What does it take to build a career for life? I'm not talking about a job for the next 30 years, a good salary, and a retirement plan. I'm talking about a career that showcases you at your best and carries you through the next 30 years. This can mean 3 - 5 different jobs, periods of unemployment, and accomplished highs and challenging lows. But what makes a career a career for life, and how do we build it?
Over the past year I've consulted with university students in the Faculty of Science at Ryerson University. They come to me to talk about their careers, or lack thereof. Most of them like what they study, and most of them started their degree thinking they would end up a doctor, a dentist, a vet, or a pharmacist. By their 3rd year they are perplexed by their new 'gut' reaction to these post graduation options. They feel doubt and uncertainity. This perplexity stems from what I identify as a difficulty in finding the 'sweet spot' between enjoyment and aptitude.
For most of us, what drives our motivation to pursue something is either our enjoyment of it, our aptitude for it, or both. Case in point: I enjoy exercise, so I swim. I also have a knack, or aptitude, for it. Yet I also enjoy beautiful artwork. Do I have an aptitude for it? Not so much. Since these are my interests, that's not a problem. I can deal with the fact that I'm not an artist. I will appreciate it from afar. I may even indulge in a painting class. Why not? I just know it's not going to be my job.
The thing is, when we are pursuing our career goals, what we are most often looking for, is both. That 'sweet spot' between enjoying something, and being good at it, is what makes our work feel worthwhile, or worth it. That's not to say that we can always work at a job we are good at, and pursue what we enjoy in our spare time. For many, that's an ideal situation. The problem though, is that most of us are using the 'sweet spot' prism to identify career pathways we can pursue. Especially if we've spent 4+ years in university. We feel we owe ourselves (and rightly so!) to find that 'sweet spot' in the career we choose.
So how do we make this work? Perhaps we need to shift our thinking here. Instead of searching for that one job that will satisfy both our sense of enjoyment and our aptitude, what if we start to think outside the box when it comes to our 'sweet spot' and our career development. What if we take the focus off of the career itself, and instead look at the skills we are developing and what we like about them. For the science students I consult with, this means unpacking their degree, and identifying what they are learning from it. It may be that they like, say, biology. It may also be that they aren't amazing at it. Let me tell you that most students who obtain a science degree are not going to go to medical school. Or veterinary school. It's too competitive. Yet that doesn't mean they don't have an aptitude for biology. But what does that really mean? What are they actually good it when it comes to biology? What skills do they excel at? If we unpack this, we find that it becomes less about 'biology' and more about the pieces that make up this interest that are both enjoyed and excelled at.
The same can be said for a career for life. A person who practices law is or medicine doesn't have an aptitude and enjoyment of 'law' and 'medicine'. Their 'sweet spot' lies in skills they've acquired, are good at, and enjoy putting into practice. That is what makes a successful lawyer, doctor, manager, teacher...the list goes on.
It's time we started to consider what our 'sweet spot' is in terms of our skills - what skills come naturally to us (aptitude) that we put into practice daily with enthusiasm (enjoyment). When we start here, multiple pathways open up and create the building blocks of our career. This it what makes a career, a career for life.
Despite employer expectations that only the most qualified candidates apply to job postings, there was still hope for new graduates and those looking for alternate careers: entry-level jobs. For grads with minimal work experience, these positions opened doors to work related opportunities, and they were paid. Those transitioning into new careers territory could also try out entry-level to get a foot in the door.
It's recently become apparent that these jobs are few and far between, or maybe they just no longer exist. The term 'entry- level' still floats around, and can be seen on online job boards now and again. Yet, what does this term even mean anymore, and is it of value to those in transition?
My interest in exploring this topic stems from a recent study published by The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO). Published in three parts, it explores the hiring process from the perspective of employers posting job ads. Turns out the outcome isn't too favorable for job seekers seeking entry-level experience.
As is noted on the HEQCO webpage:
"A study of Canadian job ads found that employers posting entry-level positions expected applicants to have up to two years of work experience. But the majority of those who got hired had more – in some cases substantially more. "
Well, that's not great news. What we've come to realize is that even if employers hire someone for entry-level work with 2 or more years of work experience, the job is still probably an entry-level position. Those with work experience are most likely overqualified, but due to a shrinking job market, and choosy employers, they are the new pool of applicants. Makes me want to throw the whole concept of entry-level out the window, but my more creative and optimistic spirit causes hesitation. Perhaps we can redefine entry-level, in a way that makes sense for a new generation of workers trying to find work experience.
If entry-level is no longer a viable option to those with NO experience, what is needed IS experience. Thinking in terms of redefining what is entry-level, we need to get creative about getting experience. What a transitioning grad, or anyone else for that matter, needs to understand is how the work experience they do get is going to get them that entry-level job. A multi-step process, no doubt, but potentially a solid solution to an otherwise challenging job market.
So how might this multi-step process play out?
First, consider employment in sectors related (even if only remotely related) to the actual industry you want to break into. If an employer is looking at 2 or more years work experience for entry-level positions, this means the work you do to pocket those years can be made relevant, valuable, and related. Visuals help a lot with this. Start with the entry-level job you are interested in, and think about what skills, activities, and experiences are both closely and distantly related. These can be visualized as branches stemming from the entry-level position. Now, consider what other kinds of jobs and/or industries offer similar opportunities for skill development, meeting industry people, participating in projects etc. You will find that there is tons of overlap within a variety of industries. The transferability of the experience you gain while working towards that entry-level job will be an incredibly important part of your success in transitioning to entry-level. Keep in mind this is your starting point, it is not your end point. We all have to start somewhere, and with the current job market, we can't all start where we envision ourselves being.
Second, be open to other professional development opportunities as you are working and gaining experience. Seek out new opportunities within the company or organization you are working for, join professional organizations, network, set up informational interviews, socialize and participate in activities with those working in the sector you wish to get into. Most importantly, think strategically about the work experience you ARE getting and how this can be applied to something entry-level in your preferred industry. The combination of a) work experience you now have with b) the professional development you've gained, will enhance your profile and suitability for entry-level.
It may even be the case that you are considered for more experienced roles, given the work experience you now have has provided you with skills and training that are transferable to a new job. If not, it's about getting your foot in the door and then re-evaluating opportunities and expectations.
Moments of inspiration are awesome. Two weeks ago I listened to John Austin, Executive Director of Student Affairs at Ryerson University share his vision for Ryerson's Student Affairs practitioners - the individuals who provide support to students outside of the classroom (think career counsellors!). It occurred to me that John's vision totally translates to life outside university, and it got me thinking about applying this holistic approach to career development after the big day - ie. graduation.
If someone asked you why you went to university, you'd probably say "to learn". Well, I'm guessing the other most popular response is "to party". As we continue to learn beyond the lecture halls, group assignments, lab work, and late night essay writing sessions, are we conscious of, or give credit to, the connections we are constantly making between what we have learned and what we continue to learn? Maybe these are questions easily answered by those on a linear path, but for the rest of us, it's sometimes challenging to connect the dots. Especially when we have to think for a moment about learning that is beyond the strict sense of the word. I'm not thinking about essays or exams, I'm thinking about failure, motivation, independence, and self awareness.
So what about failure? There is failure as in "I failed my midterm/essay/pop quiz". There is also failure as in "I can't get a job in my field now that I've graduated". What do we really learn from this? What does a failing grade on a midterm tell us? Perhaps it tells us that we aren't too keen about the material. Or maybe we have other distractions in our lives that are occupying our mind. Whatever it is, the 'failure' we feel can tell us something about ourselves. We LEARN from our 'failure'. Think about what happens when you can't get that job in your field. The first question you ask yourself may be "what am I doing wrong?" or "did I choose the wrong degree?". Instead, maybe we are just continuing to gain further insight about ourselves - which may have started with that failing grade. Ask yourself: "what are some things I can do to enhance my chances of finding a job that speaks to my interests and skill set?" Think brainstorm session (as any career counsellor would tell you!). Seriously though, learning from failures increase our self awareness, and whether it's a test or inability to get a job, we can take away a ton from the experience and become motivated to move forward in the direction we choose.
Everyone's sense of community is different. In school, it can be campus organizations, living in residence... It's about a sense of belonging, and during the first few years after graduation this can be lost. I've had friends tell me they can't stand someone they used to talk to all the time because that person doesn't get what they want to do with their career. Some consciously make a choice to seek out new communities who can offer support and encouragement as they branch into new and unfamiliar territory in the working world. Others find they can't always relate to the communities they were once a part of because their interests and values have evolved and changed. Whatever the case, we need to continue to find and build communities while we build our career pathways. Don't hate yourself for leaving one behind to find another. That's life, and you may reconnect at some point. Supportive networks are where it's at. A sense of belonging through joining a community or building your own is essential in staying motivated as you transition.
Mental Well Being
How do you feel when you are out there, trying to learn and build your community? Sometimes it sucks, feeling like it's all for nothing when it doesn't happen right away. How do we even know who else is out there sharing a similar vision? The first few years after graduation can be especially tough. Keep in mind it's a work in progress, and it's up to us to remind ourselves that keeping a positive attitude and investing in our well being is totally important. If, for example, we aren't finding much success in our professional lives (no return on job searches, stuck in a job we don't like, no opportunity for promotion), we can look to our personal lives for achievement and happiness. Social activities, side projects/hobbies, physical activity - all can lead to increased mental well being. When we focus on our purpose in one kind of aspect of our lives (and it doesn't have to be about work all the time), we may begin to feel re-energized in our professional lives.
I'm reminded of psychologist Carlo Strenger's recent book The Fear of Insignificance: Searching for Meaning in the Twenty-First Century. Strenger writes that educated people living in a global world fear they are living insignificant lives. When we compare ourselves on a global scale (ie. computer science grad wants to be founder of the next Google) we can become filled with anxiety and pressure not to accept ourselves and our present achievements, and instead try to become something bigger and better. What then happens to a stable identity and meaning in our present lives? Again, we have to stay connected to what keeps us happy and gives us a sense of purpose. I'm telling you, some days it's watering my plants and relishing in new, sprouting buds.
The more we know about ourselves (interests, values, abilities) the more we can apply who we are to our professional lives. When we are excited by a work-related opportunity because it speaks to our interests, we will get so much out of the experience. Just recently I had the opportunity to submit a proposal to speak at a conference. In the past, I used to apply begrudgingly, dreading the idea that I would have to write a paper based on a proposal I wasn't interested in. It was more about the professional development then it was about my own personal development. This time around, I'm eager to get down and create the presentation.
This is what a holistic approach can look like. Keep it in mind as you venture on your unique path. They can contribute to the building blocks that shape your career.
I have never let my schooling interfere with my education - Mark Twain
A valuable degree will get you a job.
Ever heard this statement before?
Ongoing debates about higher education as a stepping stone to well paying, professional careers often leads students and graduates wondering if they chose a 'valuable' degree. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the subject, and it sucks for those college and university students who hang their head in shame, roll their eyes, and say for the thousandth time with a strained sigh, "I'm finishing up one of those degrees that won't get me a job," as if they know they are doing something bad and unforgivable but can't seem to stop themselves.
Universities have, in some cases, improved accessibility to and awareness of their career services to assist students in figuring out a path from school to work. Yet they tend not to take total responsibility for student success in finding a job after completing post secondary studies. Nor should they. I agree with business professor Sean Lyons at the University of Guelph, who said "we're there to develop longer-term competencies: critical thinking, analytical skills, intellectual growth." While it's not a university's job to find students jobs, he does believe that university's aren't forthcoming enough with what the majority of students can expect when they graduate . Most won't find high-paying professional jobs with security and good benefits for up to five years after graduation, and for many, much longer.
How do grads in transition maintain a positive attitude about their degree's worth?
Education alone does not define who you are, what you are good at, and the jobs you can do.
Although this may seem like a no-brainer, it really isn't. That little inner voice, you know, the really annoying one, that starts to natter at you incessantly about why you chose that English degree, that you are 'just' an English major, that all you can do is write really good essays with impeccable grammar, and that the only jobs out there for you are teacher, tutor, or writer. Yeah, this is the voice I'm talking about, and I think we all hear it. It tends to pop up at the worst of times - when we can't figure out what kinds of jobs we want, when we don't hear back after applying for a job, when we don't get selected for a job, and when we land a job that we don't really want, or we feel overqualified for. Trust me, I've heard this voice so many times it seemed to become a part of me. Until I realized that it wasn't. I made a choice to turn this voice of.
How to turn negative-self talk about a 'valueless' degree off, if only for a moment.
It IS possible to turn that voice off, and the sooner we do it the sooner we can get onto the career path we are looking for. How do we do it? Understanding the value of a degree not only in terms of getting a job is incredibly helpful. We get all sorts of great learning and skill development when completing a degree. The most commonly thrown around words are "critical thinking", "analytical skills", "research skills" etc. What if we think more outside the box and consider what else we get out of a degree? It is the more interesting skills (both related to employment and life) that a future employer will be drawn to.
What else have you, as an unique individual, who carries your own life experience as you selected your major, completed your coursework, and participated in extra-curricular activities, accomplished while working towards your degree? What was the reason you selected that major in the first place? Think about these questions and write some thoughts down. Then, consider how these accomplishments (which can include skill development, learning opportunities, meeting new people) relate to the kind of work you want to do.
There is value in the work that you did to earn your degree, no matter what kind of degree you have.
When I hear students and graduates say their degrees are worthless, I often wonder if they truly felt that way while they completed them. Was every lecture, group discussion, and presentation unfulfilling, where no knowledge was gained or insight found? I doubt it. It is when a degree is compared to the job market that it seems to lose its value.
Take a moment to think about a map. Your degree is the starting off point. If one linear line is drawn from that starting off point, whether it be history, engineering, computer science, music, or biology, and at the end of that linear line is a career, or a job, that map ends up being pretty boring. It is certainly convenient, but it is boring. Now think about redrawing this map. Start off with your degree. Try branching off three lines from your starting point, and brainstorm some areas you've travelled to since completing your degree. Maybe one pathway led you to a part-time job at Starbucks (this is OK!). Maybe another led you to a volunteer opportunity. Maybe another is yet unknown, but you are thinking about calling up that friend of a friend who works as a career counsellor and has a history degree. Put that at the end of the third line. It hasn't happened yet, but it might. The great thing is, you don't even realize yet how many more lines, or branches, will evolve from the first three you just drew. This is the real value of a degree. It is a starting off point to many interesting connections and adventures. Some will not branch further (that Starbucks job may just be part-time work to pay the bills) and some won't (that Starbucks job may just lead to an upper level management position in the company's Human Resource department). You just never know.
To say one degree is less valuable than another, based on job market statistics and the subjective opinions of friends and family is to discredit something before it has even demonstrated its value. We wouldn't tell a child in their early stages of development that they will never achieve, so why tell yourself the same thing, based only on the earliest stages of your degree's value? It takes work to recognize and extract the value out of a degree, but it certainly isn't valueless.
I nod to a passing stranger, and the stranger nods back, and two human beings go off, feeling a little less anonymous. ~ Robert Brault
When I started Graduates In Transition I had two goals in mind.
The first was to publish the stories of students and graduates experiencing a transition connected to their careers. There are all different kinds of transitions that lead people along interesting pathways, and sometimes it is only upon reflection that people realize how a life transition was an important stepping stone to a positive career change. I hoped that by sharing their stories, students and grads would take a moment to reflect on how they have all overcame hardships and found successes while courageously pursuing their career goals.
My second goal was to build a community. When students and grads feel frustrated, depressed, anxious, and worried about their job situation, they don't always share their feelings with others. The notion that "everyone is going through it," "this is a right of passage," and "you will eventually get to where you want to be" perpetuates the idea that grads just need to suck it up and stay positive, work harder and faster to fight against the competition, and not let their emotions get the better of them. Otherwise, they will lose sight of the light at the end of the job search tunnel and get lost along the way.
Graduates in transition is meant to offer an alternative response among a supportive community. The students and graduates who share their stories, or comment on and like the stories being shared, are those who do understand what it's like to be in this kind of transition, and how to show support to others going through it. They may have experienced it themselves, or know of a friend or family member who is.
This week, two separate events reminded me of how valuable this kind of community is, and how important it is that we keep growing.
The first was a kind gesture of a guest contributor to my website, who reached out to his own community in asking them to share in my efforts to build the Graduates In Transition facebook page. The response was more than I could have asked for, and I feel it is because those want to be a part of it understand the complexities of transition and the value in sharing experiences. My hope is that my posts and those of guest bloggers finds a place in the heart and minds of each community member.
The second occurred at a wedding I attended this weekend. I was chatting with a friend who had recently quit her job. Her voice carried hints of hesitation, uncertainty, relief, and optimism. You don't have to be a trained career counsellor to pick up on these kinds of things, just a good listener! When I asked her what she was doing with her time, her face lit up as she told me about her "learning goals," a list of goals she had created over years of discovering new things but never having time to pursue them. I responded with enthusiasm, noting that often pursuing a goal can lead to all sorts of interesting pathways and new opportunities. At the end of our conversation she thanked me for the supportive feedback. I thanked her for sharing her story.
It is amazing how a brief conversation between two friends at a wedding made us both feel more rejuvenated and optimistic about our career transition. For myself, it was my friend's openness about her decision to change directions, to try something new, and to share with me her plans, anxieties, and hopes that made me feel reassured of my own journey to get to where I want to be. That is what a community of students and graduates in career transition is all about.
By sharing our stories and talking about what we are going through, we can be more present in the "here and now". This website isn't about the big finish line, it's about the insight of students and grads who have fears and dreams right now, as they evolve in life and work. When we share the ups and downs of our journeys we show one other that this kind of journey is OK. We aren't screwed up, we haven't lost sight, and we don't mind feeling lost as we find our way. The journey isn't always easy. As long as we share what we are experiencing as we transition, we will connect with others going through something similar, and we will feel better.
So please share. Whether it's your own story, or encouraging someone to share theirs, or sharing the stories of others who inspire you or who you connect with, we can all benefit from a growing community of graduates in transition.
It's never to late - in fiction or in life - to revise. - Nancy Thayer
While recently wandering in a Chapters book store I stumbled across a table of "staff picks", and a book selected by Heather. I will probably never meet Heather, but if I did I would thank her for selecting The Opposite of Loneliness - Essays and Stories, by Marina Keegan.
In 2012, soon to be graduate of Yale university Marina Keegan published her insightful essay "The Opposite of Lonelines" in the Yale Daily News . It went viral. At 22, Keegan managed to speak to the experiences of so many of us in the midst of early adulthood, trying to find our way.
"We're so young. We're so young. We're twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There's this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out - that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it's too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement."
I'm no longer 22 but Keegan's words still ring true for me, and I wish I had read them years before. I have experienced worry and anxiety about my place in the world; what my significance and worthwhile impact will be, and should be. Placing so much weight on my shoulders after graduation had consequences. I felt burdened by the expectation to achieve greatness. If I wasn't creating or improving then I wasn't fulfilling my promise to contribute to the greater good of humanity. I was impressionable, and humbled by those who were achieving around me. I had not yet found my own direction, and I envied those that had.
Keegan, who tragically died in a car accident only five days after her graduation ceremony, reminds us not to lose hope in our ability to continue to re-invent and carve new pathways for ourselves. For those of us who are no longer 22, her words reassure us it is never too late to begin, or begin again.
"What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have."
For each of us, our opposite of loneliness means something different, and it's important that we find it. For Keegan, hers was the experience of bonding with her fellow graduates at Yale while completing her undergrad. For other students and graduates in transition, it's important to search for a community of people who hold onto the same sense of possibility that Keegan had. We are here, we do exist, and we come together to form all kinds of support networks to reassure one another that it's never to late to try something new, no matter what stage of life we are in.
The sun shines not on us but in us. - John Muir
A childhood friend and I were talking about the learning challenges we faced in elementary school. I, for one, was never great at math. It was an annoying stumbling block in elementary and high school, and I remember worry incessantly about not getting into university because of my grades. I even dropped an elective to take it a second time, hoping the averaging of both grades would bump me into the B- or (if I was lucky) B category. It didn't help that my grade 7 English teacher told me I wouldn't be more than a B student in the subject anyway. Some people need a lesson on how to deliver bad news lightly.
I felt frustrated by this learning challenge, and somewhat inadequate because I just couldn't ever really get it. I was OK at memorizing formulas for tests, and chemistry started to make sense if I studied hard enough, but by the time I started Physics in grade 11 I realized math related subjects just weren't for me.
What was I doing taking chemistry, physics, and math anyway, when I wasn't even good at it? Well, for one thing, I was told I needed to keep trying at it because that's what you do. Persistence is key! For better or worse, many of us are raised to believe that overcoming our learning challenges is one of the major keys to success.
As William Edward Hickson made famous the proverb:
"Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don't succeed,
Try, try, try again."
While I feel there is no harm in defining success as overcoming our challenges, I do find it harmful when we persistently focus on our challenges and become stressed when we can't seem to overcome them. Sometimes, after hitting our heads against a brick wall for the hundredth time, is it not better to acknowledge that we can't overcome every learning challenge we face, and instead, start to focus more on our strengths?
In the article "What Teens Learn by Overcoming Challenges," on Psychology Today's website, Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell writes that when teens overcome obstacles, they learn initiative, "the ability to propel life forward in purposeful directions." My own reflections teach me that overcoming some challenges has been a great opportunity for learning and self-growth. Others, not so much.
Take for example my experience in graduate school. I finished my Masters degree and overcame the challenge of completing my research and coming up with a (somewhat) comprehensible report for my committee, Yet, I didn't find the experience of completing this challenge (and there were a lot of learning curves along the way) very significant to my personal growth, or find as an outcome, great success or initiative. Perhaps I was too burnt out to realize skills had been developed and life experiences gained. Personally, I felt it was anti-climatic and unrewarding.
In comparison, completing my diploma at George Brown College had quite the opposite effect. I graduated with a great sense of initiative and success, feeling enthusiastic, rewarded, and motivated. In completing this diploma, I did not have to overcome the same big learning challenge as I had while completing my Masters degree. Granted, the programs were different, and so were the demands. Yet, it really had nothing to do with the dynamics of each program, but more to do with me. While my contemporaries thrived in the Masters program, I hadn't. They had a skill set and personality suited for that kind of work. I didn't. While studying to become a career counsellor, I felt I had found my niche. The program enabled me to discover and develop strengths and abilities that weren't as applicable to my Masters program. Demonstrating these strengths through course work, work placements, and eventually work in the field fulfilled me in a way that overcoming learning challenges in my Masters program couldn't.
My question then, is this: if overcoming certain learning challenges won't lead to feelings of success or initiative, is it safe to say we can step away from the challenge and focus on our strengths and abilities that are more innately ours?
My experience has taught me it is not only OK to walk away from a challenge I didn't want to overcome (this being my PhD), it also welcomed opportunity and time for me to explore my other strengths. While I don't endorse walking away from every challenge that faces us, I do think that some of the challenges we face in life aren't always worth our time and energy.
Besides, how often do I use physics and chemistry in my daily life anyway? :)
The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life. - Jessica Hische
I spotted this quote in a trending article about two anonymous students who call themselves Dangerdust. They sneak into classrooms at night and design, by hand, inspirational drawings/quotations on blackboards.
What I find so awesome about this quote is that it made me think about why I procrastinate. It also made me think about the activities I choose to do when I procrastinate, and how they relate to the kind of work I like to do.
Most of the time procrastination holds a bad reputation and most of us use it negatively, such as "quit procrastinating!" or "I shouldn't have procrastinated so much!" or "Why don't you just get your work done instead of procrastinating all the time?!"
Even if we are doing something we love or enjoy in lieu of something we don't, we place judgement on ourselves and others for not getting the 'important' stuff done first.
Thinking about why we procrastinate leads us to consider what drives and motivates us to get things done. What kinds of activities do we find more rewarding in a moment when we don't want to face a goal we've set out to accomplish? My own experience with procrastination is what some people would consider the kind of work they try to avoid: I like to clean. I remember in university sitting down to write an essay, and suddenly getting distracted by the pile of clothes on my bed, or the dirty dishes in the sink. I would jump at the chance to get things cleaned and organized. When I reflect as to why, a few things come to mind.
The last two bulleted points is where I really see the value in exploring why we procrastinate. Doing more pleasurable things that motivate us is something we can all relate to. As a career counsellor, I'm curious as to why we choose different kinds of activities when procrastinating, and what this says about the kinds of work we might enjoy doing.
Understanding Procrastination as Work
Not all kinds of procrastination can tell us about our work related interests. The ones that can are often activities that provide more than an immediate satisfaction. An example? Snacking on chocolate versus baking a cake. I snack when I want to avoid the work I have to do. Chocolate becomes my best friend in these moments. I'm not interested in baking a chocolate cake, I just want to satisfy my procrastination craving. If I was more interested in baking, scouring recipes online and choosing to spend an hour in the middle of my day trying one out, that may say something about my interests and skills.
When thinking about why you procrastinate, it's best not to view your procrastination activity as any specific job. Think for a moment about another example. If a person loves to exercise, and he/she does it to procrastinate, does this mean he/she should be a professional athlete? Maybe a personal trainer? What if these options don't appeal?
What if we understood our procrastination as the strengths within us that connect our interests and abilities, and in doing so tell us more about the activities we like pursuing, the ideas we like to think about, and the interests we like to explore?
When you think of procrastination in this way, two things may happen:
You may start to feel less like your procrastination is a burden on you, and instead, an opportunity to further explore what you like doing with your time. This can translate into what you like doing at work. Again, it's not a literal translation (ie. I like to exercise therefore I would like to become a professional athlete, personal trainer etc.) It is more about the skills and talents that are involved in the activity, and what attracts you to it.
Break it down. Exercise can equate to:
You may also begin to see your procrastination as an opportunity to develop specific skills that come naturally to you, and that you enjoy performing. We all want to work with a skill set that demonstrates, to ourselves and others, our strengths. It's great when you can identify what these skills are, and even better when you get to see them in action in the workplace. Try to keep a list of the skills you are practicing when you procrastinate. Like I said before, not all activities will provide you this kind of feedback (like taking a nap, which we have all done as a form of procrastination!). However, the activities that do demonstrate your skills may surprise you, and as your skill list grows, so too may your job options.
The next time you start to procrastinate, clue in to why you are doing it, and what you can learn about yourself from the experience. Although not all kinds of procrastination will offer insight, we tend to procrastinate in all sorts of ways. What if one of these eventually led to you pursuing your dream job?
Most of us have sought out successful networking techniques at some point in our lives. We become familiar with the skills required to network, and try our best to apply them when meeting contacts. However, sometimes successful networking is more about self discovery - a hidden gem that is often less talked about.
Just before writing this blog post I googled "networking and skill development". I was looking for information on how networking can lead to personal skill discovery. Instead, I found tips on how to build and create a network.
These are two very different things.
Learning how to build a network is no doubt important and it requires a set of skills. Some examples include being a good listener, asking the right questions, and appropriate follow up with a contact. These skills are designed to help you successfully meet a contact and make a meaningful professional connection with him or her.
The kind of networking skill development I was searching for is different. I wanted to find out what kinds of skills we develop and discover within ourselves while we network. These kinds of discoveries may include:
I recently experienced skill discovery when I met a new contact for the first time. Over coffee we discussed job opportunities in the field of education. When I mentioned my website she began to identify a list of transferable skills I had developed by creating it; skills that were sought after by employers in her field. It took me a minute to figure out she was referring to skills I hadn't even thought of:
Now I know I'm not a website genius, and website development is new to me. As a result I hadn't even considered the above skills . Even career counsellors have their flaws! In talking further with my contact, I realized I could apply these skills to a number of job opportunities in her field. For example, if I was interested in workshop facilitation or teaching in a college, my ability to create visual presentations, and doing so on the internet, would be valuable for visual learning and online teaching. I walked away from the conversation feeling somewhat enlightened, and energized by the potential this skill set had for future job opportunities.
I call this networking experience a hidden gem - it can be unsuspecting but rewarding. We tend to think about the skills we need to get a network going, but it's also helpful to think about the skills we gain while we go through the process. These can be skills we already have but just aren't aware of yet. When you network, keep in mind that your contacts can offer insight not only about job prospects but also about you. It is really up to you to listen openly when engaging with contacts, as what they say may trigger a moment of self discovery. Remember to keep a note of what is said, or what thoughts come to mind by what is said.
We all need a boost here and there. Sometimes, this will come from a network contact you've just met who has a fresh perspective on your skills and interests. If a contact is willing to sit with you over a coffee and chat, you may walk away with more than just insight about the job market, but also about yourself.
It isn't often that a person going through a career transition identifies themselves as a 'leader'. They may feel ambitious or brave for making the decision to change career directions. They may feel proud for pursuing a career that is fulfilling and rewarding. But they often won't tell you they are a leader for making a transition into something different.
What if we recognized our decision to make a career change as us taking leadership of our lives?
Last week I attended an awards ceremony, where eighteen students and recent graduates, including myself, were recognized for our leadership roles in our community.
A number of speeches were given, but one in particular struck a chord with me. In practicing a lifetime of leadership, the presenter spoke of ten 'nevers'. Leaders must overcome obstacles and barriers throughout their lives. Some of these obstacles will be external, like opposition to a leader's point of view. Some will be internal, such as self doubt or lack of self assurance. These ten 'nevers' can act as a guiding light.
1. Never talk more than you listen.
This, at first, may seem counterintuitive for those of us striving to achieve personal leadership, especially at a time when it can feel we have to defend our decision to make changes in our lives. As mentioned before, there will be external forces that act as obstacles to our perseverance, like friends, family, or acquaintances who have their own opinions as to what we should be doing career wise, and how we should be doing it. However, if we only talk back in self-defense, constantly trying to validate the decisions we make along our career path, we will exhaust ourselves. Sometimes, listening is a great exercise in filtering feedback. It also opens us up to different views and perspectives.
Likewise, it is also important that we don't talk over our inner voice. Making changes can lead to all kinds of thoughts and feelings. Tuning into what these are, or listening to them, is better than talking over them or hushing them up. Exploring how our mind is processing the career change we are making, and how it is affecting us emotionally, is part of the transition process, and should not be ignored.
2. Never take yourself too seriously.
When I decided to make my own career change, I worried about myself a lot - would I fit the bill in my new profession? Would others see me in the way I wanted to be seen? Would I be able to demonstrate an air of confidence at all times? Sometimes we just need to take a 'chill pill' and relax a bit. Taking ourselves too seriously as we transition can lead to anxiety, insecurity, and we can be unnecessarily hard on ourselves for making mistakes along the way. It is often our quirks and vulnerabilities that are the most endearing things about us, so we shouldn't worry too much about them. People want to know the real us, so we can relax a little.
3. Never be afraid to sing or dance or take a stance.
For those of you who aren't afraid to get up on the dancefloor and bust a move, this one may not apply to you! For many of us though, it can be challenging at times to express ourselves through words and action. Especially if we feel others don't approve of our decisions, or if we are uncertain we will succeed. Taking leadership of our career transition means taking a stance on what we feel is right for us to make our career goals a reality. This may mean travelling for a year to gain a sense of the world around us, and what kinds of activities and people we like to engage with. It may mean volunteering for a cause we feel passionately about while working a part-time job to pay the bills. Taking a stance means speaking up about what we need to have a fulfilling life.
4. Never stop learning. To know, it's not enough to read. You have to go and see.
I think this statement resonates with a lot of people, no matter what stage of career development they are in. We are constantly learning, and being in a career transition is proof of that. More frequently, employers are asking job seekers what kind of experience they have, and how they got it. When deciding on a career, or when searching for the right one, this is the 'evidence' we can provide to employers to show we are the right candidate for the job. Remember, all experience is good experience. If finding out a company isn't the right fit after conducting an informational interview, nothing is lost. It's better to know what a company is all about by talking to people who work there than by reading a job posting. Same goes for exploring our interests to figure out what we want to do. We can volunteer, begin projects, socialize...all of these activities give us opportunities to 'go and see'.
5. Never mind.
Short and sweet, this 'never' challenges us to not worry so much about what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. If we don't get an interview, it's not the end of the world. If a network contact doesn't pan out, oh well. If someone makes a judgement on what we do or how we go about doing it, that's their problem. When making a career change and when job searching we face so many challenges. To worry about all of them can be exhausting and distracting. Take a deep breath and practice saying "never mind".
6. Never forget your roots.
When I decided to leave my PhD program and become a career counsellor, there was a part of me that wanted to forget the PhD ever happened. I initially felt like I had failed myself by not completing the program, and I was uncertain whether my transition to career counselling would be a successful one. I really just wanted to shut the door on my PhD experience and make a fresh start. I have realized however that my past experiences have brought me to my present, and the educational roots I established in my graduate program have served me well as I venture into a new direction. Keeping in mind how we have evolved and how we have come to where we presently stand is a big part of understanding our internal leadership compass.
7. Never forget the community.
Similar to never forgetting your roots, we must always remember who in our community has helped or assisted us along our career journey, and always be thankful. This can be a teacher who inspired us, a friend who listened, a worker who offered feedback, or anyone who has given us a hand along the way. These people come in and out of our lives, and their generosity is something we can both receive and then give to others. We must continue to recognize that our career pathways are not linear and solo, but intertwined with a variety of people who have helped to shape our paths. When we remember who and what has helped us along the way, we can simultaneously achieve our goals and give back to others at the same time.
8. Never stop giving.
As we venture into a new career journey we may find we are 'taking', and that's not a bad thing. We may take advice, jobs, network contacts, volunteer opportunities, all to help us learn more about our interests and gain valuable experience. What we may find difficult is to be 'giving'. We may feel we don't have a lot yet to give. We may find we are too busy to give. However, continuing to give is so rewarding, and is an important component of being a leader. I am reminded of a friend who was trying to get airplay on CBC radio after starting a career in music. He and many other artists were competing in a contest for votes - the more votes, the better chance of getting on the air. When he did not make it to the final round, he continued to nominate other artists who were still competing, reminding friends to keep voting. Although he was no longer competing, he was giving his time and support to others who were. It is so important for all of us to support one another through our success and challenges.
9. Never say never.
Of the 10 'nevers', this is my favorite one. It speaks for all of us who are in career transition right now, because we never said "never". No matter what steps we are taking to find and create careers that are fulfilling and meaningful to our lives, we are taking them. We are open to the possibility of something positive and meaningful happening in our lives, something that could not happen if we said "never". In never saying "never" we take leadership of our lives and the decisions we make to pursue our career goals. Continue to be open to possibilities.
10. Never forget to say thank you.
One of my friends who recently transitioned from academic to artist mailed me a lovely thank you card over the winter holidays. In the card she had designed, she thanked me for supporting her Kickstarter campaign to publish a children's novel. Her campaign had been successful, and she truly felt gratitude for everyone who had helped with this part of her career development. By saying thank you, we acknowledge every individual who has helped us in any kind of way, big and small. When we take leadership of our lives, we recognize that others want to see us succeed and be happy, Saying thank you is our way of sharing our gratitude for their support.