What do you want to be when you grow up? If you are like me, that question causes either a strong recoil or a nervous laugh—that uncomfortable, loud, bordering-on-obnoxious laugh. Because I still have no freaking clue. So instead of beating my head against the wall, feeling guilty, or avoiding contact with humans, I have decided to think about this in a different way.

But before we get into that, let me tell you a bit about my journey and how I have carved out an alternatively shaped hole to fit my peg rather than the other way around. I received my BUPD at Ball State in ’04. When I graduated, I was only 21, not exactly sure what I wanted to do, and realized I wasn’t finished learning so I decided to get my MPA at IU Bloomington, which I finished in ’06. From there I had positions as a neighborhood planner, assistant director of economic development, planning director (twice), and deputy mayor. I found myself at a fork in the road. I felt like I needed something different—that I had seen the good, bad and the ugly of local government and I was ready for a new challenge.

Where did that lead me? Currently I am an energy portfolio strategist at Hoosier Energy. Earlier this year our board made the announcement that they would soon close their coal-fired power plant in southwest Indiana, which meant that Hoosier needed to put together a team of people who could identify, negotiate, and execute renewable power contracts—whether solar, wind, battery storage, etc.—to replace that generation source. I know what you are thinking—why the heck are you on that team? I’m not an electrical engineer nor a long-time utility whiz, so how did I land here?

Throughout my career, no matter what the title, I have used skills learned in my urban planning schooling and experience that are valuable, flexible, and interchangeable. Knowing how to listen (read: all those daggone public meetings), strategize, think holistically, and genuinely interact with—and influence—other human beings are all skills that I gained and honed from my planning background. These are skills that you can take anywhere.

Employers are looking for these skill sets to navigate and create consensus-based solutions to difficult problems—that is what planners do on a daily basis! Learning to listen first, speak second, engage stakeholders, and look at and interpret legal codes and documents has added arrows to my quiver that other careers simply do not offer. Therefore, although I am no longer in a technical planning role, I have a skill set that is valuable in several different positions, making me thankful for the path my planning background created and the skills I picked up along the way.

I also learned that, rather than drawing a circle around a finite trajectory, job title, or occupation, I’ve carved out four questions that help align me with what I ‘want’ to be doing: 1) am I engaged?; 2) am I learning?; 3) am I making an impact?; 4) do I have time to do things I enjoy outside of my professional commitments? My planning background, skills, and built relationships have helped create many paths vs. paving just one, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Christy Langley is an energy portfolio strategist at Hoosier Energy.


This story appeared first in our Alumni Voices newsletter. The entire issue is written by alumni who are using their planning degrees in usual ways. You can read the entire publication here.