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.