#15 Unplanned Career Paths with Mike Bergin Transcript



We all know how unrealistic imagining a soulmate is. And the idea that right there, you’re gonna find the right job. You’re going to find the right career and then you’re going to be set. And you’re never going to have to think again about anything. That’s not always, you’re always growing. I’ve always been impressed with the classic Renaissance man, the person who excels in a bunch of different fields all the way back to Leonardo DaVinci, you can do lots of things.


You don’t need to silo yourself. Pursue one role to the fullest. You can Excel in it. You can say, you know what, maybe I’m done with this. I’m going to go to something else. This week’s episode is food tip fairly exciting for me as I welcome my friend and podcast mentor Mike Bergen to the show, Mike and Amy Seely, our cohost of the test and the rest podcast, which has over 100,000 downloads.


After I had multiple guest appearances on their show, they inspired me to grab a mic and begin curating conversations to help families with college and career club. Mike is a dad and also works with teens. So when he wanted to chat about unplanned career paths, like his own and how that relates to the work I do as a college major and career coach, I was all in for taking my turn hosting.


Mike, our conversation will give you insight around planning the path after graduation. Or not planning it. And what unplanned turns might just happen along the way. I’m Lisa marker Robbins. And I want to welcome you to college and career clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation.


this week on college and career clarity. I am thrilled to welcome Mike. After over 27 years of intensive experience and every aspect of standardized test preparation, Mike knows what works and test prep and what. A nationally recognized leader in test prep. Mike founded chariot learning in 2009 to deliver on the promise of what truly transformative individualized education can and should be besides overseeing chariot learnings, national programs.


Mike is an act certified educator who trains teachers across the country to earn their certifications in all sections of the act. Mike is proud to be the founding president of the board of directors of the national test prep association, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the highest ethical standards and best practices and the test prep industry while advocating for the appropriate administration and use of standardized tests for admissions innocence.


Purposes, but while Mike might be an expert in test prep, we are excited to have him on the podcast today to talk about my passion career paths. And he approached me with a very interesting topic to talk about unplanned career paths, like his own Mike, welcome to the podcast. Lisa, I I’m so thrilled to be here.


It’s always a pleasure to speak with, and I should say I’ve been on your podcast that we’ll be linking to in the show notes test and the rest couple different times. So we always have fantastic conversations and I’m excited for us to explore this topic, but for you to start by sharing about your own unplanned career paths, which kind of sparked this idea for us.


Conversation. Absolutely. You inspired me to think about my own career path because you do speak about career planning. And I had to consider all of the individuals that I know who are extremely happy and productive in positions that they never considered. And I consider myself first and foremost, that example of someone who is excited about work every single.


And I get to explore all kinds of exciting professional challenges and opportunities. But if you had gone back to where I was, when I was in high school, I was on an academic track and I really thought I would become a physician. Or when I got to college, I thought maybe I’d become a clinical psychologist.


And I majored in psychology as so many people do. Having no idea. A bachelor’s in psychology. Doesn’t prepare you for anything except maybe more schooling didn’t work in psychology. I didn’t really have a good sense of what direction I might go. I had very broad ideas, but no realistic ideas. I grew up in a time where people weren’t talking about job shadowing and internships, and I was not at all equals.


To make smart choices about my career path. I studied a lot of really interesting things in college. I studied psychology and I studied education. I studied anthropology and I enjoyed all of it. But then I found that I was not qualified for any meaningful jobs. I’ll take that back. Certainly it was qualified.


It wasn’t being offered any meaningful jobs. What was your undergraduate major? I double majored in psychology and social science. Okay. So that’s what you exited. I X and then I even double minored in anthropology, socio-cultural anthropology and international studies. Like I did it all and you can manage.


I had pretty good grades. I was fine academically. I was ready to go, but I didn’t know a thing about life after college. So I have a great test case for what, how you could get lucky when things are unplanned, but it took a long time. And it took a lot of work to get lucky as it often does that I had lots of dead end jobs.


I had lots of roles where I was just trying to pay the bills for awhile and it took a long time until I fell into test prep and I fell into tests. As a part-timer, as so many people do the overeducated under motivated seekers, finding something that they enjoyed and could do well, that paid nicely. And I started as a teacher and it was a complete change from what I thought being a teacher was because I knew I didn’t want to be a classroom.


That was not for me. I enjoyed I’ve always enjoyed education, but I never wanted to work in a school system. I used to work at the New York city board of education as a drug counselor. Like I had a period of that time that was as close to professional behavioral health, as I could get with just a bachelor’s, but going into test, perhaps starting just as a part-time tutor, gave me an opportunity to see, okay, this is the system I was working for Kaplan at the time.


So of course. You could literally do anything with them. In, I was close to the corporate office. I was embedded in a center. I started in Boston. Then I moved to white Plains, or I moved to New York city and white Plains was close in Westchester. And from part-time teacher, I became a full-time man. And then I became a full-time director and then Huntington learning center recruited me to join their corporate office and create all of their test prep programs.


All of a sudden six years in, I have a career in test preparation. Nobody goes to school and studies to become a test prep professional that is not a defined career path, or it certainly wasn’t back when I went to school. And yet test prep is one of so many examples of an industry that generates literally billions of dollars a year.


That is invisible to career planners. Nobody thinks about it. Nobody plans for it. Nobody says, yeah, I want to become a test prep tutor, teacher manager, director, entrepreneur. They don’t even consider this. Which is in many ways more satisfying and lucrative than any others in education. So is just one example of many, right.


Is there anything that I’m saying about test prep, not congruent with your experience? No, it is absolutely congruent, but I listened to you say I fell into test prep and. And I, I love your deep thinking because you’re like, gosh, my friend Lisa starts this brand and this course around knowing yourself really well and figuring out careers and figuring out that, but I’m in this unplanned path.


And so my investigative side, I love your deep thinking on, oh wow. There’s a lot of unplanned paths and some of them have to be planned. Yeah. You certainly can’t make them, but you have to get the engineering degree. You’ve got to get the nursing degree, the teaching degree for some of those paths. And I start to think deeply about, did you fall into it?


Because I’m hearing as somebody who teaches a framework of. No yourself have deep self-awareness investigate what’s out there. I totally agree. Nobody knows 17 or 18 or 20 year old would say, oh, I’m going into test prep, but hi, listen to your story. I’m like, oh, there’s so many great nuggets in there that are threads about you.


Self-awareness around Mike Bergen’s wiring that led you. And so I would argue that you didn’t fall into it. So to be clear about just how unplanned it was, I was living in California at the time and looking to get back to the east coast and a good friend of mine in Boston who was working for Kaplan, said, you should come here and work for Kaplan.


You’d love it. Now, the, he just dropped this in my lap and I didn’t, I had no idea. I had no idea. Really. I was so clueless. I didn’t realize I didn’t need to move across the country to keep the tablet, California. Lisa, you give me way too much credit. I didn’t know a thing. And I had been working for quite a while and having all kinds of jobs.


Here’s what happens when students are on a path and there are so many careers that require a path. You pretty much know step-by-step what you’re doing. Okay. Everyone else walks through the wilderness. They have to figure out they might get lucky and get an entry-level job at a place they might get picked for one role at a place.


And then they can get promoted up or across into a role that fits them better. I would imagine that the majority of adults go through a period where the path that. Looked forward to her imagined they were going to take didn’t play out as planned. And they had to find a new path. Yeah. As you say that.


And I even think, gosh, there’s so many people that majored in engineering and they are not the typical engineer. Right. They might be in management, they might be in recruitment. They might, there’s so many different jobs. And I think sometimes. Students feel this undue pressure to, and I’m saying this as somebody who works to help them figure it out, but they’re planning the rest of their life.


And there’s no way we can know as you and I are great demonstrations of this, that we’re going to know the whole plan, but instead let’s remove some of that pressure from kids and say, no, you’re just planning your first step into the world of work. Absolutely. And one thing while I didn’t know what I was working towards, I think this happens with a lot of people.


I was working towards something like this in that I kept reading widely. I kept following my own intellectual curiosity. I, when the opportunity came along, I was prepared for it. And that’s really big was to maybe not know. Exactly what form that opportunity is going to take, but to be working towards it always, it’s like all of the athletes, there’s, I’m a big football fan and I’m following the off season because my team is so bad.


This is the best part of our season, but so great. I just, I’m sorry. I have to interrupt that. Go bangles. All right. You don’t get that from very often, but the idea that there’s a lot of individuals out there that are training. Year after year, hoping to get picked up. They don’t know who’s going to pick them up.


They have a good sense. But it’s this idea that if you stop working towards your dream, of course, you’re not going to be ready. If the dream presents. Absolutely. And I think one of the threads is I love listening to your story.


And as many times as we’ve talked and we talk a lot, we interact quite a bit. There were pieces in there. I didn’t know, but it kept occurring to me, a couple of different things that we talk about a lot in our community of families and those that work with families that are trying to figure out what comes after graduation.


I really thought, okay, you caught it intellectual curiosity. I’m like, you are all about education and learning. Double major, double, minor, intellectually curious about a lot of different fields. You are attracted to teaching, but not in the traditional sense. And so there was that self-awareness that I think us being children of the seventies and eighties, little just age ourselves.


Yeah. We went to high school in college, in the eighties, but we’ll just sell everybody. We’re both 53 or you’ll be 53 soon back then. We didn’t really talk about a lot about self-awareness and self-development enough. And there were people that were intellectually curious, of course, like yourself and doing really well in school.


But now with the high cost of college, Of what it takes to educate our kiddos, really even opening up the world war two, considering trades that we desperately need. I think there’s a greater need than ever to continue building that self-awareness early and often. And you probably weren’t in as intentional or maybe not at all intentional back in the day.


I wasn’t either. I see in you, there were things that had those conversations being curated, and I don’t know that you would have found your tests. Vibe sooner, but certainly I think that there would have been a, more of a self-awareness around something about how people learn and how people think. And what do I do with the intellectual curiosity, which eventually led to what you are.


I wish I had more planning. I’m very happy where I wound up, but I wouldn’t have minded getting here faster or exploring other more meaningful opportunities on route. Just that I came from a time and you can remember this guidance counselors. They had one assessment and half the kids were told they needed to become a park ranger, right?


Like the career assessment tools back in the day were not sophisticated or even that helpful. And as a matter of. They probably didn’t even predict most of the jobs that students would eventually find because those jobs didn’t exist. When we’re doing that planning, but I do know that I would have benefited from more support and structure and information to make choices.


So it’s good. It’s good that people, when they are not sure to try to find some information from somebody who can help, who can be a guide even. If you don’t want to be placed on a specific path at least to understand the implications. If you get this degree, what are your opportunities? I see this happening a lot because my wife works in behavioral health and there are a lot of people who graduate with a psychology major that imagined that they’re going to become some kind of therapy.


Or counselor after college. And you simply can not, you can, with a bachelor’s in mental health counseling, you can with an bachelor’s in social work. Right. Do you have to know what that next step is so that you can then move on? That doesn’t mean that you can’t eventually become a clinical psychologist, even if you take a detour into counseling to see if that’s what you like in the first place.


All too often, people put a lot of work into. Fitting themselves for a role to which they are not perfectly suited and they don’t know it until after the fact, then we speak in business allot about minimum viable product and iteration and to work up to a job. And it’s why it’s so great that we have a tradition today of job shadowing and internships and opportunities to wear the suit for a little bit and see if.


We call it alignment inside the community. You know what aligns with my personal wiring, which I love the Birkman assessment assessments have come a long way. For sure. I always say like the assessments, not the end, all it can’t be the end all be all. I think a lot of people want to be able to like take an assessment and know the thing.


And it’s really a process that needs a lot of intention. You hit on the begin with the end in mind, really, without saying it, if that, if you think you ought to be a therapist or a clinical psychologist, like that’s the end that we need to begin with in mind, but what does that path look like? And does that path suit me?


And do I want to go to school that long? Exactly. And sometimes it’s. The role, but the field, because there are a lot of people, you describing individuals that you might have gone down your path because you thought you wanted to be an engineer. You wanted to actually do some engineering. You wanted to design whatever, but a lot of great engineers then become managing.


They didn’t go to school to be managers. They didn’t go to school to be come directors where they didn’t go to school to become an entrepreneur newers, but they found that within that field, that was the thing they wanted to do. So another aspect of this unplanned career paths is to realize that you should always be growing.


You should always be figuring out and refining. What are the problems you want to sound? In what domain are these problems and what do you want your role to be? How active do you want to be in doing the field work or the frontline work? Or how motivated are you to start organizing or selling or marketing?


Because there’s just so many expressions. Every single fee, you can find the box, right? Thinking within the box. Think about it. If you go to school to become a nurse, you know that there are so many different branches, so many specializations, but there are also so many supports for nurses. So maybe you become a nurse, but eventually you become a likely Trina Walden, somebody who has an entire business, supporting nurses, getting their credentials and certifications.


Maybe you become like a manager. Maybe you parlay that into some other aspects. Uh, the medical or health care profession, because you’ve drilled deeper down to understand what brought me to nursing in the first place. And how can I continue to focus on the things that I’m most passionate about and are most aligned with my strengths.


And you must see this all the time. Lisa, I do. It’s siloing students so often try to silo the job. I think back to what you said at the beginning, I really liked education. Clearly you’re a lifelong learner, but you knew you didn’t want to be in the traditional classroom. And I’ll have this conversation with students who, same thing, like there’s a lot of teenagers and young adults who are wired to have an interest in education, but they don’t want to be in that classroom.


And so they definitely, they recognize I don’t want to be in a classroom. And then instead of. I called it thinking outside the box, you call it a thinking inside the box, but thinking more broadly, of course. Okay. So let’s think about education in a broader sense. Let’s think about healthcare, careers and a broader sense to use your nursing example.


And it can look a lot of different ways. It’s not a, oh, I don’t want to be in the classroom, but I love learning, but I have to check that. It requires an attention and an investigation because there are so many careers that you can discover then along the way. Absolutely. Especially because if what you really love to do is teach, then sometimes it becoming a.


Is not the path to your best future of teaching, because if you’re a great teacher, you may realize the only way to advance professionally is to become an administrator until eventually you’re not teaching at all. So again, it’s, it’s funny, I’m going to assume that you were a fan of friends when it was on one of the sitcom and one of the long running joke.


Nobody knew what Chandler did. Nobody could even explain what he did because his role was one of these roles that are really important, really high paying. He was, I think of all of them. He was the only one who probably could afford that. Unrealistic lifestyle. They all shared in New York city. And he was, he was like a data analyst in insurance company.


I don’t even remember exactly what it did, but it was one of these jobs that nobody would go to school for. Nobody would plan and say, this is what I’m going to do. But I think that he was a lot more representative. Than an actor or a busker, or even someone who worked at a museum like that, you just don’t see that, that often he was more the typical person of his generation and maybe a future general.


It really makes me think about, besides kids feeling like they’re making a forever decision. There are a lot of kids who really believe that there’s like this soulmate career and it’s something I talk against all the time. I love my job. I love. All the hats that I’ve worn as an entrepreneur, as a traditional teacher, and then a teacher outside the box, I’m still teaching as a course creator.


I love all those hats. If they all went away tomorrow. I can easily think of three to five careers jobs that I would thrive in. I would have a ball doing them. I would enjoy them. I’d make a good living. We have to step onto the path and then continue to develop like self-awareness self-development awareness of Korea.


Find out what new careers are out there for us and then let it go. But there’s not a one thing only that we were each created for, but it’s that first step out of lately. I love that soulmate career because we all know how unrealistic imagining a soulmate is. And the idea that right there, you’re gonna find the right job.


You’re gonna find the right career. And then you’re going to be set in. You’re never going to have to think again about it. That’s not always, you’re always growing. I’ve always been impressed with the classic Renaissance man, the person who excels in a bunch of different fields all the way back to the Leonardo DaVinci, you can do lots of things.


You don’t need to silo yourself. You can pursue one role to the fullest. You can Excel in it. You can say, you know what, maybe I’m done with this. I’m going to go to something else. If as long as you keep growing, I agree completely. We say if for some reason you decided to just drop everything you were doing right now, you would Excel in any number of different roles.


That’s the kind of person you are. And I think a lot of people can become individuals like that. If they recognize you’re not always planning, like you can always plan. To be happier. You can always plan to be more productive and more effective and get ready for the next role you might want knowing that in a world where you can’t be certain of anything, you can be sure that change will come for sure.


And I would add not every passion or interest has to be embraced in your day. That’s for sure that there’s no better way to kill the love of a hobby than to make it your job that’s for sure. And not every hobby has to be your job. So just being open, I love this conversation and just the openness it’s being intentional, but yet continuing an open-mindedness throughout life, Frank.


Yeah, young adults just starting out. And the fact that many of them will encounter a job market that does not fit their dreams might be more like their nightmares, but the, but the truth is just keep going, keep looking for jobs that move you closer to something that matters to you. Whether it’s. Role that you want to be a frontline or you want to work with people or the field that you want to be in.


Just trying to triangulate. If you’re not sure exactly where you’re going feel along for the path, it’s like climbing a ladder. You can’t get to the top except rung by rung and you can’t get to the second rung until you’ve grabbed the. Thanks for sharing your story, Mike, I know you’re going to be on some time again in the future because you are, I think you’re a Renaissance man, myself.


And so we have many topics that we could talk about in the future. So thanks for sharing our story and our passion for working with teenagers. So Mike, if people want to learn more about your work with chariot learning, the national test prep association, what is the best way for them to get into. People can find me@chariotlearning.com.


That’s one R in chariot. They can find me@testsandtherest.com. That’s the pest and the rest college admissions industry podcast. And look up leases. Excellent episodes. You can find me at the national test prep association, national test prep.org. I’m all over the place. Very easy to find, but I’m so glad to be right here.


Right now. Speaking with you, Lisa, thank you so much for having me on the show. I’ve been looking forward to this. Thanks.


it was fun to hear Mike’s professional and journey from start to where it is now. I I’ve not heard much of it before regular listeners know that at the end of each episode, I provide a call to action that I challenged you or your. To do by the end of the very next weekend. I’m often asked why the weekend.


Well, if I’m honest, when I had teens in my own house, we were often all so very busy that we were like ships passing in the night during the week. So weekends were often the only realistic time to set aside for the work on the college bound journey. So what do I want you to do this? Mike. And I discussed that while many career paths can be and are unplanned.


There are those that must be planned because they require a specific degree or even a license to practice. So brainstorm with your team, a list of career path that must be planned and consider whether your team is considering those which require early. And even if that first step into the world of work requires great intention, just like my own path, know that your next steps might not.


If today’s episode was helpful to you, please share the friend who needs us to sharing, following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful. Thank you for listening to the college and career clarity podcast, where I help your family move from overwhelmed, confused to motivated, clear and confident about your teens.


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