In many ways, it was the pursuit of those non-career-related interests that helped me develop some of the skills that became important as I navigated graduate school and a career. - Katie Felton
Stop the world...I want to get off
It is hard to believe it has been over 10 years since I left college to transition into what everyone calls “the real world”. This expression has always bothered me; the world I was living in was my real world, even if that didn’t include a 9-5 job or a pile of bills. I don’t think the real world is somewhere we finally arrive. It is the things we do every day, the little pieces of life that make up our existence. To try to separate our world into different compartments takes away from development of our whole character.
One of the most frustrating parts of the transition from college was the realization that every job I wanted to apply for required experience and skills that I did not have as a new graduate. I also struggled with being able to articulate the skills that I did have that were not directly related to my previous employment. I had helped out in the kitchen of a summer camp for two summers, but somehow I didn’t think “superb meatloaf maker” belonged on my resume. As I set out to get an entry-level position to develop skills employers would value, I also made the decision to begin to pursue some of the hobbies and interests I did not have time for during my college years. In many ways, it was the pursuit of those non-career-related interests that helped me develop some of the skills that became important as I navigated graduate school and a career.
There’s No People Like Show People
Throughout middle school and high school I had been fascinated with theater. I joined a local community theater company and got involved with my high school productions. I attended productions whenever I could, taking in everything from opera to Othello. Post-college, I decided getting reacquainted with my local theater company would help keep my mind off of the fact that I didn’t have a job. I auditioned for a show and before I knew it, I was back on stage. I jumped right in, getting involved behind the scenes during shows in which I did not perform, developing skills that would benefit me in the long run, and building relationships with a group of people I never would have had the chance to meet had it not been for our shared love of the stage.
Eventually I did get a full-time job, but I could not give up theater. I managed to stay involved throughout my 20’s and became part of a community that is still an important part of my life today.
When I first got involved, I thought it would just be a good way to pass the time until I could get my foot in the door of the real world. But looking back over the past ten years, I realize that being part of this community helped me develop some real world skills:
Being on stage requires a great deal of discipline. In addition to showing up for rehearsal, you often spend countless hours memorizing scripts or music or blocking. Much of this work is done on your own, in your spare time, away from the spotlight. The fruits of that labor can be seen during rehearsals and performances, so it becomes obvious if you are not carrying your own weight. Learning the skill of discipline helped me when I returned to graduate school ten years after my initial college experience. Trying to work and go to school full time meant I needed to know how to balance my schedule and set aside time for studying when I would rather be relaxing. Discipline continues to be an important skill in my career. When there are deadlines to be met, I know how to focus and complete my tasks while managing other daily responsibilities. If I am not disciplined, I let down not only myself, but those on my team.
This skill is one that many new employees claim to have, but they have trouble finding real-life examples when asked about it during an interview. I would argue that acting is not the most important skill you need to be successful on stage – teamwork is. When you step onto that stage, you are trusting that your fellow actors have had the discipline to learn their lines and will support you during your shared scenes. If even one actor decides that they don’t need their team on stage, things can go terribly wrong. Lines are dropped, plots are missed, and all the hard work of the team becomes a waste. Teamwork is more than just the ability to work with others. It’s about supporting your team and understanding that the show cannot go on without each individual member.
Acquisition of Knowledge – the Ability to Learn
Being part of a community offers a unique aspect that is sometimes lost during college; the opportunity to interact with people at different stages of life. As I worked on productions, I was surprised to discover that some of the closest friends I met were old enough to be my parents. They came from different walks of life; some had grown up in my town, some were new to the area. There were teachers, doctors, secretaries, priests. It was a melting pot of people drawn together by a common interest. These differences offered a chance to hear the stories of others and to learn from them. As folks of all ages came together, the older generation demonstrated discipline and teamwork while the younger generation taught them about smart phones and mobile apps. This exchange of ideas and thoughts in a community is exactly what happens every day in most workplaces. Those who have developed the ability to listen and learn from others are more likely to thrive.
The Show Must Go On
If you find yourself in a position of trying to build your skills in order to achieve your career goals, take a look outside the “real world”. Explore hobbies and interests you enjoy and take note of skills you might be gaining without even realizing it along the way. The real world can be whatever you want it to be; for me, I gained many skills on stage and behind the scenes. When it came time to interview for my current position, I felt confident in my ability to speak in public, contribute to my team and learn from those around me. Don’t get discouraged if you are not able to get the specific job you need in order to develop your skills. As we say in the theater, the show must go on!
Katie Felton is a Consultant, Student Success, at Campus Labs. Campus Labs provides assessment and planning tools for professionals in higher education, unifying university campuses in new and innovative ways.