to me. 

I am thinking about going back to school to get accredited to do organic farming. 

The challenges

Of course, trying to turn a ship of life around is no easy feat. Shock and pushback from close friends and family being but one of the cliffs in the sea. 

Another is location. There is only one vocational high school which teaches organic farming in Norway, and it is, as these things often are, on the other side of the country. 

And it is a boarding school. 

Fun fact: Unlike the UK, boarding schools for primary schools are rare in Norway, unless you count the awful forced assimilation of the Sami people. On the contrary, boarding schools for high school is/were much more common, as our population is few and far between, and some students have to travel for days to get to the type of high school of their choosing (many different types, as stated above, and you have the right to attend the one you want if you have the grades to get in). 

So I would have to uproot my life again, even though I finally thought we were settling down. I would have to live away from Mr. Frugasaurus for a year at least, maybe two, and I have no guarantee that this life as an organic farmer is going to be sustainable for us. 

Oh, and did I mention that tuition is free? Even though I have already completed high school? I would only have to pay room and board, equipment/clothes, food and travel to/from. Long live the Scandinavian education model. 

The finances

On top of that, I also have a bit of student loan left from my university studies which would need careful consideration. 

Interestingly, the Norwegian student loan fund is not depleted in my case. This is a government body which hands out a mix of scholarships and student loans to students, and all are eligible to get the same, fair rate. 

I have currently “used up” five years of my rights to a student loan. But here’s the kicker: You can get up to eight, and high school is included. If no other solution presents itself, I could apply to receive a loan/scholarship from them to cover my living costs, which would also pause my current repayments. 

That would of course mean my student loan would take longer to pay off, and I would be adding to it instead of chipping away at it – but it would also mean I could start at any time. Next year when the next admission is, if I so choose. 

The alternative is of course to save up what I would need instead of taking up the extra loan. A responsible choice, but one that would take longer. Perhaps to the end of my current contract. Not necessarily a bad thing, but how much would two-three years of continuing to move my life in a direction that is feeling more and more contrary to my introvert, non-competitive nature be worth?

The value of time

1-2 years back as a student would also mean more time to work on side hustles. And I would be learning skills I can apply to said sidehustles. And I would be meeting people with similar goals and interests in life. 

All in all, it could be a very educational and giving experience. 

Or I could realise that farming, even organic farming, was not quite what I was looking for either and feel even more despair, I suppose? 

But right now, that doesn’t seem very likely. My summer job as a gardener have given me some of my best memories, especially when it comes to work and a social work environment in which I felt like I fit in. 

I cannot stop being myself

When I studied chemistry, I knew I wanted a traditional “lab rat” position. One where I did what I was told to do, but primarily had to deal with my colleagues on a daily basis, not so much customers or students. 

Those jobs are almost all gone. You can no longer just be great at your job and hide in a lab somewhere, you have to be able to deal with the (for me) high-level stress of relating to and being responsible for dozens of students or appealing to potentially very powerful people with the money you need to keep your job. 

I have tried to go out and be social, like my parents forced me to do as a child and as a teen. But more and more I realise, that just is not part of my nature. I do not like having a large social circle. I enjoy a small circle of close friends, and even then I enjoy and need to spend large parts of my time in solitude.

My parents tried to teach me how to not be myself, but I am here 15 years later, and I still feel the same obvious preference to choose a book over a party. 

14 Comments on “Contemplating A Career Change

  1. Hey Kristine – that’s a difficult decision to make.

    All I can say is there is no wrong decision here – you seem to have easily captured the risks of each approach and are making an educated decision.

    Go with what makes you happiest and don’t worry if you want to pivot again later.

    • Thank you! We are still very much in the early stages of trying to figure out what I want the most. Learning to listen to your gut and to interpret what it is telling you can be difficult!

    • Ooooh, I like your confidence. We are looking for courses in the area that I might take while working, to learn some of the same skills I would learn at the organic farming school.

      Thank you for your confidence, I feel I might need it! 🙂

  2. Hi Kristine, thank you for sharing. I love learning your thought process and about Norway’s education system. In the US, as you may know, we only go to high school once so I wonder if the last 2 years of high school for you is a bit like community college here. I am wondering if you can talk with or visit a farmer to ask questions and get a feel for whether or not you would like it. Would that be interesting to you or do you feel like you already know what that could teach you.

    • Hi Jayne, yes I think it might be somewhat similar to community college in the US, although I have limited knowledge of your system.

      I have several friends who are or have been farmers, and they always emphasize how much work it is, but at the same time how they don’t have a boss over them telling them what to do, which sounds like exactly what I want!

      I am trying to to arrange a “work holiday” with one of my friends next summer for exactly the reasons you mention. We’ll see how that works out! 🙂

  3. That’s a really interesting arrangement! I must say that having to pick a major in university and then a career path out of college was stressful enough the first time around, I haven’t gotten the school nightmares out of my system yet and I’m well into my 30s 🙂 I admire your willingness to go back in search of the right fit.

    Honestly while I think it’s good that parents push us to stretch our horizons a bit, it’s so important to be true to yourself as well because we don’t waste so much energy pretending to be someone else. I did learn the skills to be public facing and still have them but I MUCH prefer to see no one and talk to few on a day to day basis. Sounds like we have similar preferences that way!

    I hope that you’ve found your life and work passion in organic farming.

    • I hear you on the school nightmares! The most positive thing I have from university was getting away from home and all the influences there and finally getting to know myself. That alone was worth every penny in student loan – even if I never use my education again.

      I struggle so much with the public facing stuff. Just ask Mr. Frugasaurus how exhausted I am after my 6 hour shift as a lab leader.

      I hope I’ve found it too. we are looking into ways to learn the skills while still staying here, since I don’t really want to move (but will if I have to)!

  4. I’m curious about the decision to return to school (I’m also contemplating a career change). Is there a way you could learn “on the job”? (e.g. with the friend you mention). With your science background + gardening experience you might have the transferrable skills to get a job in the sector from which you could transition into the role you want.
    I’ve worked close to agriculture in Canada, UK, NZ and Australia — in none of those countries going to school would be necessary to become an organic farmer but perhaps that isn’t the case in Norway?

    • Great question. There are lots of options to learn one the job – but one of the things I forgot to mention is that I need the accreditation from the school to be able to buy a small farm with land for food growing/anything bigger than a large-ish garden. We could get around that rule by having my friend who grew up on a farm to co-sign on the purchase, but I would like to have the competency on my own.

  5. My inclination would be to pursue the non-degree option, choosing hands-on practical experience as my teacher instead as well as the free resources available on-line. Are you familiar with Curtis Stone? He’s a Canadian with a very popular YouTube channel on Urban Farming (although it sounds like you eventually want to live in a more rural area) – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-BlDCX__nCLs_ZF9meYQbw.

    Have you looked into permaculture (food forests) vs. farming (mono-cropping)? While organic farming is a more sustainable approach than conventional farming, permaculture methods tend to go beyond that not just sustaining the status quo, but regenerating damaged soils and eco-systems. Here’s a link to an article about someone practicing permaculture in Norway – https://permaculturenews.org/2014/07/23/green-winter-63-degrees-north-norway/. Plus permaculture’s nature inspired design principles can be applied to so much more than agriculture including the built environment, finances, and interpersonal relationships. Workaway.info and helpx.net are full of work-exchange opportunities at permaculture sites. A large number of organizations around the world offer training programs for permaculture design certificates and often offer workshare options for free or reduced tuition. Just a thought. Good luck with your decision making process.

    • Wow, lots of good suggestions here. I hadn’t heard of Curtis Stone, but I might look him up.

      Food forests are fantastic! I have the bible “Creating A Forest Garden” by Martin Crawford in my bookshelf. They’re a big basis of how I want to set up our garden and food-growing venture when we get a place to grow.

      Permaculture and food forests is definitely the way to go in my opinion, so long as we’re careful about not planting any species invasive to our area. Plus, it’s much better for biodiversity and bird life! 🙂

  6. I agree with an earlier comment to not necessarily go back to school but to look at gaining experience first. I’m in the US where lots of students go back to school for career change (and I am an adjunct at a school where many of my grad students do just that). However, it puts students in a lot of debt early in their new career, just when they need to take chances and perhaps take jobs that might pay less. So it’s worthwhile to see if you can stave off the debt, and that includes debt incurred b/c you are not working and going to school instead. Furthermore, looking for experience in your new career before going to school will give you more clarity on what exactly you should study and how to maximize your learning, if you do decide to go back to school at some point. There is so much knowledge available online, many of it for free or a much lower cost than brick-and-mortar school, so that is an alternative as well. Good luck!

    • That’s a good point. The only hiccup to that is that school is the only way to get credentials to buy the mid- to larger sized farms (I don’t want large, but a lot of the smaller farms are still so big that you need the paperwork to run it). But I am absolutely on board on staving off the debt, especially since I managed to finish my education without mountains of debt.

      I am looking into my area and hoping there will be a course in permaculture in my city next year too, I think I would try to attend that, if I can! 🙂

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