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Making a career change: From fashion to social work

By Rachel Parodneck, LMSW



As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Are you doing that now? If not, ask yourself: do I find fulfillment in my current job? Oftentimes the answer is a resounding NO. To quote Ferris Bueller: Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

When I was growing up, I was always fascinated by the life stories of adults. While the other kids were playing, I was the one in the kitchen listening avidly as their mothers divulged their problems. Although I was only 7 or 8, I gave these women my attention and a safe space to express themselves with no judgment. I was precocious—I knew all about doctors, lawyers, firefighters, and astronauts. We talked about these career paths when teachers asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. What I didn’t know was that there was a job called therapist..

Flash forward ten years and I enrolled at NYU. I was trying my best to be an edgy, fashionable freshman and allowed my former passions to fall by the wayside. I wanted to look good on paper and impress my peers. I obtained highly coveted internships at glossy fashion magazines and high-end design houses. Although I was able to secure these roles, I ultimately was not happy on a day-to-day basis. There’s only so much satisfaction you can glean from slaving away in the fashion closet, steaming clothes and data entry. I became world weary at the ripe old age of 22.

This disheartening path I was paving for myself led me into therapy, where I learned about myself as I explored the roots of my unhappiness and confronted the bitter truth that working in fashion was not for me. I was able to explore with my therapist what a better life looked like to me. Through much guidance, I identified the career of a therapist. 

Getting started was not an easy feat! I began working at a sober house where a friend worked. I spent time informally counseling women fresh out of rehab. After a year there, my therapist was the one who encouraged me to apply to social work grad schools. I was certain I would not get in. To my great surprise, I was accepted to not one, but two schools! I chose Columbia University School of Social Work.

It was more difficult than I had imagined. I had to take out massive loans to go back to school. It had been years since I was in school and I was unsure of myself academically. I struggled that first semester but once I found my footing, I worked as hard as I could to learn as much as possible. I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful professor as a mentor who taught my first class at Columbia. I made friends with the women who sat in the front row.  I was an intern 3 days per week and went to school the other 2 days. I spent weekends grinding away for hours in study groups.

The hard work paid off—I graduated and was able to secure a job shortly thereafter. The job was at a substance abuse treatment center. I had been certain this was the area of expertise I wanted to pursue. 

Through trial and error, I found that I fit best working with a more general population in a private practice setting. I am now on a path that makes me happy. I do have the occasional off day, as all of us do. Most days are rewarding and fascinating though. I am honored to be privy to my clients’ innermost thoughts, secrets, and problems. My goal is to guide my clients in becoming the best version of themselves.